Blended Learning 101: Basics, Benefits & Best Practices

blended learning

According to our research, the overwhelming majority of organizations use a blended learning strategy to deliver training. Blended learning is the norm, not the exception. This likely comes as no surprise to you. Online is often the method of choice for fact-based knowledge and performance support, while instructor-led training and other interpersonal activities are the standard go-to for helping learners build soft skills and practice complex tasks.

If you are new to training and development or just looking for a refresher, this article is for you. Read on to learn the basics of blended learning, its key benefits and the best practices we use when designing blended learning curriculums.

What is blended learning?

Blended learning is a combination of learning solutions. Essentially, it combines classroom or face-to-face learning with self-paced online learning. This gives learners an element of control over time, place, path, and/or pace. Blended learning uses multiple delivery methods to present a series of learning events. Delivery methods may include eLearning, video, mobile, and/or live training. This helps present learning content in a way that best serves the learner and the content being taught.

Benefits of Blended Learning

A blended learning strategy can benefit your employees, as a variety of learning approaches can stimulate their interest and increase their engagement. Blended learning offers:

1. The best of both worlds

Blended learning allows the flexibility of an online course while retaining the benefits of the face-to-face classroom experience. It gives the learner time to learn when it is most convenient for them. Learners can complete introductory modules at their own pace, rather than the pace of the slowest or fastest member of a group in the class environment. Then, learners benefit from the hands-on practice and coaching opportunities that face-to-face training provides for your more challenging learning objectives.

Blended learning also allows you to provide the right contextual practice via live, face-to-face training. It doesn’t force you to make concessions but allows you to create the interactions that are going to benefit your learners the most.

2. Stronger learner engagement and knowledge retention

Learning science shows that knowledge retention can significantly improve with the addition of a new element in the learning process. This is true even if it is something as simple as a drag and drop interaction in an eLearning course. By offering a variety of different approaches, blended learning can help learners remember what they need to be successful on the job. Blending face-to-face and online training creates a much richer training experience. It helps your employees learn and remember much easier than they would if they were offered a single-solution approach.

3. Simplified training logistics

Blended learning also reduces the cost of delivering basic, foundational knowledge. Depending on the solution used, analytics and completion data will give you a picture of what learners know and don’t know before they attend a live session. Because everyone completes the same pre-work or online modules, you can then teach the actual application of these skills in the face-to-face environment.

Potential Downfalls of Blended Learning

When I spoke with some of our Learning Technologists, most of them mentioned time and budget as possible constraints to a robust blended learning strategy. Blended learning obviously takes more time to design and develop than just a single course, for example. If some stakeholders are skeptical of the upfront investment, a strong training implementation strategy can help identify potential risks and build consensus early.

Other possible challenges include:

Finding facilitators for the live training events: Like any projects that involve logistics and scheduling, allow plenty of time to plan for this early on.

Making sure learners complete the pre-work before attending ILT: Create a communications strategy and align efforts with learners’ managers. Make learners aware that top performers will be recognized and rewarded when they attend the live training event.

Making sure learners are engaged and pay attention during ILT: Design a variety of interactive activities and avoid lecture at all costs.

Ensuring that learners complete any post-work and use the provided performance support tools: Perform a careful needs analysis up front to ensure you are designing the optimal tools for learners.

Blended learning curriculum design: What to consider

Create a cohesive curriculum

One of the most important things to consider when designing a blended learning curriculum is how to l solutions in a curriculum feel consistent and connected. How does the live meeting build on the pre-work, for example? A blended curriculum shouldn’t just repeat everything from one learning solution to another. All the solutions should work together to reach the common goal. Often, you may decide to use a story or a theme throughout to tie the pieces together. It should feel like one experience to the learner, not a series of separate courses or events.

Identify any constraints

You also want to consider your constraints. Your budget, timeline, and the time your learners have available all have a huge impact on what the right learning solution will be for your situation. A realistic picture of your project constraints will help you decide what to cover in an eLearning course, what can be done in person, and what should be used for follow-up.

Take a look at some of the blended learning curriculums we’ve created for organizations just like yours.

Is Your Process Training “Nice to Know” or “Need to Know”?


Process is critical to every business, and research increasingly tells us that “tiny habits” matter. It is the small actions, not the sweeping initiatives, that truly define our businesses… and our lives.

Every individual has had to learn a set of processes that are tedious or difficult to follow. Think about the sales rep used to using Outlook to log follow-up tasks who is now asked to re-input the same data into the CRM, or the call center representative who must ask every customer who calls in, even the irate ones, to answer a three question survey.

