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|Blended Learning Action Research||
On Jun 18-19, 2013 my classmates and I presented at the 2013 Action Research Conference.
Click here to view the conference presentations.
Click here for my presentation with speaker notes.
For the last two weeks the Training Manager and I executed a simple e-learning only test. With the Training Manager leading the way, we asked our field sales group to help us get friendly practice volunteers to go through our newly created compliance e-learning. Our field sales team provided us with 63 volunteers who agreed to take the training within two weeks and provide us feedback on the training content. Next, we emailed the details on how to navigate to the e-learning to the 63 volunteers.
Two weeks after the launch of the test, we ran a report to discover how many of our 38 volunteers completed the e-learning. The results were 2 volunteers completing the training, giving us a 5% completion rate.
I met with the training manager and reviewed the results. We both concluded that the results were strong enough to verify that our live trainers have no worries regarding e-learning replacing them as the mode of choice. The Training Manager suggested that we next proceed to testing the Blended Learning Process.
I felt relief that our quick test of e-learning validated the research showing that e-learning, on it's own, suffers a low completion rate. I also felt a bit panicked by how low the completion rate was for the test. Our need ofr a successful blended learning has now taken on a new urgency.
I also felt that this quick test was valuable in engaging the the Training Manager with the realities of e-learning. Having her experience the low completion rate seemed to have energized her desire solve the problem. I feel that this exercise as a success.
In the last two weeks, I was able to have multiple meetings with with both the Manager and Training Coordinator.
My first meeting with the Manager and Training Coordinator allowed me to explain the following: what the project was about; why it was important; what her role in the project would be. This last explanation was critical – I communicated that her role in the project was most important in that she would make sure that the procedures were easy to follow for the training coordinators and for our learners. She left this first meeting with the documents for review.
The Training Coordinator, in our first meeting, had 8 issues with the process and call guides. Afterwards, I resolved all 8 issues and called for a second meeting. In Meeting 2 the Training Coordinator found 2 additional issues. Along with the decrease in the number of issues, her view regarding readiness of the Blended Learning Process had shifted from thinking that our processes and call guides was not ready to a more neutral mindset.
Again, after the meeting, I resolved the Training Coordinator’s two remaining issues and called for the third and last meeting in this cycle. In Meeting 3, I received from her no additional issues. Her view regarding the readiness of the Blended Learning Process had again shifted. Instead of ‘neither agreeing or disagreeing’ with the survey statement, our Training Coordinator now ‘agreed’ with the statement, “I am confident that the Blended Learning Process is ready for testing.”
With the Training Coordinator, it appears that her confidence regarding the readiness of the Blended Learning Process for testing grew as her issues were resolved. I asked her if there was a direct correlation between the two and she replied, “Sure. Once you resolved my concerns I saw no reason not to test the process with our learners.
In Meeting 1, the Training Manager had 3 issues with the process and call guides. After Meeting 1, I resolved all 3 issues and called for a second meeting. In Meeting 2, the Training Manager found 1 additional issue. Along with the decrease in the number of issues, her view regarding readiness of the Blended Learning Process had shifted. Instead of ‘strongly disagreeing’ with the survey statement, our Training Coordinator now ‘disagreed’.
Again, after the meeting, I resolved the Training Coordinator’s issue and called for the third and last meeting in this cycle. In Meeting 3, I received from her one additional issue. With this new issue her view regarding the readiness of the Blended Learning Process had shifted back to ‘strongly disagreeing’ with the survey statement. This surprising development caught me off guard. The pattern shown with the Training Coordinator becoming confident that the Blended Learning Process was ready for testing was not evident with the Training Manager.
I endeavored to examine the reasons why I received a difference in reaction between the Training Coordinator and the Training Manager. While the Training Coordinator’s confidence increases with the elimination of concerns, the Training Manager, I examined the Training Manager’s one remaining concern: “I am concerned that there is too much e-learning for the learners to go through prior to a live learning session.” I asked her, “Why do you have this concern?” She answered, “I am concerned that my live trainers will feel threatened by the e-learning – that the will think that e-learning will replace them.
With this additional conversation, I was able to determine that the Training Coordinator’s narrow scope of work enabled her to focus solely on process improvement as a way of increasing her confidence regarding the readiness of the Blended Learning Process for testing. In contrast, the Training Manager’s responsibilities, wider in scope, include managing a group of live trainers. As the leader of liver trainers, she reflected upon the possible reactions to blended learning that can occur within that work group. One reaction from within the group could be the perception that the blended learning is designed to replace them.
How did I feel about the Manager's reversal of her support for the blended learning test? At first I was surprised. I was not expecting this response. I was expecting a smooth sail into testing out our Blended Learning process and call guides.
