Virtual Learning at a Computer


Exploring the Benefits of Blended and Multimodal Learning

The COVID-19 pandemic has led learning and development experts to take on a new challenge: How do you effectively teach and engage with employees when the ability to meet in person is limited? We recommend introducing blended and multimodal learning styles into the training process.

Trends in digital learning and training have been growing — even before the pandemic forced many companies to transition to virtual or hybrid work environments. This shift has provided opportunities for instructors to facilitate innovative approaches in training, allowing them to reach employees through smart technologies and multimedia resources.

Aston Carter learning and development experts Mary Rafter and Ankita Chandupatla share impactful trends in employee training and how they can benefit your company and employees.

What Are Blended and Multimodal Learning?

Blended and multimodal learning incorporate a variety of teaching and communication methodologies to support an inclusive and holistic training program.

Blended learning combines traditional classroom-based teaching styles with digital learning tools. It often involves an array of teaching methods, including:

  • Learner-driven lessons that allow students to learn at their own paces while leveraging tools and guides provided by trainers and allow for personalized learning
  • Instructor-led classes, which can be taught virtually or in person
  • Integrated courses that combine a variety of learning formats (e.g., both learner-driven and instructor-led classes) into one curriculum

A blended approach to learning doesn’t only mean integrating technology into your training program. The technology must be strategically leveraged to give employees a measure of control in their learning journeys. When executed intentionally, blended learning provides employees with a rich and memorable training experience that can be mixed with multimodal techniques to further optimize employee development.

Multimodal learning leverages a variety of resources that appeal to different learning preferences. Employee’s senses are engaged by different materials — including visual, auditory, textual and kinesthetic media. Researchers from the University of Arkansas Fort Smith have found that these multimodal strategies encourage the learner to stay focused, engaged and absorb information on a deeper level.

Rafter explains, “In an effective training plan, blended and multimodal learning work together. They allow us to redesign training programs to consider the neuroscience behind how people learn.” By strategically layering teaching methods and mediums, trainers encourage employees to exercise multiple learning faculties and senses, leading to greater comprehension and retention.

Inherently adaptable, these teaching styles can help fill the gaps when in-person training is not available. Given recent trends in remote work options for employees, providing customizable learning forums that adapt to each learner’s preference will promote a successful and engaging training program for your employees.

Benefits for Learners: Inclusion, Access and Flexibility

A core benefit of blended and multimodal learning is their ability to reach people who benefit from various learning styles. Additionally, helping employees understand their unique learning styles can guide them in leveraging resources that are compatible with how they process information most effectively. Common learning styles include visual, auditory, kinesthetic and textual.

  • Visual learners are employees who prefer to learn through graphs, images, videos or other visual cues. To engage these learners, consider including lessons that allow them to comment on visual elements or illustrate concepts.
  • Auditory learners absorb information best through sound cues. They prefer listening and relistening to information rather than writing. These employees do well in discussion activities where they can speak and repeat key information either conversationally or through presentation formats.
  • Kinesthetic learners are those who learn through movement and participation in practical applications. Interactive exercises benefit these employees, and repetition helps them retain information.
  • Textual learners learn best by writing down information and taking the time they need to read. Traditional, written materials suit these employees well. They also benefit from writing exercises to help reinforce lessons.

Because there are a variety of learning types, it’s important to provide a range of adaptable teaching tools. “While outdated training techniques are often linear and appeal to a limited or singular group of learning styles, blended and multimodal learning connect with a broader spectrum of learners,” says Chandupatla.

Ultimately, a lesson that incorporates different mediums of information is able to engage a diverse range of employees. Blended and multimodal learning therefore result in more inclusive and effective training programs because they offer flexibility and easy access to learning resources.

As an example, blended curriculums often incorporate microlearning, which involves breaking up large concepts into bite-sized chunks. This allows more time for learners to absorb information and offers increased flexibility. Microlearning content is also easily archivable, allowing learners to revisit training resources whenever needed.

When microlearning is paired with blended teaching, employees are able to easily move through online trainings at their own paces. And learner-driven microlessons can be followed up with instructor-led classes, providing a forum for trainers to reinforce concepts and employees to ask questions.

Benefits for Organizations: Cost Savings and Increased Productivity

In the past, training events often required employees to take entire days off from work requirements, resulting in interrupted workflows. Blended learning on the other hand allows for employees to become more productive while they’re learning.

For example, a microlearning approach allows small lessons to be woven in between work activities. Training occurs in tandem with daily work activities, which promotes an active application of lessons. This allows for increased knowledge retention for a variety of learners, while employers can feel confident that crucial work initiatives aren’t interrupted due to training.

Adopting a blended/multimodal approach to learning can also impact the bottom line for companies. Consider the price tag of in-person training events that include employee travel expenses, facilitator costs, room and board, real estate, catering and more. Blended learning in virtual environments dramatically reduces these costs.

Rafter elaborates, “Companies don’t have to spend nearly as much as they did before to create in-person learning experiences. They can even use existing resources across the web to promote self-led learning.” She emphasizes that companies beginning to develop new training curriculums can get a head start by leveraging external resources available for purchase. This allows time for companies to shore up internal training materials — while ensuring employees are continually learning.

Overcoming Challenges in Applying Blended/Multimodal Learning

While there are many benefits of blended and multimodal learning, transforming your company’s training plan is a process that requires a thoughtful strategy. It’s important to make sure you have the right tools to repackage training content and manage change for your employees and organization to effectively adapt.

It’s well worth the effort because day-long WebEx seminars aren’t compatible with effective learning in a virtual or hybrid work environment. Interactivity is key, so implementing an array of training modalities makes for a well-rounded and comprehensive learning experience. As companies endeavor to take on these new initiatives, we recommend taking it step by step.

“It can seem overwhelming to take a blended learning approach,” states Chandupatla. “Start first with the required technology, including the platform where you’re going to house training content. Then begin to look at what already exists. Curate content from there — and remember that you don’t need to create everything yourself. You can find videos, blogs or podcasts that already exist.”

In many cases, the greatest challenge to implementing new systems has to do with overcoming old mindsets. Push your organization to reconsider how internal processes around training work. You can start small, but don’t be afraid of trying new ideas and surveying your employees to determine what’s working and what should be adjusted. As long as you maintain a people-focused approach, you’ll be able to provide greater access to training materials for a broader range of learners, which will equally benefit your organization and employees.

To learn more about optimizing employee training, learning and development, contact Aston Carter today.