But at the same time, every manager or decision-maker knows the pain that follows when sales reps are not documenting their activity, or when customer service reps do not collect meaningful data on customer satisfaction. In some environments, the consequence of ignoring processes is even more dire: accidents (and lawsuits) happen. People get hurt.

Policy and process are top priorities for L&D

L&D is often asked to help solve the “process problem” and get employees proficient at following the right steps. In fact, 41% of respondents to our 2014 Learning and Remembering Survey listed policies, process, and procedures as the primary type of knowledge employees must know on the job.


So if processes and procedures are considered so successful to employee success on the job, why do so many organizations struggle to effectively train their employees on how to follow them? Here are five possible reasons—and questions L&D professionals can ask to overcome these challenges.

1. Too many processes

One challenge might be that there are too many processes, or the processes are too complicated. Depending on your role within the organization, you may have limited ability to fix this issue. Your job, then, is to help employees focus on the right processes, the most essential information.

Questions to ask: Think about your C-suite: which processes and procedures would they care about most? Which processes have the most direct impact on the bottom line? Those are the processes that deserve the most attention and emphasis in your training. You might still need to produce training on a large number of processes and procedures, but the training you produce for processes that impact sales, customer satisfaction or safety should be more robust and impactful than training that teaches the employee dress code, for example.

Which processes and procedures are absolutely essential to the business? Align your efforts with the areas your C-suite cares about most. Perhaps one process is customer facing while another is about storing documents, for example.

2. Content overload

Similar to the problem of too many processes is the problem that arises when employees are presented with an overwhelming amount of detail on processes they must follow. In our Learning and Remembering survey, 24% of respondents cited the amount of content as their primary challenge and 38% cited knowledge transfer and retention as the stumbling block, which is often closely related to the overwhelming amount of content employees must complete training on in a given year.

Questions to ask: How often do they need to follow the process? Is it information they must know cold to perform their job function, or an infrequently used procedure that can simply be looked up when needed? Reduce learner’s cognitive load when possible and focus on the three to five key steps they absolutely must follow.

3. Lack of motivation or buy-in

Middle management might report that a certain sales documentation process is complex or difficult to follow, but that may not be the real reason employees are falling short. Lack of buy-in from the middle managers who actually coach and support employees on the job may be the real culprit. If the process is a change from a past workflow or standard way of doing business, you can expect excuses and resistance. In situations like these, L&D is really being asked to do more than simply apply adult learning theories to make instructionally sound courses; the learning solutions you produce are also an internal marketing tool to sell employees of the benefits of following the new process.

Questions to ask: How can we make middle management see the impact this process and procedure has on the business—and their jobs? Sometimes, L&D functions spend so much time producing process training for front-line staff that they neglect the needs of middle managers to be included in the bigger picture. Make middle managers feel like leaders who can see how their actions are linked to the company strategy. Design experiences to show them how everyone benefits when proper processes and procedures are followed, including themselves.

4. Practice Makes Perfect

Training technicians how to use a software tool? Why not create a functional simulation of the software within an eLearning course that allows them to practice following key steps? For processes that are more complex, a single eLearning course or series of short vignettes may not be enough. Instead, consider a blended approach that introduces basic concepts in online prework, followed by live training sessions with an instructor.

Example: A customer training program we created moves basic terminology and introductory content into eLearning courses and game-based modules. Technicians then attend a live, instructor-led session where they are able to practice operating the machinery with an instructor present. Reinforcement is handled via a flashcard app post-training.

5. No “pain,” no change

Training is often the go-to solution when learners are not following a process or procedure. But once again, let’s assume that your employees are human beings who are intelligent and capable of following basic steps. They could learn the process and follow it if they wanted to, but they have not found a compelling reason that motivates them to do so. Training is sometimes developed in a vacuum that is very different from the actual work environment. In the learning solutions you produce, strive to show employees how following a process or procedure benefits them, or actually helps relieve a real or imagined pain they encounter on the job.

Example: We developed safety & compliance training for hair stylists in Regis corporation salons. A key interaction in the “Slips,Trips, and Falls” course asks stylists to try to retrieve items from a high shelf. If they do so with the “shortcut” process, the character falls off the ladder and sprains an ankle. The course actually shows the consequences that arise from taking the “shortcut,” and how the shortcut is not really faster if an accident happens.



Trying to find out what is “nice to know” and what is “need to know”? Download our Training Needs Analysis Worksheet.