Upon reflection, however, I realized that she had decided to reflect upon the process of blended learning from the point of view of her live trainers. She was adopting different viewpoints that the Training Coordinator did not. How do I feel about this? I am grateful that the manager did take this position. If she cam e to this thought, then it will be very likely that a certain percentage of her trainers will also come to the same conclusion. If our trainers do think of the blended training process as a threat, then they may reject the concept all together. I realize now that we will have to devise a quick test to show the live trainers that the success of e-learning requires the live trainers for the blended working to be successful. I also think that the Manager must be involved in this quick test.
I have been modifying the blended learning process chart as well as creating call guides and training guides to be used by trainers and training coordinators during each step of the blended learning process. Since some details of the calls and training contain proprietary information, I have replaced the actual call guides with outlines for inclusion in this web site. I feel I need to have these documents available before I meet again with the Manager and Training Coordinator.
Why do I feel that I need to have the documents completed before my next meeting? I believe that both individuals I am meeting with are detail oriented and will want to explore ever aspect of the material. Since the Training Coordinator must actually perform each of the calls, she will be very concerned that each call guide has every element that must be covered during the call as well as guidance on different contingencies.
Why do I think think that this will be the focus of the Training Coordinator? I have observed this particular Training Coordinator and I know that she likes to have a full understanding of every action and communications point needed on every call. Without this level of detail, she will not be able to progress to a point where she can offer feedback. Therefore, I know I must provide her with the right level of detail that she needs to learn the process and call guides and then make effective feedback.
Why is she like this? As an adult leaner she appears to be task orientated. This orientation requires a step by step approach to problem solving. The "problem" that she will be tasked with in a future meetings will be to provide quality feedback to the overall process and call guides.
Why am I modifying my approach to accommodate the learning needs of my stake holders? In the past I have seen many colleagues and upper managers disregard the learning needs of the people that they communicate with and proceed with "info dumps" of material and expect the other person to just figure it all out and provide quality feedback. I have also observed other colleagues and senior managers present information for similar projects in a manner that makes it easier for adult learners to understand. This second group of colleagues and senior managers tend to:
Because of these observations from past work experiences, I try to provide material that help support adult learning elements described in the previous paragraph.
This week the Director has a closer look at the same process that I showed the Manager on 2.18.13. The meeting was brief and his only concern was that when we run an experiment on this process, we randomly select providers so that we can get a representation of responses to the blended learning that is more like our entire learning population. The end result of this action research will lead to a series of experiments that will guide us into improving the blended learning process to the point where we can institute it into daily practice with a high confidence that it will satisfy the training needs for a good portion of our learning population. I assured him that we would devise a random selection process during our process to ensure a good variety of feedback from different types of learners.
Do I feel that my strategy of engaging the Manager and Director in the development of the process? I believe, in general, that engaging stakeholders in the development of the blended learning process is vital to the success of the project. The general strategy is, I feel, correct. However, after getting feedback from the Director, I perceive that he is focusing on a bigger picture. As far as finer grained feedback on the process, I think I will need more frequent feedback from the Manager and from a Training Coordinator who will be the type of person who has to perform the process. I think this tactical change will allow me to achieve more improvement in the process.
In previous weeks, my focus was to introduce the idea of a blended learning system. Now my focus has shifted toward getting into the details of describing how the blended learning system will work.
This week I had a meeting with the Training Manager to review progress in documenting the blended training process and to elicit feedback for improvement.
I did receive feedback that I classify as concerns. Although the feedback was not negative, the issues raised would have to be addressed to the satisfaction of the Manager.
The Manager’s three concerns were: “We just have to make sure that the students have good instructions on how navigate back to the e-learning;” ”We need to have a trigger point where the students get scheduled for instructor lead training if they fail to complete the e-learning after a certain amount of time;” and, “We need to give the students instructions on how to get help if they are having problems.”
Her feedback was based upon our discussion regarding the following flowchart (click image to enlarge):
How do I feel about the approach that I am using? I feel that I am using the correct approach. Consulting with the manager allows me to get feedback on what she thinks will improve the blended learning process. Incorporating her lessons, I feel, will give her a sense of ownership into the process. In my past experience, I have seen hat most people who are given an opportunity to contribute to a new process will, at the very least, not seek to work against the implementation of the process. I can recall, early in my career, an incident where I had a number of employees who were actively hostile to a new and different process. They were actively encouraging other employees to not follow the process as designed. When I enlisted these nay-Sayers into helping me improve upon the processes, I was able to accommodate many of their suggestions. I quickly learned that some steps in a process are critical to success while others could be modified without losing the intent of the process. Since then, I strive to include stakeholders into the creation of a new process. If the process structure has critical evidence-based elements that can't be changed, I communicate to stakeholders that those particular elements cannot be deleted. I did this with the Manager and was able to avoid conflict with her regarding critical to success elements in the process. At the same time, I was able to get from her useful feedback that will improve the process while encouraging her ownership as a co-author of the process.
