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BLEND it: Drive Human Connection with Blended Learning for Leadership Development

The challenge―you want to move to a digital learning approach for leadership development, but you are concerned about keeping human connection alive. You need something that uses technology, but you are teaching soft skills. You want to make it fun and engaging, but you want learners to take it seriously.

The answer? A blended learning approach to leadership development. Or, if you prefer—a BLEND approach.

Blended leadership learning journeys have been around for years―that’s nothing new. What is new is the range of options available to create a truly blended journey, fueled by new digital learning solutions, in an ever-increasing number of expanded options. It can be overwhelming and hard to know where to start.

The key is in finding a strategic way to bring different elements of learning together to accomplish your learning outcomes, while simultaneously engaging and exciting the learner. At the same time, ensuring applicability of the learning is critical. 

Just as great chefs must determine the best way to balance the combination of food, seasoning, and cooking techniques, so too must learning professionals bring together content, learner needs, and modalities to create the right blend. And while learner tastes are varied, there are a few essential ingredients that can guide any new creation.

The BLEND Approach to Blended Learning in Leadership Development

What are those ingredients, exactly? We’re brought them all together in one easy-to-remember framework—or recipe—called BLEND:

B: Begin with the Learner in Mind

A learner-centric design is both the starting point and the ending point. When you understand your learner, you can target the right content and modalities based on their needs. Ask:

  • Who are my learners?
  • What unique needs might they have based on their level?
  • What content is most relevant to them?
  • How do they learn best?
  • What does their day-to-day experience like?

L: Leverage Technology

The ability to leverage technology is a non-negotiable element for today’s modern learner. Avoid the “shiny object syndrome” by considering how thoughtfully that technology will serve the learner and the learning outcome. (See above.) Ask:

  • How technology savvy is my audience?
  • What am I trying to accomplish? Social collaboration? Sustainment? Reinforcement? Application?
  • What type of skill am I trying to support? Technical? Soft skills?
  • What existing technology do my learners have access to? Gaps? Opportunities for innovation?
  • What will both engage my learners and work within any constraints?

E: Enhance Human Connection

Enhancing human connection is particularly important when teaching leadership skills. Learning from others and sharing insights and experiences is a powerful and necessary ingredient to blend. Ask:

  • What is the best way to encourage human connection?
  • Do we need a face-to-face experience (in person or via Zoom)?
  • Is voice-to-voice enough human connection (vILT or Coaching Circle)?
  • Could a group project allow for collaboration?
  • Are coaching circles or one-to-one coaching viable options?

N: Nurture Engagement and Interaction

Keeping learner attention and involvement is something that needs to be actively addressed. A well-thought-through communication plan invites learning through active participation and contributions and is as critical as a thoughtfully constructed experience. Ask:

  • How are you equipping your learners so they feel confident and competent?
  • How are you involving others (managers, peers, or team)?
  • Is there a moderator, a coach, or both, to support?
  • How is the digital experience constructed to draw learners in?
  • What about gamification or healthy competition?

D: Drive Applicability and Sustainability

Applicability and sustainability are the final elements to the blend. They ensure the learning is effective and ongoing. Give learners the chance to test their skills in a real-world environment and seek additional learning and support. Ask:

  • How can I give learners the opportunity to apply their skills and get feedback?
  • Could an accountability partner, peer, or coach support them?
  • Can they access ongoing resources in a self-directed way?
  • How can additional development opportunities continue the journey?
Infographic: Details of the BLEND model, including the headlines. Begin with the learner in mind. Leverage technology. Enhance human connection. Nurture engagement and interaction. Drive applicability and sustainability.

Why is the BLEND more important than ever?

Digital solutions that create more collaboration but less connection can leave leaders feeling like they’ve been offered a feast, but walk away from the table still feeling hungry. We need to appeal to all learners—those who want more technology and those who crave greater human connection. We need to engage extroverted learners who thrive on conversation, and introverts who need time to process their thoughts and express themselves using the written word. We need to keep the experience interesting and varied to avoid learner fatigue.

One thing that the pandemic taught us is the way we work doesn’t need to be an “all-or-nothing” proposition. Blending thoughtfully and intentionally isn’t hard if you follow a few core principles, ensure you have the right ingredients, and season to taste.

About the Authors

Leah Clark
Director, Strategy and Planning, GP Strategies Corporation. Senior Director for Strategy and Planning, Leah focuses on bringing new products to market and enhancing the participant experience. She works with clients to understand their leadership and engagement challenges and consults with them on the creative solutions. Prior to joining GP Strategies, Leah had her own practice in executive coaching and consulting. She is a certified professional coach through an ICF accredited organization and is a Myers-Briggs practitioner. Leah has over seventeen years of experience in marketing, strategy, and product development in a corporate environment. She has also served as an adjunct faculty member in the fields of psychology and organizational psychology. She has a Master’s of Arts degree in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University and a Bachelor of Arts in English and Sociology from Boston College where she graduated summa cum laude.

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