Playable UI, eLearning Challenges, and HapYak: This Week on #BLPLearn


#BLPLearn is our way of saving all of the great content our team curates… and sharing it with the wider community. We’ll take the best articles shared by our Learning Services, Multimedia, and Product Development teams in their weekly meetings and include them in the weekly #BLPLearn blog. We’ll usually include some commentary from the original team member who found the article, too.

Our goal is to make the weekly #BLPLearn blog a dependable source for quality, curated L&D content. Check back every Thursday.


Rather than restricting the social media conversation to a 30 minute window, we’re inviting everyone inside and outside BLP to share interesting links, thoughts, and articles with the #BLPLearn hashtag on Twitter. We’ll check the feed once a week and include the best articles submitted via Twitter in the post, too.


Now that introductions are out of the way, let’s dive in to this week’s articles:

Designing a ‘Playable’ UI
Submitted by Corey Callahan, Senior Multimedia Developer

I came across this article last week. Full disclosure – I haven’t played the game mentioned within, but I absolutely loved how this article was laid out. In general, it goes through several iterations of a UI that subconsciously tries to teach a player how to play a game – all without hammering them with text and tutorials.

Of course, this is focused on more game-y mechanics, but that doesn’t mean we can’t pull some lessons from it. Where in our existing games can we train the player sneakily? Where have we already done this?

Side note – this article would absolutely fail if it didn’t use the embedded .gifs…I’m a huge fan of how this information was presented.

Designing a ‘Playable’ UI

How To Overcome the Common eLearning Challenges
Submitted by Sharon Roeder, Learning Designer

As I create storyboards, scripts or write content, I found this a useful article to help bring me back to the perspective of the learner! A lot of these tips are common sense to us in our field, but I found the 4th bullet about the belief that eLearning offers no support a great reminder to keep learners connected, even if they aren’t learning in a face-to-face environment. I wonder how we could incorporate these forums or methods of collaboration into our designs?

How To Overcome the Common eLearning Challenges

Submitted by Kirk Boller, Partner and CFO 

Interactive video is the next horizon in eLearning. Letting learners “choose their own adventure” by making decisions throughout a video scenario is exciting to contemplate. People could actually watch a drama unfold (a sales call that could go either stunningly well or awful, a performance discussion that could end well or badly) and decide what the actors should do next. Based on the decision the learner makes, the drama unfolds differently.

HapYak is a startup company that lets you quickly and easily produce these videos. You take your existing video…and lay the interactive elements right on top of it. The video streams from a video streaming service such as YouTube or Vimeo. HapYak’s server dishes up the interactive layer – and tracks backend analytics, and the viewer gets a very cool experience. The limitations of HapYak right now are that it 100% requires an Internet connection (no offline viewing or caching), and it is NOT SCORM-compliant. (This is not going to run in an LMS).

HapYak knows the slow trend will be AWAY from things residing in an LMS and it’s banking on that trend. Clearly, its product is rooted in marketing and the need for videos that a consumer can interact with. It recognized the power these interactive videos could also have as a teaching tool…and there are lots of training/teaching situations where a pesky LMS is not going to be a problem. Get a trial account and see what you think. You still produce your own video OUTSIDE of HapYak. Once it’s done, though, you can VERY quickly add in the interactivity.

We are very intrigued and excited by this tool and love its ease of use.

Storytelling, Programming, and Dumb Ways to Die: This Week on #BLPLearn

#BLPLearn is our way of saving all of the great content our team curates… and sharing it with the wider community. We’ll take the best articles shared by our Learning Services, Multimedia, and Product Development teams in their weekly meetings and include them in the weekly #BLPLearn blog. We’ll usually include some commentary from the original team member who found the article, too.

Our goal is to make the weekly #BLPLearn blog a dependable source for quality, curated L&D content. Check back every Thursday.


Rather than restricting the social media conversation to a 30 minute window, we’re inviting everyone inside and outside BLP to share interesting links, thoughts, and articles with the #BLPLearn hashtag on Twitter. We’ll check the feed once a week and include the best articles submitted via Twitter in the post, too.


Now that introductions are out of the way, let’s dive in to this week’s articles:

Transmedia Storytelling
Submitted by Kristen Hewett, Senior Learning Designer 

As I was reading a blog, I came across a term I wasn’t familiar with. A little more digging, and I was looking at Karl Kapp’s site. Take a look at his blog on “Transmedia storytelling,” specifically the first and third videos in the post.

Transmedia Storytelling

How could we use this with clients?

Wanna be a programmer?
Submitted by Leo Caldwell, Multimedia Developer

The article I’ve picked for the week starts: ‘Wanna be a programmer?’


