Blended e-learning

April 1, 2005
Ron Burns

Ron Burns is president of protonMEDIA, a technology leader that specializes in the development of synchronous and asynchronous e-learning programs. For more information on software solutions for the sales training audience, call (215) 513-6242 or visit protonMEDIA online at www.protonmedia.com.

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David Werboff

David Werboff is group director, project management at Walpole, MA-based Informa Training Partners, a leading provider of custom and off-the-shelf training programs that motivate sales professionals to learn about their markets, gain access to their customers and maximize sales opportunities. For more information on sales training programs, contact Informa at (508) 668-0288 or visit the company online at www.informatp.com.

Pharmaceutical Representative

Making the most of synchronous and asynchronous training.

Blendedlearning. It's a common term, but does it have a common definition? Ifthere is one, it may be this: "integrated training delivered via avariety of media to most effectively meet the learning objectives ofthe program and accommodate the learning styles of the audience." Sowhat is blended e-learning? Just this: "integrated training deliveredvia a variety of electronic media to most effectively meet the learningobjectives of the program and accommodate the learning styles of theintended audience."

Asynchronous and synchronous: Separateworlds

As a training professional, you may be well-versed in the variety ofe-learning interventions available. For example, you may already beimplementing asynchronous e-learning programs, such as Web or CD-basedtutorials, to present training information, create scenarios, and allowlearners to apply and assess their knowledge. Monitored discussionboards are another form of asynchronous e-learning, in that they cansupport the informal exchange of knowledge and practical experienceamong members of your sales force.

Or, you may be implementing synchronous e-learning programs such as"webinars" (facilitated training sessions delivered over the Internetor corporate intranet) or structured chat rooms. While webinars allowmultiple participants to interact electronically at a scheduled time ona particular date, chat rooms allow personnel who are not located closeto each other to informally share knowledge and develop a sense ofgroup identity and teamwork.

Most agree that these different e-learning programs have specificstrengths in terms of what they provide to learners. Given the specificstrengths of both asynchronous and synchronous e-learning methods, isthere a way to combine them to gain the best of both at the same time?The answer is yes.

Bringing the two worlds together

Using available software tools and technologies, it is now possible tocreate an integrated e-learning experience. Imagine this: Thee-learning event starts with a synchronous, webinar-like session, whichinvolves an online, facilitated introduction to set the stage. Duringthe introduction, participants introduce themselves, the agenda andobjectives are reviewed by a facilitator, and any preliminary questionsare answered. This introductory portion of the session could then befollowed by a mix of individual online activities, group brainstormingsessions and assessments. The session finale could include afacilitated debriefing on the entire training event.

This type of program design combines the asynchronous and synchronouse-learning methods described previously and takes advantage of thestrengths of each. Trainees have access to a facilitator who can sharehis knowledge and experience and answer questions. They also have achance to work as part of a small group on a set of challenges,leveraging the computer's ability to store input entered into onlineforms and re-display it later for group debriefing (the onlineequivalent of a team flip-chart exercise). In addition, participantshave the opportunity to read and respond at their own pace inindividual online activities, taking advantage of the computer'sability to present content, deliver questions, and evaluate and storeanswers in real time.

Making a world of difference

The combinations and variations of these types of activities areendless and can be applied to any content area. Disease-statebackgrounders, clinical reprint analyses, pre-call planning -- any ofthe modules and workshops you would consider delivering in print or inthe classroom can be effectively adapted for delivery as a blendede-learning program.

If your training department has implemented e-learning programs totrain your sales force in the past, you already know how effective andaccessible asynchronous and synchronous e-learning programs can be.Just imagine if you brought the two together in an integrated trainingevent.

If your training department has yet to go down the e-learning path,today's blended e-learning programs and their associated advantages maybe just the thing to convince you to give it a try.

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