The benefits of the learning approaches have to be tailored to the user. This means that the commissioners of the learning modules have to be clear about their aims and outcomes, audience and resources. They cannot be lead by the provider, or implemented as a financial or time saving strategy alone. Below are a number of difficulties which can be encountered if the initial commissioning is not thorough:
The technology has to be appropriate for the hardware, software and organisational rules about user interaction including security.
For example, using technology such as video conferencing will only work if the venue and the technology stack up to contribute to a positive learning environment. Too small a space, poor connectivity, audio or visual input can lead to people feeling frustrated and turned off.
The Children’s Services workforce are not big up-takers of e- learning. It is crucial that any successful program uses this approach with a number of face to face sessions to provide the worker with the relational approach that forms much of their own skill base.
If the motivation for commissioning a blended learning set if to save time – that must be clearly stated at the beginning of the process. Time saving from using a number of forums must be realistically calculated and time saved travelling to venues may well be needed for reading or longer supervision or coaching sessions in the work place. Unrealistic expectations of time needed for learners to complete modules can lead to only the bits that are ‘marked or tested in some way being completed, thus de-motivating the learner. If they are not given enough time and opportunity to ‘rehearse’ their learning within the workplace, they will quickly lose the new skills they have learnt and revert to old practices that have been internalised and are perceived as ‘faster’.
Blended learning should represent value for money and should be scrutinised by the commissioners against industry standards. But it should also be an investment that has measurable outcomes that have been agreed prior to the package development. The evaluation should be carried based on the Kirkpatrick, Outcome Based Assessment or other robust evaluation model that allows for short medium and long term measurement of gain.
Lack of management support
The line manager, or senior manager does not support the program in terms of allowing the participant reading time, release time, supervision time or rehearsal time in the workplace. This leads to the participant taking shortcuts and not being able to take advantage of all the ways they can learn across the program. The program then becomes a series of dis-jointed events that stop them from putting the learning into action. It is key that the commissioner is clear about the time each practitioner would reasonably be able to give to participate and contracts with the supplier accordingly. Over loading practitioners and the front line managers with case loads and learning commitments wastes time and reduces positive outcomes. Managers need to be part of the commissioning cycle and be clear about the realistic time commitment staff could contribute to learning.
The management team needs to be clear about what it expects to achieve from funding a learning proposal. The following questions need to be answered:
- Who are the target participants?
- Who are the intended beneficiaries?
- Who is the business sponsor?
- Who else will the program impact on?
- Do the intended participants see this as a need? If not then how has it been identified?
- Does this form part of the overall improvement cycle in the organisational plan? If not, then where are the drivers and do they have enough support to implement this into the business?
- What improvement will the service users receive as a result of this investment (if this is not already answered by Q2)
- What is the budget?
- Is the budget held by the business sponsor? If not what are the implications?
- How much of a return is expected?
- Is there enough capacity in the workforce? (Consider terms of staff numbers, case ratio, and other learning commitments, or change events including team relocations or restructures that may impact)
- Are there adequate learning facilities including seminar, workshop space, places for individual coaching or supervision sessions?
- Is there enough access to IT including computer, video conferencing facilities or internet if specified by the program design?
- Is the course design up to date and including latest research and evidence, legislation and guidance
- Does the content include specific information about the commissioning authority for example -demographics, services available, any community issues, policy and procedure, multi-agency partners and the latest Ofsted information that could be relevant to the learning?.
- Has the content been seen prior to course beginning?
- Has any IT component be demonstrated, tested and approved by organisation prior to course commencing?
- Is there agreement on the number of hours that each different learning event will take and is it tailored to provide maximum learning benefit to the participant?