This week I had a meeting with the Training Manager. She manages trainers and training coordinators. Her recommendation to proceed with a Blended Learning test is critical. It is natural for her to be involved in the processes and guides to be used by trainers and training coordinators.
I presented to her the same outline that I presented to the Director.
Her response was overwhelmingly positive, “This could really free up the Trainers to target specific provider issues by getting the basics out of the way before the Trainer’s class.”
Having such a positive reaction has me very enthusiastic Why am I enthusiastic? In previous jobs, pitching a new idea has had negative consequences. In a similar situation I would receive a flurry of negative comments and reasons why such an idea would never work.
Why is the reaction different now? I think that two elements make this different. First, the culture of this company (and of my department in particular) is one of continuous quality improvement. The company encourages an iterative process similar to action research and this allows the introduction of new ideas and testing. Other companies that I have worked for lacked continuous improvement in their make up. Simply put, the company that I work for is more developmentally advanced than others. Secondly, in the past, I would not couple a concept with the idea of small scale feasibility testing. When pitching a new idea or concept within the context of testing it for efficacy seems to make the concept less threatening. I have yet to have management in any company say no to testing a new way of doing things with a potential toward providing benefits.
In my last entry, I noted that web based interactive eLearning is well suited for compliance training. The ability to present the training, without variance, to thousands of learners in geographically dispersed locations makes eLearning a favorite in many companies' internal compliance training.
However, our processes and work flows are designed for live training and we achieve very high client satisfaction scores. We do offer eLearning but it is not integrated into the new merchant training process and is offered as supplemental training. More than 99.99% of our training is live. The desire "not to break what isn't broken" is a strong consideration in this setting.
While eLearning has advantages, research shows that a major disadvantage is high incomplete rates. Read my Review of Literature to learn more. Because of this potentially serious problem, I decided in my meeting with the Director Of Training to address the issue at the beginning. I discussed how a sequence of blended learning with trainers hand holding the learners at every step to ensure that the eLearning was complete and then following-up with a live class to address questions or issues would maximize completion rates and provide us with the advantages of consistent training. I then presented an outline of how the Blended learning would work. I stressed that we would perform small scale tests with providers and evolve the blended training system so that we would eventually achieve a system that worked for both our learners and meet our company's requirements.
At the end of the meeting, the Director of Training was excited about the prospect of implementing, small scale testing and improving a blended learning system for eventual wider use. He ended the meeting asking for more documentation so that he could fully understand each step in the process. He had all positive comments and no concerns to be addressed.
Why do I think that this was the right way to approach the Director Of Training?
I have witnessed eLearning's disadvantages and I know that this problem of high incomplete rates must be overcome in a way that our providers and their employees are satisfied with. I knew that I needed to focus on the issue and overcome it with proven techniques discovered during research. I also knew that an iterative process of small scale testing would fit in with the Director's quality improvement background. Small scale testing allows for testing what could be a risky systemic change with little or no negative effect upon our business unit's performance.
Was the the right way to proceed? Yes!
Why do I think this was the right approach?
The Director's reaction was positive with no concerns and he looks forward to further documentation of the processes. It was a good first start.
The Journey Begins
We don't receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us.
Within the retail banking sector that that is under increasing federal and state oversight, the need to deliver consistent compliance training to thousands of merchants dispersed across the continent leads me to conclude that eLearning can be a major part of the solution.
As a result of my belief, I am preparing for a meeting next week with the Director of Training to propose that we integrate our eLearning into our initial activation training. Currently, our eLearning is offered as a way to train employees who have missed the live initial training and as a supplement to the live training. I feel that the eLearning can be used to consistently train all new merchant employees first and then the follow-up live training can then be used to engage the learners in practice activities and tutoring for those who need help with questions, doubts, fears, or misunderstandings. The system I propose would be similar to the concept of flipped teaching in the corporate setting.
Why do I think this way? As a an expert corporate trainer, I have had the pleasure of training hundreds of classes spanning a wide variety of topics spanning human resources, sales, leadership, computer technology, safety, and compliance. As an expert in eLearning design, I have also produced dozens of self paced, interactive, web based courses. With both live classroom and eLearning classes, I have experienced the strengths and limitations of each mode.
As a classroom teacher, I have discovered that variation can occur between two 'identical' classes. Since students can affect the flow and speed of a live class, I have had some classes ending without covering all required topics. Such variance can't be tolerated with training designed to educate the learner regarding state and federal regulations.
With eLearning, variation does not take place. Two individuals (or a million) on opposite sides of the planet can take the same eLearning and experience the same words, narration, learning interactions, and testing. Consistency and the lack of geographic restrictions are two of the major advantages of eLearning and are two major requirements for compliance training within my company. This observed match is why I think that eLearning should be a preferred method for compliance training.
Charles Osburn, a leader in corporate training and e-learning development, documents his action research into implementing a blended learning strategy for training merchants in a retail bank setting.