Blended approach gets learning to where learners are

Posted by John Cropper, LINGOs Director of Project Services

Training and facilitating used to be so simple. The trainer would travel to a a pre-selected venue, participants would arrive, training was delivered and after a couple of happy sheets and usually a rather nice group meal and photo, everyone departed. Easy!

 

Old School Training…

The costs of this approach are huge. Apart from the travel costs, everyone would be in the training – not actually doing their normal work. So if you had a group of twenty five participants doing a five day course, you used one hundred and twenty five person days. Run two trainings like this in a year and factor in holidays and you would have used up the best part of a person year – and we all think we are understaffed!

LINGOs is all about learning where it really matters. So, to find a way round this, LINGOs has conducted a number of what we call blended trainings on Project Management  (the PMDPro certification)  We’ve tried several approaches and I’ll describe two of them here: First with World Vision International in Southern Africa and second with Oxfam GB in East Africa. The approaches have been different but in both cases, noone had to travel and participants were able to fit the learning around their other work commitments.

In the case of World Vision, we used a “hotspot” approach to ease connectivity challenges. A number of offices were chosen and World Vision made sure that each office had a USB speaker phone and a projector. One computer would be connected and participants would either look at a shared monitor or the screen would be projected onto a wall. Participants were given a clear timetable and instructions about what was expected of them. They had a program of reading through the PMDPro Guide, using the practice exam, webinars using Blackboard Collaborate, a ning social network where they could ask/answer questions and where we could post all the documents and finally there was an ‘instructor’s hour,’ when a facilitator would be online and participants could ask any questions on a one-to-one basis. Each course was scheduled over a two week period.

With Oxfam, we adopted a similar approach but it was much more extensive. The course had the same components but was designed to be taken over a 10 to 12 week period. Participants were advised that they would need to spend 3 to 4 hours each week. No one component was mandatory and they could spend their time on any of the different components. If the facilitator or the Oxfam sponsor thought that a participant was not engaging in any element, then s/he was not allowed to sit the PMDPro exam at the end of the course.

So what?

Well clearly, the blended approach is much more flexible and obviously more cost effective. One additional immediate benefit was a higher percentage of women participants – as described in an earlier post for International Woman’s Day. Interestingly results from the extended, Oxfam approach have been the best with an exam pass rate of 50%. Best of all was to see this post from the Tanzania Country Director, in which he noted his experience of “a case where training has created learning that has turned into change. There is improved quality of work and increased commitment to share one’s learning.”

Clearly this kind of approach can lead to skill transfer and application.

What learning is there from these pilots?

  1. Setting up a hotspot is a considerable investment in time and equipment – but once it is there, it can be used again and again. We have seen staff use the equipment for virtual meetings rather than travel – another great benefit.
  2.  In both cases, it is helpful to have champions and clear leadership – without buy in from the top, any training is more difficult. Participants need to have a clear structure and they need to understand what they are expected to do, when and why.
  3. Participant selection is as important as  managing expectations – participants need to commit to putting in the time over a two/three month period.
  4. The biggest learning I have taken from all this is simple. Blended learning can work and work well. One participant from Tanzania said in one of the webinars, “I need to leave now. I am in a village with no electricity using a 3G connection and the laptop battery is going.”

 I wish I had had a photo! When we think about virtual/remote learning – or whatever we want to call it, perhaps we should stop ask asking “why?” and start asking “why not!”

 

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