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Blended Learning for the New World of Work

​The hybrid workplace and an increasing pace at which employees need to upgrade their skills has highlighted the need for a new form of employee training called blended learning. But what is blended learning, and how can organizations design and measure the success of such programs? HR experts shared insights on these questions at the recent SHRM India Annual Conference 2021.

In the past, "blended learning was just a combination of e-learning and classroom training," said Nirmala Gopalakrishnan, senior service delivery manager of professional services at Skillsoft, an online training provider.

In recent years, however, the concept of blended learning has evolved to include learning that is imparted using tools like games and videos, and combines practical with theoretical training.

"When we combine classrooms with focus group discussions, surveys, small activities, white papers and blogs, and marry this in a format that is feasible to learn and is more effective, that is blended learning," said Karthik Rao Ammathi, regional head of HR services at Societe Generale Global Solution Centre, a technology service center for the eponymous French bank.

It encompasses the use of new learning styles, like mentored learning, social learning or peer learning. "All that can also be called blended learning," said Tapann Sabharwal, assistant vice president and head of training India at Sutherland, an outsourcing firm.

A blended approach also involves anticipating skill shifts, said Mark Fernandes, senior vice president of HR and head of organization capability and development at Kotak Life Insurance. Rather than leaving this entirely to the organization's learning and development team, Fernandes said employees should be involved in spotting such skill shifts when they happen.

"When you start empowering people, you make learning more relevant for people. They start taking charge and come back to tell you what is relevant for them," said Fernandes.

A combination of offline and online learning continues to be a big part of blended learning, especially amid the Covid-19 pandemic, in which more employees are working from home. In the past two years, organizations have rolled out platforms that allow employees to learn at home, at their own pace and chosen time.

"Blended learning is different and important because it reduces the learning curve," said Ammathi.

To create an ideal blended learning program, experts said the organization should first identify what the learner needs to gain from the training. Next, understand the needs of the business and figure out the gaps between what's required and the employees' existing level of knowledge and skills. Finally, create plans on how to bridge the gap through training.

Once this roadmap is clear, a suitable curriculum can be created, and decisions can be made on the best approach to impart the training, such as through bite-sized video lessons or games. When planned this way, "you'll see your program encouraging learners to engage more, participate more and come out a lot more ready," said Sabharwal.

Once implemented, it's important to keep track of how the learning program is working, said Gopalakrishnan.

"Quite often we see these blended programs start with a lot of fanfare, endorsed by a senior leader and so on, but over a period of time they lose their focus," he said.

To measure the success of a blended learning program remains tricky. In the past, they were measured by the numbers of hours of training given or the number of people trained. But the ideal measure of success is based on outcomes of the training program, and whether they meet business goals. At Sutherland, for instance, Sabharwal said they use a Kirkpatrick model to evaluate the results of the training program, but added there are several other models that can be used. The key is to measure frequently.

"If you're able to evaluate the learning program success at every juncture, such as after completing a module, then you'll know how the learning experience is and how the learners are getting through the topic. You'll find out what their feedback is, which tells you continuously how engaged that whole thing is," said Sabharwal.

At the end of the day, experts said the program is successful if it helps achieve business goals. For instance, if an IT services company hires 60% new recruits to work on a project and that project is completed successfully, that means the training given to the new recruits was successful.

Blended learning is also useful to train leaders, said experts speaking on the panel. Ammathi shared his experience of creating a blended learning program for potential leaders. They started with a psychometric assessment of the potential leaders, then imparted knowledge through multiple "small shots" of e-books, documents and blogs, and combined that with coaching and mentorship over a three to six-month period. Using this approach, learners received "handholding while they were moving from a managerial to a leadership position," he said. At the end, there were multiple behavioral and functional assessments.

Measuring behavioral training is more complicated. For one thing, it should not be judged immediately after the training program is over, said Ammathi.

"It takes a lot of time to get rid of old habits," he said. Rather, behavioral changes should be measured consistently over a period of time. In response to an audience question about how to measure innovation and leadership, Ammathi said one way could be to make ideation a part of the learning process. Potential leaders can be brought together and given a real-life problem to solve.

"Innovation is about solving problems," said Ammathi.


​An organization run by AI is not a futuristic concept. Such technology is already a part of many workplaces and will continue to shape the labor market and HR. Here's how employers and employees can successfully manage generative AI and other AI-powered systems.