Well, kid, the options are endless. I’ve been trying to up my programming game this last year and I’ve working mostly with Treehouse. It’s awesome – however, what’s even more awesome? The times I’ve sat down with my coworker and he has looked through my work and critiqued it. I’ve found having someone give me feedback on my actual work is the best way to learn. Lucky me, published an article this week on a site that allows you to upload exercises and have coders give you feedback.

The site: Exercism
The article: Out in the Open: The Site That Teaches You to Code Well Enough to Get a Job

Dumb Ways to Die
Submitted by Sharon Boller, President and Chief Product Officer

My link for this week comes from the Games for Change website. The game is called “Dumb Ways to Die,” and the city of Melbourne, Australia had this mobile game made as part of a public safety campaign on train safety. You can download the actual game for free from the App Store.

I played the game, and found a lot to like. The graphics are strong, and the game characters are clever and funny.The graphics convey a light-hearted tone while hammering home all the stupid things we routinely do that could get us killed (e..g pulling a piece of toast out of the toaster w/ a fork).

You quickly start to get the point about various things we all could do differently to stay safe, though their focus is on being safe around trains.

The game has high replayability because, gosh darn it, it IS pretty funny to see all the scenarios and, dare I say it, to die.

The game uses levels very well – and you learn to play by playing, something that is REALLY hard for a game designer to make happen.

Finally – it is truly a game you can play in spurts – and if you only have one or two minutes to play, you can. It’s probably not something you will sit and play for an hour.

Here’s link to info on Games for Change website about the game:

Dumb Ways to Die

Testing, Characters, and Genies in eLearning: This Week on #BLPLearn


#BLPLearn is our way of saving all of the great content our team curates… and sharing it with the wider community. We’ll take the best articles shared by our Learning Services, Multimedia, and Product Development teams in their weekly meetings and include them in the weekly #BLPLearn blog. We’ll usually include some commentary from the original team member who found the article, too.

Our goal is to make the weekly #BLPLearn blog a dependable source for quality, curated L&D content. Check back every Thursday.


Rather than restricting the social media conversation to a 30 minute window, we’re inviting everyone inside and outside BLP to share interesting links, thoughts, and articles with the #BLPLearn hashtag on Twitter. We’ll check the feed once a week and include the best articles submitted via Twitter in the post, too.


Now that introductions are out of the way, let’s dive in to this week’s articles:

How Tests Make Us Smarter
Submitted by Kirk Boller, Partner and CFO

How Tests Make Us Smarter – This NY Times article is about how testing is a tool to promote learning versus just to measure it. Testing makes you actually retrieve knowledge. Because we quickly forget, testing helps us “stem forgetting”. What surprises you about this article? How might we more effectively insert testing into our learning solutions to encourage better retention of information?

How Tests Make Us Smarter

Jettison the Genies and Let Learners Think
Submitted by Alicia Ostermeier, Senior Learning Designer

We use the learning agent concept quite a bit. Are we guilty of turning them into “genies” and having them provide “too much” help, or are we using them in a way that encourages retention?

  • Like idea of using a troubleshooting guide as a reference if it exists (and if it’s realistic to use).
  • Could come up with more effective ideas for remediation; don’t just have the genie give you the answer.
  • Fun (genies!) is not an instructional design decision. Are we just presenting info, or really helping them learn?
  • Doesn’t just have to be the genie or lots of words; there are other options.
  • If it is a presentation, just do it. Don’t try to hide it.

Jettison the Genies and Let Learners Think

Using Characters in eLearning
Submitted by Abby Seifert, Intern

This week’s article comes from the eLearning Coach. This article is all about using characters in eLearning games. The article is based off a presentation that Jeff Goldman did at the DevLearn conference. This article writes about why characters are so important in games, especially eLearning games. It also mentions other uses for characters, such as using them in job aids or on a related website. Although I have already created back stories for our characters, there is a downloadable chart to help you create more characters. I think it might be fun if everyone created their own character using the character chart! Maybe this could be useful when we create more characters in the future. One thing in the article that I found interesting was the idea that every story has an antagonist. This is something that we don’t utilize in our eLearning games. What are your thoughts about incorporating an antagonist in our games? Would it create a better story for our eLearners?

Using Characters in eLearning

Global eLearning: When One Size Does Not Fit All

Global eLearning
Want life to keep you on your toes? Try deploying eLearning to a global audience. Good ideas have to be great ones, and even the best-laid project work plan can be torn asunder as project teams grow and decision makers multiply. We’ve been deploying global eLearning curriculums with our clients for years, and that experience has taught us that, well, every project is truly unique. One size really does not fit all.

