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Hybrid Learning: The Technology, Tools, and Advice You Need to Get Going

This blog article was written prior to LEO Learning becoming part of GP Strategies.

Q: What Technology Is Available to Support Hybrid Learning?

Geoff Bloom: A lot! And because of that, it can often be overcomplicated. You can use all of the things available to you for virtual learning. However, I wouldn’t recommend using all of them in one session.

Most organizations will use shared spaces already—things like Office 365 and Google Workspace. Using tools like Google Docs is fairly commonplace, and a great place to start.

If you’re tackling a specific topic or working with a specialist audience, tools with more collaborative capabilities can be really useful. Things like interactive whiteboards (Miro, MURAL, and Jamboard) and presentations can be really helpful for activities involving collaborative projects. Of course, this all existed before the pandemic but the change in circumstances has accelerated their use.

As a starting point, you’ll want a ‘mix and match’ of the following:

  • A virtual classroom tool (GoTo Meetings, Teams, Adobe Connect, Zoom, etc.)
  • Chat, polls, and other basic interactive elements (many come from/with the tools above)
  • More sophisticated whiteboards (Miro, MURAL, Jamboard)
  • Process design and process flow software (some of the more comprehensive whiteboard tools such as Miro and MURAL also do this well)
  • Quizzing software/apps (Kahoot!)
  • Polling software (Menti/Survey Monkey and SliDo)
  • Videos
  • Presentations
  • Collaborative activities in shared docs, presentations, spreadsheets, etc.

Ultimately anything online can, if set up properly, also work in the room.

Q: What Tech Considerations Need to be Made for In-Person Learners?

GB: It’s a good idea to make some information available on a big screen (or ideally more than one screen) so people in the class have visibility of what’s going on, both in the room and online. It’s important the visibility of attendees goes both ways, so ideally we want people joining virtually to have their webcams turned on.

In terms of the actual room, firstly you need to make sure your learners are bringing their own tech with them (laptops, tablets, phones, etc.) so they can contribute in the same way as their online counterparts.

With that comes a sharing of protocols for both online and in-person learners to help keep a level ground. For example, having everyone raise their hand in the virtual tool to contribute so the conversation isn’t dominated by those in the room.

The in-room tech is also incredibly important. You want to add a 360 camera or external webcam so people online have visibility of those in the room. Alongside this, ideally, you want a pendant or hanging mic or a good desk mic to pick up the conversation from people in the room as well.

It’s important to think about the room dynamics as well. You need to avoid things like clanking crockery or deliveries of sandwiches/coffee/snacks etc. There are things on both sides that you need to consider on behalf of the other. You can’t mute an entire room full of people while the coffee’s being brought in and your learners can’t interact properly if all of your virtual joiners are muted and off-camera.

Q: What Advice Do You Have for Encouraging or Continuing Learning Beyond the Hybrid Session?

If you set it up nicely, you can make the events self-documenting. If you’re using tools like collaborative whiteboards, Office 365, or video recordings, these systems document the activities and the session as you go. This can save you a lot of time. For wholly in-person events, we used to spend hours transposing/transcribing photos of a whiteboard, Post-it notes, flipcharts, etc. from the sessions. When you use self-documenting tools, you don’t need to.

I often leave the activities open beyond the session. This helps the reflectors in the audience take some time to think about what was discussed in said activity, or even continue to contribute. For example, you can say “I’ll leave this document open for a couple of days after the session”. This allows for contribution beyond the session itself.

You can also provide your learners with photos, documents, or activities before the event. For instance, you could send out a survey to gauge familiarity with topics and the tools you’re going to use. This can also help you with any session onboarding and tech instructions you may need to send out before the training.

Post-event, circulate knowledge you have gained from or shared with the group. You may want to do a follow-up quiz to test their knowledge. Or an assignment could also work so they can put it into practice.

Digitally, you will probably have invited your session attendees using calendar software or emails. This allows you to get in touch, both before and after, to extend this event. This is where blended learning and hybrid can come together.

One word of warning though: don’t try to use too many tools in one session. You want the learners to focus on the learning need. You don’t want to scare them off with too many ways to interact. Focus on the purpose of the session and use the technology to support, rather than take over, the session. Using technology the learners are already comfortable with and fluent in is advisable.

Q: What Do You Consider to Be the Future of Hybrid Learning?

We’re in a perfect moment, really, where people are happy to try new things. They’re prepared to be more forgiving as they’ve had to adapt themselves to changing circumstances. If you’re going to experiment, now is the time to do it. I’m not saying we should set out to fail—contingency plans are always vital.

What I hope for the L&D industry is that deliverers, facilitators, and designers become increasingly fluent in the growing pallet of tools, topics, and technologies at their disposal. Balance delivering the best experience possible with not overloading the learner.

As for learners, I hope they gain new ways to collaborate and acquire knowledge. Hybrid allows us to bring in lots of different ways of learning.

We need to learn to use hybrid effectively. Let’s also not forget the importance of measuring the impact of the learning. Observing the learners, checking in, understanding what works. In other words, don’t just treat it as a box of tricks.

I’m not surprised people’s performance in exams is getting better in schools, colleges, and workplaces. The ways we have to share knowledge and collaborate are phenomenally more exciting and dynamic than at any time in history. Hybrid is another one of those examples.

Ultimately, I want people to learn. I want us to continue to evolve this fantastic discipline of learning. We have more options than ever. So why shouldn’t we keep moving forward?

About the Authors

Geoff Bloom
Geoff is a Principal Consultant and has worked in learning technologies and learning design and delivery since 1980. He joined LEO (now GP Strategies) in 2008, and has worked with a comprehensive range of clients across industries to deliver learning content, and define and evaluate a variety of learning strategies. Geoff was heavily involved in designing the NHS Leadership Academy, working alongside KPMG and the Universities of Manchester and Birmingham to develop over 1,200 hours of blended online content for a Master’s in Healthcare Leadership program. In addition, he has worked on a range of blended leadership initiatives for clients including Volvo, British Airways, and BP. Geoff holds an MBA. He enjoys watching rugby, swimming, and going to see live music. Follow Geoff on LinkedIn.

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