by Jennifer Gibson

In our series, “Blended Learning: Everything I Need to Know I Learned in High School”  we’ve been exploring how to address the three critical elements for blended learning success: Structure, Support and Accountability. In this third article, we’ll dive deeper into how to build ongoing Support for learners into your blended learning programs.

In revisiting our high school experience, we revealed how it demonstrated best practices for blended learning. From the moment we began that 4-year journey, we were provided with ongoing support and a multitude of options for getting help when we needed it. Without this support, it’s doubtful we would have successfully completed our studies and graduated.

As adults, we sometimes don’t finish what we start. Whether it’s a new diet and exercise program, an art class, a DIY project or a book club…we begin with energy and enthusiasm, but we have a bad habit of eventually fizzling out. Why is this? I bet the first thought that jumped into your mind was, “I’m just too busy!” Indeed you are. When was the last time you heard an adult say, “I’ve got plenty of time on my hands. I need more to do.” If you do know any of these mythical beings, please send me their contact info, because I’d like to meet them…or at least take a blurry photo.

So we all agree that adults are busy. But when it comes to corporate learning we are too often left on our own. While this may work from some, the vast majority of adult learners do need some elements of ongoing support as well as options for getting help when needed, and getting it quickly. Without this, frustration ensues, momentum is lost and often programs are abandoned – just like our book clubs. Ask any learning and development professional in charge of rolling out programs and they will tell you one of the biggest challenges is getting learners to actually finish. Lack of critical support directly contributes to high drop-out rates. Yup, that’s a bold statement. But after 20+ years in corporate learning, I am pretty darn confident in its accuracy.

Now we get to the good stuff. How do you incorporate support into your learning programs? To get you started, below is a list of recommendations for best practices that I have personally implemented with great success.

Program Launch

  • Launch programs with an orientation session, and schedule multiple sessions if possible to give learners flexibility to attend
  • Walk participants through the program structure and schedule and set expectations for participation
  • When possible, have program sponsor(s) attend and speak to why the program is important and the anticipated impact
  • If the program has been deployed previously, ask former participants to speak briefly to the value and give their personal tips for successful completion
  • Review with participants whom they can reach out to for help
  • If you’ve created a Program Guide – which you should (see Blended Learning: Structuring Programs for Success) – provide an overview of the Guide

Documentation

  • It may sound like I’m repeating myself (and I am), but a comprehensive Program Guide can be one of the most useful tools in your arsenal (see Blended Learning: Structuring Programs for Success)
  • The Program Guide serves as a continuous performance support resource that participants can turn to time and again
  • The key to an effective Program Guide is for it to be as comprehensive as possible, containing anything and everything that participants may need to know
  • The Program Guide should be the first line of support for learners, and then if needed they can escalate to peers, the PM or the SPOC

Single Point of Contact

  • If at all possible, establish a SPOC for the program so that all participant inquiries are funneled through one person who then will either direct participants to the appropriate resource or who will engage the right people to help the participants
  • This will help eliminate frustration for the participants
  • Using a SPOC also allows for tracking of frequently asked questions and recurring issues for trending purposes, so that documentation can be updated (like the Program Guide!) and programs can be modified and improved

Program Management

  • When feasible, leveraging a Program Manager can significantly improve program success
  • The PM oversees all aspects of the program, from launch through completion, ensuring consistency and quality
  • The PM can serve as the SPOC and build a trusted relationship with the participants so they feel comfortable asking for help when needed
  • Regular milestone reminders and ongoing encouragement from the PM throughout the program can help keep learners on track
  • The PM can track ongoing progress and provide reports to key stakeholders, so they can remain involved and help to address participation issues if needed
  • Logistics of classroom sessions, virtual sessions and accessing program materials can often get confusing for participants. A PM can manage all program logistics and communicate information to participants as needed to reduce confusion and frustration
  • If participants are struggling, a PM can work with individual learners to create a personalized plan to help them complete the program

Peer Collaboration

  • The buddy system works. Team up participants so they can support one another throughout the program.
  • Incorporate regular collaboration sessions, either face-to-face or virtual, that allow the participants to ask questions and share experiences
  • Ask participants who have previously completed the program to act as coaches and mentors

By providing your learning program participants with ongoing SUPPORT, they are more inclined to stick with it and finish what they started. What other ways can you provide support during learning programs? Can you think of a program that you participated in where support helped you complete your goals? What are some reasons why organizations may not leverage best practices for support in their learning programs?

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