…But would that last sentence have worked in a global course? “One size does not fit all” is a phrase we use a great deal in the US, and its meaning seems universal. But how does that translate into Chinese? I’m not entirely sure, but if I was a learning designer developing eLearning for a global audience, I would need to check on that one.

Before you start a large curriculum design project (or even a single eLearning course) for a global audience, make sure you can answer these questions:

How will we get consensus from decision makers around the globe?

If you are lucky, all of the key stakeholders will be located in the same country. More than likely this is not the case. Your company’s stakeholders all want an opportunity to have buy-in and support each decision… but this can add months in development time. It is important to identify who owns the decision and who makes the final decision. If multiple global groups will meet with the vendor at different times, agree to break decisions into parts where everyone decides on their own piece. Otherwise, your group must try to make key decisions outside of meetings with your vendor.

How Will Content From Disparate Sources Be Collected?

Your organization is huge, and the vendor will likely be hunting around the globe to speak with SMEs, conduct focus groups and gather the necessary information. With so much information to gather, you’ll need to identify the key pieces you can provide to get the projected started, then agree on individual pieces the vendor can deliver while content is still being finalized on your end.

How will we make the solution feel universal?

In an article published in April 2013, we said that eLearning illustrations can make learners feel like a course is “everywhere and nowhere at the same time.” We’ve found that even the most “serious minded” learners respond positively to graphical illustrations instead of photography. It also avoids the problem of images that are too realistic. The laboratory in Iowa may not look the same as the one in Budapest, and illustrations can reduce this problem significantly.

Here is an illustrated example from a course we created for Cummins, Inc:

Illustrations for global eLearning

How will we keep expensive translations to a minimum?

If budget is an issue, try to think carefully about video and audio. How can you use video and audio creatively and add interactivity to the course without creating re-work? Obviously, avoiding audio of people speaking is essential, assuming you do not want to rely on subtitles.

How will the meaning of our courses translate into other languages?

The colloquialisms and vernacular may mean something entirely different in another country. They might even be offensive in another country. Vendors must work carefully with their clients, and do their own research, to determine how various language choices will work.

More tips for global elearning

For more thoughts on how to make your global eLearning project a success, have a look at the graphic below:

Global eLearning Chart

Project Showcase: Memorable eLearning for Salon Employees

In our business, there’s no better feeling than having a great client. A partner who wants to make memorable eLearning that engages the target learner. One such client of ours is Regis Corporation, a global leader in beauty salons and cosmetology educationRegis is committed to excellence in training and continuous learner improvement, and we have been helping the Regis Safety Group design and develop a new eLearning program since September of 2013.

Regis Corporation

Our current focus with Regis is safety training. Regis keeps its hair salons safe for guests and employees by complying with OSHA regulations. In the past, training was a combination of face-to-face and DVD based, led by managers during monthly meetings. Salons would have a briefcase of print materials to work through as part of this training. But Regis wanted to make the process more efficient and engaging. They really wanted to shift to an online delivery format and the recent implementation of a new LMS gave them the ability to do this, and track completion as well.

Regis’s Goals:

  • Make OSHA training easier to track for each learner.
  • Make safety training more engaging, memorable and effective.

Regis asked us to design an eLearning program that included five online modules that they could use for the initial eLearning launch. They asked us to develop three of the five modules AND provide all design & development assets along with ongoing development support. The Safety Group’s goal was to be able to update the first three courses on their own, develop the final two courses in house, and even create more courses in the future.

The Design Meeting:



Design choices were driven by our target audience: salon employees such as stylists and managers. Salon employees are on the move all day, not sitting at a desk with immediate access to a computer. They have very little time to devote to training. We designed the eLearning program to include small bursts of five-minute activities with self-paced modules that could be taken during breaks or in between customer appointments. Doing so allowed salon employees to finish a module and get to their next appointment without losing their progress. We also focused on a clean, conversational writing style with engaging visuals and learner interactions.

Regis had already seen our work samples such as the award-winning Avoid the BBPs course and Building Evacuation course, and this influenced some of their “must-haves” for the design. They liked the idea of an illustrated look and feel… and also wanted to create an immersive learner experience.

Key Features of the courses

  • Custom illustrations: An illustrated environment eliminates the problem of learners looking at a photo and saying “that’s not my salon!” We created fictitious settings where all the elements were strategically correct (chairs, displays, etc) but in an illustrated format. This way, learners can see themselves in the environment. Quick visits to a few actual salons allowed us to observe salon employees in action and take photos of the salon work areas that served as the inspiration for our illustrated look.



  • Interactions instead of text: Since most of the safety topics are “common sense” in nature, each module consists of interactions that allow the learners to practice proper safety procedures.



