Thursday, April 06, 2017

Lessons learnt from the design of a blended learning trajectory

Over the past year I have worked with Proteion, a health organization in the south of the Netherlands. They have 3500 employees and a large part of their work is care for people with dementia. What made it so much fun to work with Proteion is that people occasionally started talking in the Limburg dialect. I could understand it reasonably it and always gave me a feeling of being abroad, maybe even the feeling of my work in Latin America and Africa :). Moreover, there was a strong vision to learn through a potent mix of learning methods to facilitate workplace. Learning with direct influence on practice. It was really about something important that we wanted to influence: better care for people with dementia. My first question was whether the people working there didn't already know and learn enough about the best care, but the thing is that when they were students, dementia wasn't as important as it is today. The second thing is that when they work in shifts, there is little opportunity to learn from each other.

Last year we had a number of working sessions, including a design workshop with all key stakeholders. After this the team continued using Scrum method to work on developing materials and assignments. The blended course is for (new) employees and consists of online modules, working together with a buddy/buddies using whatsapp, and optional face-to-face workshops based on their own learning needs. It concludes by discussing the analyse of a client case with the team leader. The course is ready and I am struck by how much work it has been to develop, and how bumpy the ride within the organization. Because it takes so much time, to develop I ask wonder sometimes if it is worth it, and whether it had not been faster to organize a face-to-face training ...

In February, just before the carnival erupted in Limburg, I was at Proteion to discuss the final design and point to put the dots on the i. I asked the location manager what he thought about the design and he said wholeheartely: "I wish we had this 10 years ago!" He was really very happy. This reassured me that it is worthwhile. The advantage is that even though the pilot start at two kocations, eventually there 2000 to 2500 people can participate. A first blended design is really a steep learning curve whereby it takes a disproportionately long time. I am curious about the results of the first pilot. A concrete result should be that the care improves and thus the number of incidents with clients and complaints from carers goes down. One challenge is the fact that employees are not paid for extra hours they invest in learning.

Lessons in developing a first blended course
I made a spark video for the start of the trajectory, however it is in Dutch.

  • Blended learning aimed at enhancing workplace learning really requires different roles than face-to-face workshops. We were luckily to have someone in L&D with heart for the technique who has done quite a job in understanding the potential of the learning platform and talking to and negotiating with the vendor. I am not sure any L&D could have done this. The psychologists who normally give an expert lecture also have a different role: in the search of materials, thinking about assignments and recording a short video. Furthermore, we really need the team leaders for this project, they will evaluate the final project and issue the certificates.
  • You can't simply designing a blended course, you also have to deal with organizational policies and politics. A blended course within an organization aiming to change practice is never standing on itself, especially if the subject is important (and it should be!). In this case there was overlap of the original topics of two separate initiatives which had to be worked out. There was a collaboration with another institution with apprenticeships in the same field. It takes time to properly position a blended course as one of the instruments among all other (change?) activities within the organization. In this case that was the cause that it took a year to develop the blended trajectory.
  • The most difficult to organize collaborative learning online. Everyone can imagine or has seen individual e-learning modules. However, how do you organize interactive learning and how do you facilitate it? It is difficult to anticipate and imagine if you have little experience with it. Where to use collaborative learning? Which social tools to use or leave it open? How do you make a good connection between the various components? Are we going or not facilitate over time the online modules or put everything open and people to work in their own time?
  • Sometimes you have to work with what you have. In this case the platform (PulseWeb). Although this platform does not offer all interaction opportunities that we would like it offers a lot of advantages. The organization has already purchased this platform, the employees are already used to log in, and you can get started right away without any additional search or costs. Disadvantages of an existing platform is often a lack of interaction and tight structure. This experience learn that it is worthwhile talking to the vendor to searching for ways to make it more interactive and personal.
Lessons from the professionals within Proteion are:

  • Blended learning is really another way of designing. We have underestimated this. Following the Ennuonline course alongside the support helped us get a broader look into blended learning approaches and various tools.
  • Make sure you're running fast; learning by doing, which can be supported by an expert on how to go about it, what are good examples. We have learned the most from the meetings with you there; working together on your own design; someone who asks the right questions, thinks about what steps you must take, for example, during the search for a platform, concerning attractiveness of the online course with photos, quotes, inspiring assignments.