What is blended learning? And what is individualised accelerated development?
The last few years have been challenging for people development, as travel budgets are reduced and resources are stretched. At the same time, competency development in technical domains remains a high priority as a key component in the road to a consistent Plant Operating Model. We must be conscious that markets and customer needs are changing in our industry, and we therefore also need to change how our people are developed – more than ever, we need the right skills at the right position to deliver quality products for all applications that meet customers’ needs (costs, quality, durability and speed of construction). To respond to these changing factors, we decided to propose an innovative way to deliver training through what we call “Blended Learning”.
Blended learning combines face-to-face interaction, active group work, live lectures and self-led computer based training, all supported by web-based educational technologies. The key element of this methodology for us has been the web-based Virtual Classroom.
Virtual Classroom training uses “collaborative” tools that allow learners to interact and remain engaged in what is known as a “synchronous” environment. The synchronous environment typically involves one facilitator and one producer delivering training to a group of geographically dispersed participants in real time. The training includes exercises, group work and multiple interactions to ensure a high level of active participation from the learners – this is by no means a “sit and listen” webinar! Collaborative tools used to deliver virtual training include Adobe Connect and Webex, to name but a few. With the use of the virtual classroom, tools such as the whiteboard, virtual breakouts, webcam, chat feature and polls, virtual classroom training can mimic a face-to-face classroom session. We have been successfully using this to deliver technical training to our plant engineering community.
Our programmes are individualised because this methodology obliges us to be more focused on providing instruction only on the critical content – industry standard time allocation for training in this mode is brief, so we re-engineer our classroom content to apply directly to the learners’ needs, and use pre- and post-work to enhance the on-the-job learning.
Blended learning was our solution for just-in-time training. We discovered that this accelerated development was truly a possibility since instruction was delivered to a wider audience over a shorter period of time thanks to the web-based technology we exploited in our instructional design.
Think business: building a business case
To achieve continuous improvement we wanted to bring a different method of learning to Lafarge enhanced by the technology of the 21st century. Given general unfamiliarity with this relatively new virtual training mode, obtaining buy-in from key decision makers was a challenge.
The economic downturn then brought us into weakened market conditions, leading to cancellations of traditional face-to-face classroom training, and in essence, provided the motivation needed to implement this new approach.
The application of a blended and virtual learning approach leveraged the cost-savings culture, so that our employees not only gained the required skills and knowledge using remote tools and methods, but money was also saved by eliminating travel and venue costs.
The integration of training phases inherent to the blended approach has led to improved visibility of tangible return on investment on the training and development efforts. On one example where we have applied the blended learning approach, we have estimated direct savings considering just the reduced travel costs from the participants. We estimated that a saving of US$10 000 per one day of training for eight participants was realised. Assuming that the training replaced a one-week course, that amounts to savings of US$50 000. In reality, we developed a total of 16 participants.
Furthermore, given the intersession follow-up between the trainers and the participants on the completion of the post-course assignments, which in this case involved designing a new raw mix, we have estimated variable cost savings to represent US$0.30/t. For a plant that produces about 1.9 million tpa of raw mix, that would translate to US$570 000 savings pa.
Blended learning: developing a culture of excellence
Finding new and innovative solutions to people development is crucial to any company’s success. Particularly today, developing people is imperative in order to cultivate existing talent with a focus on business objectives and growth opportunities. Individualised blended learning has enabled our employees to have access to training when they otherwise would not have (which is a major retention strategy item), and to feel that the company has created what seems to be a privileged channel for them beyond the traditional face-to-face training.
Our raison d’être as training and development professionals is to ensure there is continued progress and efficiency in how training and development is being designed and delivered using today’s available technology. In fact, by persevering with this journey, we will continue to uphold and ‘cement’ Lafarge’s leading reputation for developing its people, giving us a competitive advantage and ensuring we remain at the forefront of technology, not only in our operations but in our approach to developing our greatest assets: our people.
Written by Angela Tutino. This is an abridged version of the full article, which appeared in the November 2013 issue of World Cement. Subscribers can view the full article by logging in.
Read the article online at: https://www.worldcement.com/the-americas/24122013/lafarge_blended_learning_approach/