  • Strategic audio… with a transcript: Regis liked the idea of using audio to add to the learning experience. Since some salons place their employee computer “station” on the salon floor, we created a transcript feature so stylists can complete a course without disturbing guests or other salon employees.
  • Scenario-based: Each course has 4-6 activities, and learners are immediately dropped into situations to see if they make the right choices. If they cannot, they are shown the consequences and given a chance to try again. We made the consequences real: your character can get injured, miss time at work, etc if safety procedures aren’t followed in the course… just like in real life.



  • Mobile Friendly: We made all the courses iPad-friendly.

Example: The Ladder Activity

This ladder safety activity is a great example of the course’s design. The goal? Answer five questions about ladder safety correctly. If learners answer correctly, the character climbs up the ladder safely. If the learner answers incorrectly, the character falls off and makes an “ouch!” sound. Learners then must answer a question to climb back up.



While the answers to these questions may seem like common sense, the activities (and consequences) show and remind learners, “Oh! Here’s what can happen if you don’t do it right.”

Screen Shot 2014-03-14 at 1.24.29 PM


Example: Reaching High Places Safely

Employees don’t always realize that the safest way can be the fastest. In this activity, learners have three options: find someone to help them climb a ladder, jump up to get the product, or jump on top of the dryer. We ask: “What is the fastest way?”

If learners choose to jump, it takes one second to get the product, but they sprain their ankle and must go to the doctor.



If they choose the dryer, they accidentally knock all products over and must pick up what they’ve knocked down.

Learners receive feedback in the form of a winding clock that goes down no matter what they do. The course is designed so that the “safe” way takes less time than other choices because of all the potential risks.

Ergonomics Course

This second course in the project takes a similar concept and applies it to making choices that help learners avoid ergonomic injury – fatigue in arms, wrists, back, or neck. The characters themselves give feedback (via thought bubbles) when incorrect choices are made.


First Build, Then Enable:

This project is unique because, while we designed the first five courses and developed the first three, Regis also wants to develop some courses in-house going forward. In our design, we thought through how Regis can develop similar courses based on our design in the future. We even provided them with a pre-programmed screen template catalog and image library for their ongoing use.

We continue to provide resources to Regis for the courses their team is developing. When they decided to go with a “special agent” theme for the Hazard Communication course, we provided graphic design, content development, and testing support. Their course theme was clever: Regis set it up so learners complete a series of HazCom-related “missions” to become a special agent.

This type of collaboration is very rewarding: Senior Learning Designer Alicia Ostermeier notes that Regis has been fun to work with as a creative partner because our two teams are truly “in it together.” The ideas both teams have added to the project have made these courses truly memorable.

3 Ways Corporate eLearning Projects Go Wrong


The title of this blog post is a bit misleading. Why? There are many ways an eLearning project, or any L&D initiative, can fail to live up to expectations. No matter the cause, one of these “fail states” is usually present when projects miss the mark:

  1. The project took too long.
  2. The client isn’t happy.
  3. The project did not achieve the business or learning outcomes.

Have any of these three been true for you? If so, read on to learn about how we prevent these fail states. Keep in mind that, more often than not, we are developing large curriculums with many eLearning courses rather than a single course.

Three Outcomes With Many Causes

Ending with just one of the outcomes above can spell disaster for an eLearning project. What if the project meets its business objectives… but it took too long and the client is not happy with the process? On the flip side, what if the project went as planned and the client is pleased with the deliverables… only to find learning outcomes are not met?

The following areas can get in the way of an efficient eLearning design project:

  • Lack of content. Does the source material exist? Did we decide who will create it?
  • Lack of decision-making. How many people will review the course? Be wary not to bring in new decision-makers midway through the project who have a different vision for the design.
  • Lots of re-do’s. This one ties in to the number of decision-makers… and the project’s process. Are there too many cooks in the kitchen?
  • Not having a clear goal. The vendor should always partner with the client to identify a goal before starting the project. Some organizations do not start out with a clear goal of what people need to know or do and their intention is just general awareness of a topic. It’s important to decide which is needed: training or an information push.
  • Waiting to engage the end user. Just because Corporate likes the course does not mean the people who actually take it will like it, or have their needs met. Try not to over-focus on learner likes and dislikes… and look at learner needs instead. You do not always need to like something to learn from it.
  •  Changing tech requirements midway through a project. This one is self-explanatory. Establish clear requirements from the beginning of the project and stick to them.

What About Moving Targets?

