Hybrid working requires hybrid learning

Hybrid learning is an opportunity to drive relevance, build skills and create connection in a flexible way.

The phrases “hybrid workplace” and “hybrid teams” are all over the news and in the minds of our organizations. This is a relatively new application of the word “hybrid.” At its root, the word means composed of mixed parts. The hybrid workplace is a flexible environment where people work at a mix of locations — either by choice or by mandate. In the perfect world, leaders are having discussions with each person to determine the best mix (or hybrid) for both them and the work. It allows for the greatest flexibility and, for many, the greatest productivity.

That means team members could be working today from a corporate office, an office at home (or on the couch) or in a van down by the river. All they need is good bandwidth and the right equipment. While some organizations struggle to balance their policies with the reality of hybrid working, each team and individual are, in real time, defining the ideal blend to complete their work tasks, lead their best lives and attempt to create a positive work-life balance and integration. 

Hybrid also means we must learn in a blended way that matches our preferences and gives us the opportunity to achieve an actual goal (e.g., new career, promotion ready, future-proof skills, etc.) But let’s be fair and honest with ourselves: hybrid working and learning is rather complicated. Hybrid working requires scheduling with your partner, family and peers. It may include room sharing, color-coded calendars, coordination of schedules to be in the same place at the same time, alignment on technology platforms and explicit communication — all the time. Hybrid learning is no different. It requires a constant flow of communications informing the learners of when, where and how. 

When of hybrid learning: Time 

“Time is the most valuable thing a man can spend.” – Theophrastus

Employees are being asked by their leaders and organizations to do more than ever before. Commutes have been replaced with early morning and late evening Zoom calls. Carving out time for focus, innovation, learning and development has become discretionary or piled on top of work goals and tasks. As a result, learners are less able and willing to commit significant time to training or development, as it has become a competing demand with business needs. Learners are asked to be present, focused and self-motivated but are measured by output and productivity. It’s a recipe for multi-tasking and lack of commitment.

Where of hybrid learning: Location

“In physics, to be in two places at the same time would be a miracle; in politics, it seems not merely normal, but natural.” – Charles Edison

If we replaced politics with learning, Charles Edison might say it’s not natural. While leadership may sponsor or support development, the business tolerance for taking people out of the workplace for learning is muddled. Work and learning environments are the same when in a virtual environment, which puts individuals in a position to manage their own time. Location also becomes tricky as managing both virtual sessions and onsite activities can be an administrative — and ethical — burden. Many individuals are craving to connect in person, but not everyone is ready or willing to commit time away. As we continue to balance the paradox of connection and personal safety, location on how learning is delivered becomes a highly charged conversation. In addition, travel is more scrutinized than ever, so when people come together in person, it must be high impact.

How of hybrid learning: The right blend of modalities

“I’m giving in to my tendency to want to blur and blend the lines between art and life, and privacy and sharing.” – Lia Ices

Before hybrid learning was called that, it was called blended learning; a series of activities and modalities woven together. However, before hybrid, the focus was the learning content — videos, webinars, live instruction, podcasts, links, simulations, etc. Now, the blend is more than just how the training is delivered — it’s how it all connects so the content is relevant and the opportunities to connect are greater than the live sessions, whether in person or virtual. For instance, the considerations of a hybrid learning experience must include:

  • Launch sessions for learners that introduce the training, set the expectations, onboard them to the technology components and review all logistics (including travel).
  • Making an explicit connection to the company’s values, goals and the training itself.
  • Targeted communication plans that prepare, inform and remind participants (and their managers) of what’s coming and when.
  • Opportunities to create community, including breakouts (longer than you think!) during virtual sessions, discussion groups in between sessions and (if everyone is ready) live sessions focused on trust building, reflecting and sharing.
  • White space to think, even if it means asking participants to block out time to focus.
  • Live sessions primarily focused on practice and application versus concepts and facts.
  • Measurement strategy to demonstrate behavior change from participants and the people who work with them (peers, managers, direct reports) to show the value and return on investment.
  • Continued connection to the why of learning so participants have context for how this is valuable to their job, career and life.

When you get hybrid learning right, it flows into hybrid working much easier. When we see hybrid learning as an opportunity to drive relevance, build skills and create connection in a flexible way, the issues of when, where and how become more fluid as each decision around a hybrid learning experience is intentional, balanced and focused. The key is flexibility and honoring the preferences of the learner, while helping organizations demonstrably prioritize training and development. The output will create a ripple effect: a hybrid learning experience where individuals feel valued and cared for, see the connection to their work and life, and honor their preferences of time, location and modality. 

Bonus history lesson: From 1D training to 3D hybrid

Decades ago, organizations had training departments. Those teams often included full-time trainers whose job it was to teach new employees how to do their job, with onboarding programs often lasting weeks or months. During off weeks, trainers updated the program material and continued with the next group of recruits. They also traveled to support business needs but for the most part, training was functional in nature. Leadership development was for the select few, often executives, who would go to offsite retreats where they would listen to speakers, engage in discussion and network. 

Fast forward to about ten years ago when e-learning created a foothold. Some departments completely outsourced to companies that built custom modules for everything from product to process, compliance and soft skills. Online courses were long but were the first attempt to reduce classroom time and create efficiencies in corporate training. 

Learning organizations began to pop up using college and university nomenclature to shift the focus from training to learning. Some organizations toyed with the idea of virtual instructor-led training. This was not the preferred modality among participants or organizations, since most companies lacked an infrastructure mature enough to manage the administrative needs of a blended program, let alone Internet bandwidth. 

Now, within the last five and specifically the last two years, corporate learning and development functions have a complete pipeline of talent. This includes instructional/learning experience designers, podcasters, video editors, writers, content marketers, platform administrators, curators, virtual producers, measurement and data specialists, program managers and moderators. While the pandemic certainly accelerated the true integration of hybrid/blended learning, only now do we understand how to operationalize it.