The unexpected benefits of blending online and face-to-face learning

Blended learning in a retail enviroment

One of the main challenges retailer's have with training seminars, keynote speakers, and other traditional training projects is that they fail to see any type of long-term return on their investment. Sure, there’s sometimes a spike in sales activity, but it typically lasts less than 90 days. Then you either have to bring everyone off of the retail floor again or accept the less than desirable retail sales results.

So is the issue content? Is it the presentation? Or maybe the management team follow-up?

All of these will have an impact, but the real issue is the lack of a long-term approach to training. The most successful retailers we know have a history of spending of training, and a culture that requires retail employees to be trained every month! So how do they accomplish this, and to a high standard?

What is Blended Learning?

If you’re not familiar with the term ‘Blended Learning’ then chances are your corporate training initiative needs some love. Blended learning happens when the best aspects of online learning and face-to-face training are combined into one seamless training experience.

In retail, we talk a lot about omnichannel being the best way to create a seamless customer experience, whether it’s in-store or online. Blended retail sales training is to trainees what omnichannel is to customers. One seamless online-offline experience.

As you’d expect, there are many benefits to taking a blended approach to learning; reduction in training cost, higher training engagement, and even improved speed-to-competency etc. But there are two very important benefits that are often overlooked by most retailers.

  1. Blended learning builds a strong trainee-coach relationship
  2. Trainees and managers are both accountable for training

1. Building relationships

When you take two the traditional approaches to learning, online training & classroom based training, on their own there’s often an imbalance in the trainee/facilitator ratio. Commonly, for online training the ratio is one:none, and for classroom based training the scale is tipped in the opposite direction, many:one.

When you think about it, neither of these scenarios are in favour of the trainee.

In an online course environment where the trainee has no requirement to engage with a manager, the trainee is often left to their own devices. While an LMS provider can help with technical support, often any questions relating to the training can only be answered by someone in the retail business.

Converse to this, in the classroom environment, trainees may be hesitant to ask questions of their trainer due to a lack of confidence, or it could be as simple as poor time allocation.

In a blended learning environment, the ratio is much more even. For example, the RedSeed system requires a coach to provide the trainee with feedback on long-answer questions, which is where the coach can highlight any knowledge gaps in the theory aspect of learning. The system also facilitates face-to-face training through practice activities.

Most commonly, these interactions are on a one-to-one basis and allow for a fuller learning experience.

So why is this important?

In any business no one thing can influence how engaged your employees are, or how satisfied they are in their role, better than the relationship they have with their manager.

2. Accountability for all

Accountability is huge when it comes to trainee engagement, particularly if your retail business is looking for long term gains, and a shift in the culture of your entire business.

Because, in a blended-learning environment, a trainee is required to complete aspects of training online and in person, the trainee can be better held accountable for their pace of learning. By the same token, a coach is required to give their trainee feedback, which means they also become accountable to their trainee.

There are a number of ways that a learning system can drive accountability; setting time limits for completion, sending out reminder notifications etc. In RedSeed, we have three key ways that we promote accountability.

  1. Trainees can’t progress until their coach is satisfied with their level of knowledge and skill for a particular module (for example; workbook questions and practice activities)
  2. If a trainee becomes inactive (no training activity after seven days) the trainee is flagged in the system and an inactivity alert is sent to the person responsible - this means it could also be sent to a coach who hasn’t completed their marking requirements.
  3. Transparency is important when training a large team. All training is visible by anyone at a head level or top regional level in a business. This means that top level managers can also see how well their trainees and managers are training.
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