Anyone who has worked in the field of corporate learning long enough knows that avoiding the pitfalls above is easier said than done. There are many situations where it can be next to impossible to avoid things like re-do’s and changing goals. Product launches are a great example: the goal may be to launch the product, but what it takes to get there is evolving every day. Clients often discover that what they thought when they started has changed. It’s important to have a vendor who can manage this change.

And no matter the business need or client, there are a number of ways to make sure every eLearning project is set up for success.

 An eLearning project that’s set up for success has…

  • …a strong client decision-maker.
  • …a clear goal.
  • …a clear deadline.
  • …urgency in the sense of sticking to the deadline.
  • …clear set of actions that learners are supposed to do and content that supports those actions already defined. Make sure the vendor knows where to go.
  • …a client open to new ideas and creativity. We recommend looking at content and asking “What’s really the best way for people to practice or try things out before they get to the real world?”
  • …an end in mind (what you want to achieve)… but not a solution in mind. Clients and vendors must partner to explore the best solution for the job. It might not be a 30 minute eLearning course! If people need to reference a critical piece, then a five minute course with a reference guide may be the right solution.

Above all, successful eLearning projects have mutually clear expectations for everyone involved. The vendor understands exactly what the client needs… and the number of review cycles and client decision-makers are clearly defined. Establishing these expectations also establishes trust… which keeps the team solutions-focused if and when something does go wrong.

High Impact Blended Learning on a Tight Budget: How We Did It

Getting new employees ramped up quickly is the challenge and goal of every company, but the hiring and onboarding process is a particular strain on smaller companies. Fewer resources exist to support the orientation and training needs of the new team members inside a company.  Large companies may be able to devote resources to a dedicated onboarding program that spans weeks… but small companies don’t have this luxury.

We recently worked with a regional CPA firm, Umbaugh and Associates, that fit the above description. Umbaugh has more than doubled in size in the past five years. and they expect growth to continue at a healthy pace. However, even with this doubling, the firm remains smaller than 100 people.  There is an HR manager, but training and development is only a part of her significant responsibilities. Like most companies with less than 250 or 300 employees, there is no dedicated L&D function or personnel. The annual ASTD State of the Industry Report consistently notes the challenges of companies with fewer than 500 employees. The annual amount they pay per employee for training is $1,800 – well above the $1195 per employee larger companies (more than 10,000 employees) pay. There are simply fewer efficiencies of scale.

Umbaugh has other constraints common to small firms (10 to 250 employees). They have to be extremely judicious in  selecting technology, deciding how to allocate subject matter experts’ time, and how to develop and deliver training. Since we’re a small firm ourselves – and know the pain and challenge of successfully ramping up new team members, we were eager to support Umbaugh.

Our goal was to design a solution that Umbaugh could reasonably implement given its company size – and to do the analysis and design for a reasonable price that allowed Umbaugh to spend the majority of its budget on development and technology acquisition.  We spent two and a half months doing analysis and design work with the goal of delivering a curriculum that Umbaugh could develop with a minimum level of support from us. The curriculum we designed would cost six figures to develop were we doing 100% of the work ourselves on Umbaugh’s behalf. Umbaugh is going to blend use of its own personnel with strategic coaching from us to produce a solution that is less costly and enables their experts to strongly shape its content.

Aligning the Internal Team

Good design starts with good analysis. Before we could design a curriculum, we needed to get the team to be clear on what outcomes it hoped to produce. Here’s a summary of our analysis process. This process was ONLY possible because we had a strong, committed group of three people within Umbaugh – two Partners and the HR Director – to help with this:

  • Assigned the two Partners the task of generating a list that described what a new associate should be able to DO (not know, believe, or understand) within a year.
  • Interviewed several new and tenured associates. Showed them the list of skills/expectations and had them rate how difficult each one was to learn, the frequency with which they performed the skill, and the importance they felt it had to their jobs.  We also let them add skills as well as identify any existing resources they’ve used to acquire the skills or abilities on the list.
  • Shared the revised list with the senior leaders and winnowed it DOWN. If tasks were done very infrequently (less than 1x/month) or were low-value tasks, we eliminated them. We re-focused on a few key job skills and then did a more detailed task analysis of these project-based skills to find out how many sub-tasks were required to execute them.  Based on this data, we created an overarching goal for what a new employee should be able to do within 1 week, a month, 3 months, 6 months, and a year. The emphasis on “do” is important as it clearly diverges from a focus on “what we want people to know,” a common behavior in any firm.
  • Mapped the agreed-upon knowledge and skill needs across a 12-month continuum. This visual enabled stakeholders to see where their goals were unrealistic and where they needed to make adjustments to avoid overloading the new-hire with too many new things at once.
  • Agreed on what constituted “proficiency” and how many times a new-hire needed to perform a task/job to become proficient at it. (Consensus was that an associate needed to perform a particular project 5-6 times to become proficient.)

