A great many of our solutions today are being built as ‘blended’. This means that learners will use e-learning elements before they attend a course, and that there will be follow up materials. Effectively, we are extending the learning experience, meaning that instead of just sitting in a room for half a day, learners experience events and activities over a much longer course of time. This can directly support them in taking the critical steps out of the workshop and into the workplace.
There is an open question though around how much we should support them through the self directed elements. Should we rely on people being motivated by themselves, or should be cajole, support or berate them? How much of the support should be electronic, by email or through a Learning Management System, and how much should be in person or by phone, or personal emails?
The evidence is ambiguous around this point. There is clear evidence that some learners prefer to be left alone when completing e-learning. They like to choose both the time and place that they learn and actively resent intrusion. There is also equally clear evidence that, if left to their own devices, a great many learners will not engage with materials at all, they simply won’t complete pre or post course learning.
When we start to include social media elements, such as blogs or forums, the picture becomes even more muddy. The level of engagement typically falls, although this is dependent upon both the subject and the experience of the learner with these media, but typically active engagement falls to less than 10%.
We need to support learners, but the support needs to be appropriate. Simply automating emails or contact is mechanistic and unlikely to be effective. In general, regularity of contact is important, developing a routine, but it needs to be both timely and concise. Short and pithy emails are better than essays. A phone call is good to break the routine of contact and create disturbance; for example, ringing a learner two weeks after a course, to ask if they want to go over any of the key learning points, or to see if they want feedback on how they have implemented it. Often, post course contact is purely for assessment, whilst in fact it can be so much more.
How much time is enough? It’s a tough question, but, at all costs, we should avoid being formulaic. Ask for feedback and respond accordingly. If handled well, the pre and post course contact can be enormously effective in promoting and embedding learning, as well as improving the learning experience.