Designing Engaging Learning for a Hybrid Work Environment

November 30, 2021 David Witt

Ann Rollins, a solutions architect for The Ken Blanchard Companies, isn’t surprised that Blanchard’s 2022 L&D Trends survey shows 53% of L&D respondents feel their virtual designs are not as effective as their face-to-face designs.

“We have a large number of people who, until February 2020, never had to design specifically for a digital/virtual environment. And if they did, it was usually PowerPoint and facilitator notes with a little chat and perhaps some breakouts.

“We’ve learned a lot over the past 18 months. It sure hasn’t been easy, but we're all still here. And guess what? We're ready for what’s next.”

A Challenging Environment

Rollins acknowledges there are a lot of challenges with designing virtual learning experiences that work.

“Every day I hear learning designs have to be less or have to be shorter. And clients tell me their culture is more ‘opt into learning’ versus a mandated schedule.

“So how do we create the tools to support leaders without a mandate? The answer is we need to be able to push high value content that will cause them to want to engage.”

Rollins recommends that L&D professionals take a marketer’s approach and build a learning content funnel that starts with awareness at the top, knowledge in the middle, and skill development at the bottom of the funnel.

“At the top of the funnel, we might place a brief article on challenging assumed constraints. For the learner who wants to learn more, we would provide some additional resources.

“From there, the learner could access a collection of assets that layers on, builds, and extends the learning experience—it’s going from a first blush to dipping their toe into the middle stage of the funnel. If the learner wants some additional skill development and tools, they can sign up for a 90-minute session that is very specific to challenging assumed constraints, which is the bottom of the funnel.

“This is the opt-in approach. We use curated content to generate interest. And when people want to learn more, they have a clear path to a short-form, virtual experience and then a deeper dive option to get the tools they need.”

Best Practices in Creating Digital/Virtual Learning Experiences

While Rollins advocates providing people with the skills they need in the moment, she is quick to call out the need for an overarching model that ties all the content together.

“In the case of leadership development, leaders need both a mindset shift and skills. If you don't take the time to set the context and get to the mindset of the leader, you're just teaching them to fight fires using new skills—and if they feel they don’t need what you’re providing right now, it’s just noise that the learner needs to remember when they need it. That is a real gamble that likely won’t provide the ROI you’re expected to deliver today. Mindset and skillset are both important. The challenge is how to deliver both in tandem. That’s where good LX design comes in.

“I recently read through 6,000 course evaluations from the past year. The best ratings had several things in common. The class was facilitated extremely well and the pre-work was outstanding and a benefit to the learners. The session flowed well, with tons of interaction and good use of breakouts. The expectation of participation made it engaging.

“The takeaway is you can't just show up and talk for an hour. The content must be compelling enough that people want to be there. They have to be able to put the content to good use at the end of that session, and the overall experience has to be very engaging.

“Take breakouts, for example. We’ve found they should be very specific, small in size, and short in duration. You don’t want to provide too much time. You want people to get to work quickly in small groups of three or four people—you could do five, but in our experience when you expand to a group of five, people can hide in the numbers. You want every voice to have to be heard for the group to move forward.

“Next, your facilitator needs to be a master of the platform—if there is a technology breakdown, you’ll have a real problem. The facilitator also needs to be very nimble with their engagement skills and able to bring the voice of the participants into the session. If they don’t, people are going to log in, hit mute, and multitask.”

Peer Support and Social Learning

“We use Reflect and Share sessions as a part of virtual designs. These are conversations where participants discuss things that are happening in their work world. For example, one participant recently shared the results of a team leadership survey where one person rated his team as not capable and not engaged. The rater went on to comment that team performance was suffering because only he—and no one else—had the competence required to do their job.

“The aspiring leader told his reflection group, ‘I don't know what to do with that comment, but I have to do something.’ So the group went to work generating real-life strategies and ways to respond. The Reflect and Share sessions create connection and provide participants with a forum to discuss their real leadership issues in a supportive environment.

Reinforcement and Application

Rollins also recommends that designers look at more effective ways to keep learning alive after a skill-building session. She points to Blanchard research that found current reinforcement practices don’t match up with the best practices that learning and development pros know will work.

“Most people employ newsletters and email as the number one way to reinforce learning,” explains Rollins, “but they know that having managers hold learners accountable is the best method. Why the disconnect? Why don't we start doing the things that work?

“In short, including different people in the organization into the launch of a successful program is different, it costs a little more money, and it requires more mindshare. But we know it pays off. If you’re not engaging organizational leaders in this way, you’re leaving money on the table.”

Creating the Toolkit

From Rollins’s experience, the well designed learning experience of the future will be more of a toolkit.

“Learners either are directed or self-select when they see a performance outcome they know they need to deliver on. Have them listen to a quick podcast or watch a video from an executive to provide background. Then give them some tools to help them along—self-assessments with guidance for going forward or other job aids—then layer in some actual opportunities to practice and apply the skills they’ve learned.

“We're giving learners a lot more control that way. It’s a different way of thinking. It’s taking the original legacy learning course, blowing it apart—literally dis-aggregating it into discreet, individual assets—and then building them into a new story.

“It’s putting the learner in control—but with some expert design to help them along the way.”


Would you like to learn more about designing engaging learning experiences for a new world of work?  Join us for a free webinar!

Designing Effective Learning Experiences for a Hybrid Work Environment

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

In Blanchard’s latest L&D trend research, respondents identified concerns about learner engagement, participation, and attendance in digital and virtual solutions because of rapidly assembled and converted in-house designs. Fifty-three percent of L&D professionals reported that their virtual/digital designs are less effective than their face-to-face designs.

The hybrid environment does not have to be a barrier to building and implementing quality learning experiences that work. Join digital learning expert Ann Rollins as she shares strategies and techniques for successfully navigating the challenges of learning design in a time when people are fatigued with virtual life, fighting distractions, balancing priorities, and constantly multitasking.

You’ll learn how to:

  • Counteract a busy work environment where it’s too easy for people to be distracted, multitask, or choose to watch the recording later.
  • Build out an overall learning curriculum when some learners are onsite some of the time, some are never onsite, and others are onsite all the time.
  • Create and deliver training programs on virtual platforms that draw your learners in similar ways to a traditional face-to-face format.
  • Make online training more engaging so learners eagerly participate rather than click through it.

Don’t miss this opportunity to up your game in our new, high stakes world of learning!

Register today!

About the Author

David  Witt

David Witt is a Program Director for Blanchard®. He is an award-winning researcher and host of the companies’ monthly webinar series. David has also authored or coauthored articles in Fast Company, Human Resource Development Review, Chief Learning Officer and US Business Review.

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