Building the Blended Curriculum

Once we had our map and targeted outcomes, we could design the curriculum. We chose to create a blended curriculum that focused heavily on the informal and strategically leveraged formal elements. This focus on the informal minimizes the ongoing resources Umbaugh will need to implement the curriculum once it’s developed. It also empowers the new-hire. Here are the components we identified:


  • Self-study: Computer-based instruction that enables associates to quickly acquire knowledge and skill at the point of need.
  • Hands-on labs: Face-to-face instruction that complements self-study elements. Hands-on labs use an “explain, demonstrate, practice, and apply” format that has learners DOING rather than simply listening to a lecture.
  • Structured, on-the-job experiences: Includes observation (watching a skilled performer complete a task) initially and later opportunities to perform new tasks with supervision.
  • Coaching: Coaches review associates’ work product, observe performance, and conduct structured, one-on-one discussions to foster continuous improvement (with the assistance of coaching tools). Coaching should occur on a proactive, regular basis.
  • Mentoring: During the first year, mentors act as a guide for new associates, helping them keep track of what they have learned and what they still need to learn to succeed.
  • Resource library: All materials related to the curriculum are housed in the resource library on Sharepoint for associates, coaches, and mentors to access easily when needed.

Next, we created prototypes of EACH component and only allowed ourselves to build in functionality that we felt someone within Umbaugh could finish out. We chose Articulate Storyline as one tool for the self-study, eLearning modules because we felt it was relatively easy to learn and Articulate would provide strong user support for Umbaugh through its learning curve. We chose the Knowledge Guru game engine for the other components because the Game Creation Wizard would make it very easy for Umbaugh to create its own learning games.

Finally we created a training schedule that covered the first 12 months. This training schedule identified benchmarks an associate needed to be able to achieve by specific time points in the year. Training and skill development activities that supported achievement of the benchmarks were listed as well. The employee’s assigned mentor would be responsible for using scheduled mentor/mentee discussions to stay on top of the training schedule and verify that benchmarks were being achieved.

Ready for Development

The task now is to develop out what’s been designed. However, the entire curriculum design was predicated on these things:

      • No 100% dedicated training and development resource.
      • Technology choices needed to be pinpoint accurate. Umbaugh was willing to invest in technology  (and, in fact, made a eLearning software choice based on functionality and not price) but they wanted to buy what maximized their investment.  Web-based tools needed to be simple but also expand to allow for eventual use of tablets in the workplace.
      • Use of structured on-the-job experiences as much as possible with formal training experiences carefully timed to support these on-the-job experiences. Key to this structure was creation of an official “coaching model” that Umbaugh associates can learn and use:
      • A structure for any face-to-face training that enabled Umbaugh’s associates to deliver these sessions with minimal skill in facilitation/training delivery. Their primary role is client-facing work. Our goal was not to turn every Umbaugh person into a professional trainer but to empower them via the right process and tools.


Self Assessment for Your eLearning Program (Free Download)

It’s easy to look at someone else’s process/presentation/technology and “see what good looks like.” We know when someone else is doing well, or not so well… but what about our own organizations? How can we separate ourselves from our own “best practices” and see when there is room for improvement?

It’s hard to look at ourselves, or our own organizations, objectively. We either judge ourselves too harshly, or take for granted the ways we currently do things. We might not know how to improve, or simply not want to improve.

For learning professionals, this is a dangerous game: the tools and technologies available to us are changing rapidly, and it’s hard enough just keeping up. It’s harder still to stay focused on sound instructional design and designing for how people naturally learn, while striking that balance between what the organization has always done and the allure of that new authoring your tool your boss wants you to use.

We’ve developed a simple self evaluation to help you look at your own eLearning program objectively. After nearly 20 years in the instructional design field, we’ve seen a broad spectrum of training programs, effective and not so effective. Through the hundreds of projects we’ve worked on with our clients, our own best practices have emerged in eight key areas.

The self assessment worksheet will allow you to score your training program in these key areas and see where you stand. If your approach to eLearning and instructional design is exceptional, you probably already know it… but this assessment will provide some additional validation. If you have one or two areas (lots of corporate speak? content overload?) that need improvement, the self assessment will help you identify what to focus on first.

And if you discover your approach to training and eLearning need a complete overhaul… you’re in the right place! We have authored hundreds of articles on this blog to help people improve their training, especially in the eLearning space.