I once worked for a government program during a huge digital transformation. We were going from multiple on-premises software packages to a single cloud-based system, a change that would revolutionize every part of our work.
Around the same time, my partner and I bought our first DSLR camera. Between the camera, beginner lens kit, bag and other accessories, it was a considerable investment for people who knew almost nothing about photography.
These two purchases were completely different. In one case, there was a competitive bidding process for a massive contract. In the other, it was just a family walking into a store to invest in a new hobby. But what these experiences had in common was vendors that understood their audiences and engaged them early through blended learning customer education programs. Let me explain.
How Blended Learning Dragged Our Organization Into the 21st Century
In the case of the digital transformation project, a B2B purchase decision was made far away from the end users, then imposed on a multigenerational, geographically dispersed workforce without any consultation. We, the end users, had no choice but to learn the system, but the vendor understood that getting us on board and helping us be successful was crucial to proving their value.
They knew that the system we were moving from was archaic, so some of the employees had no experience with cloud-based systems (or online education, for that matter). They also knew that within this single client, they needed to account for a diverse range of staff who faced different work challenges depending on their work location and the population they served.
To meet this challenge, the company used a combination of online training and instructor-led classes—what we would call a blended learning approach. We began with an in-person kickoff to cover the basics, including how to navigate both the system and the online training modules. Then we had a few months to go through the online modules at our own pace while balancing our day-to-day work before the next in-person session. This pattern was repeated one more time as the training got more advanced.
It’s worth noting that the vendor used learning analytics from the online modules to identify users who were catching on quickly. These users were invited to train as the superusers for their offices, not only to manage things like system access but also to act as site leaders and mentors for their colleagues. This extended the blend of approaches by equipping each office to independently run further in-person sessions in addition to having ongoing access to the online courses.
Picture This: Blended Learning for B2C
Compared to a government contract for an enterprise software system, a couple purchasing a camera is minor. As with any consumer purchase, we had done our research before heading to the store. There weren’t many technical differences between the camera brands, but the company we chose was committed to an exceptional customer experience, including an education program using blended learning.
Once again, we had access to a wonderful library of modules on everything from the basics of camera operation and maintenance to techniques for photographing different types of subjects in various lighting conditions. The icing on the cake was that we could complete relevant modules and sign up for a related workshop to practice our skills and get some coaching.
Workshops were held monthly at various locations; for example, one month was at a conservation area where we had the chance to photograph birds of prey from the conservatory, while the next was indoors at an aircraft museum. The workshops consisted of a photography lesson and several hours to practice our skills, along with the opportunity to test additional lenses and equipment.
This was brilliant planning on the part of the vendor for several reasons:
- We happily paid a small fee to sign up; I am confident it wasn’t enough to count as a revenue stream for the company, but it was great value for learners, and it certainly offset the cost of running the workshops.
- It was a strong upselling opportunity because we got to see the beautiful photographs we could take with lenses we didn’t own—yet!
- The in-person workshops allowed us to connect with other learners and become a community of enthusiasts. That carried over to the online learning environment where we discussed new products, shared photos, and encouraged one another to attend future in-person workshops.
Despite being a B2C brand that couldn’t compel buyers to participate in training, the vendor in this case showed the same understanding of how engaging customers through education is a key differentiator.
What I Loved About Blended Learning
The opportunities to engage in blended learning in two entirely different contexts had many benefits to me as an end user. For example:
- It was personalized. At work, I was one of the more technically advanced learners, so I loved that I didn’t have to sit through days of remedial training while some of my colleagues got caught up. But as a complete newbie to photography, I was happy to learn the basics at my own speed and not get left behind at the workshops.
- It was collaborative. In both cases, learners connected with one another both in person and online to share knowledge and help each other learn.
- It helped me be successful. Learning at work helped all of us to get up to speed more quickly so we could successfully implement the new system and immediately benefit from the improvements to both our workflow and our own client service standards. And while I won’t be exhibiting at a gallery anytime soon, I feel comfortable taking great photos with the DSLR.
In both cases, I felt a sense of loyalty to the companies. While excellent training can’t overcome product flaws, making it easy for your customers to gain value from your products is a strategic play that can boost your reputation. While there was initial resistance to the new system at work, getting up and running quickly and confidently showed us just how obsolete our old software and processes were. We no longer had to apologize to clients for a fragmented experience with us, and that served to improve our reputation too. And when I saw my photos of owls, falcons and eagles, I was more than happy to carry around a tote with that company’s logo and recommend them to family and friends.
Karen Karnis has a BA in sociology from the University of Guelph. She has worked in social services, higher education, communications and journalism. Karen is currently working toward a Master of Education in Sustainability, Creativity and Innovation through Cape Breton University.
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