Gorkun MD, PhD, Chartered MCIPD
Senior Manager, MedImmune
Abstract: Blended learning is a training program in which the audience learns the content through a combination of different learning methods with some element of self-control over time, place, and pace. This article provides an overview of audience learning preferences and styles, blended learning, and how to choose the most appropriate learning methods for a specific training program. Examples of and tools for learning methods are provided.
Blended learning fits all types of learners and people of all ages. It can be used in clinical trial training.
The first step in developing a training program is to understand the audience. Some people prefer to learn by listening (auditory learning), while others prefer to learn by observing or watching (visual learning), or by doing what they are learning (kinesthetic). Other learning preferences are learning individually in quiet or as part of a group. Learners are diverse and have different learning preferences. Training must address those preferences as well as learning needs.
Development of a training program requires knowledge of learning styles and methods. In 2004, Coffield analyzed 13 learning styles. These 13 learning styles consist of 3 elements:
- Information processing
- Instructional preferences
- Learning strategies.
People can process information verbally or visually. Sensory modalities are auditory, visual, and kinesthetic. Instructional preferences can be collaborative or independent, and some people prefer to learn at a particular time of day, such as morning or afternoon.
Learning strategies are adaptive responses to learning a specific type of subject matter. Task-based strategies for learning include:
- Using the imagination to create images to understand the content
- Using organizational skills to summarize and create visual representations such as charts, graphs, and timelines.
Other learning strategies involve focusing on what the person knows and using resources such as the Internet and dictionaries.
A learning method is any intervention that is deliberately undertaken to assist the process of learning by individuals or teams, or learning at the organizational level. Different combinations of learning methods can be used in a blended learning program. Examples of learning methods include:
- Classroom training
- eLearning (computer-based modules)
- Podcasts and vodcasts
- Self-learning (reading)
- Learning from others
- Team meetings and briefings
- Virtual classroom
- Use of Internet resources
- Social networks
Classroom training is quite popular, however, much of this is being replaced by eLearning (computer-based modules). Self-learning (reading) is a preferred method of learning. Team meetings and briefings can be used at the end of the project to share and learn from mistakes. Gamification is learning by playing games.
Blended learning is a training program in which people can learn the content through a combination of different learning methods with some element of self-control over time, place, and pace. There are many benefits of blended learning (Table 1). People have different learning styles, and blended learning addresses more audience preferences. Learners are more engaged when a training program offers a variety of types of content.
Some training related to clinical research can be complex and may involve the development of practical skills; however, other training can be as simple as an instruction. Different learning methods are used depending on the complexity of the training. Blended learning also makes training more efficient and more fun.
Sometimes trainers assume what the learners know, and need to know, and how they want to learn. Learners, however, have their own learning needs and preferences. So, it is always a good idea to check the gap between the trainer’s assumptions and the learners’ expectations.
Selecting Learning Methods
There are many considerations in choosing the learning methods for a training program, starting with the nature of the learning needs (Table 2). This also includes the complexity of the topic and whether the training needs to help learners develop practical skills or not. Learners’ background and experience plays a role in choosing the learning methods. For example, a Good Clinical Practice (GCP) training program will be different if it is for learners with no previous GCP experience than if it is an annual refresher training for experienced company staff.
The number of learners to be trained and the organizational culture are among considerations in choosing the learning methods for a training program. The learning methods differ if there are dozens of learners versus hundreds or even thousands of them. Organizational culture refers to the preferences of senior management. Feedback from previous training should also be considered.
Other considerations in choosing learning methods include costs and budgets, time and resources, learner preferences, and locations (whether the training will be delivered at one or multiple locations or even in different countries). Some training may require immediate implementation, for example, to address corrective and preventive actions or to ensure that staff learn and understand new regulations.
Each learning method has pros and cons. Pros of classroom training include having an instructor who provides leadership, flexibility, insight, and the opportunity to practice skills in a risk-free environment. Classroom training combines input from the trainer and the learners, and thus, an opportunity for learners to share ideas and experiences. The trainer provides immediate feedback to learners. Classroom training helps learners to develop knowledge and skills, and it enables them to ask questions and get answers.
The cons of classroom training include its expense and the need to deliver it in person. Classroom training is time-consuming and takes people away from the workplace. Logistics of classroom training (room, equipment, and food) can be complicated, and appropriately qualified instructors are necessary to deliver the training.
Pros of eLearning include that each learner can complete the training at a time that is convenient for him/her, and many different scenarios can be used, which is visually engaging. Once developed, eLearning can be reused many times, and it can be relatively inexpensive. There is no need for learners to leave the workplace for eLearning. Cons of eLearning include that the learners cannot ask questions and there is no control over learning and whether the learners understand the subject. It is also difficult to motivate the learner to complete the eLearning, and learners cannot learn from others or experiment the same way as in a classroom.
Self-learning (reading) is simple and inexpensive. It is easy for learners to access. However, self-learning has the same downsides as eLearning.
Learning from others has many benefits. Learners can develop practical skills by practicing the skills under supervision, while using tools and equipment in the real-world environment. The learning can be tailored to specific needs and integrated easily and quickly. Learners can get immediate feedback. Cons of learning from others include the cost, especially if traveling is involved. The trainer must be carefully selected to prevent the transfer of bad habits and sub-standard training. Learning from others can be ineffective if it is rushed or poorly planned.
Examples of Learning Methods
Classroom training can include a mix of different activities. The training session plan for a training program on asthma that the author developed with subject matter experts included:
- Pre-training assessment activity
- Individual assessment activity
- Small group assessment activity
eLearning can be fun. For example, informed consent training e-modules by MedImmune/AZ included a virtual environment where learners could “walk” through a number of hospital offices with different real case scenarios involving consent and re-consent of subjects.
Self-learning is usually used for learning policies, instructions, guidelines, and SOPs; however, it is difficult to motivate people to complete the training on time. To ensure that learners understand SOPs, managers should discuss the SOPs with their direct reports.
Video can be an effective and useful learning method. The author managed a training project producing a video series on oncology drug development covering the stages from target identification through the product license application. The series had over 20 videos of 20 to 40 minutes each and was available on the company intranet. These videos were filmed by a professional operator; however, it is possible to create simple videos by filming a presenter with a simple camera or a mobile phone.
The Internet has many resources for learning, including information from regulatory authorities, such as the Medicines & Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority in the United Kingdom and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the United States. LinkedIn groups provide useful resources for training, too.
Useful Learning Tools
Table 3 highlights a few useful tools in developing training programs, including video-creating software such as Camtasia, CamStudio, PicPick, and some others. They are used to record video on a computer and can capture what is on the computer screen. These tools are good for developing electronic training on systems. One possible use is to develop training programs on electronic case report forms.
Articulate is a simple tool for building e-learning modules in PowerPoint. Once installed, Articulate is integrated into PowerPoint. Voiceover can be added to slides. The PowerPoint presentation can be easily transformed into computer-based training modules by clicking a button in Articulate. The computer-based training can easily be shared with investigators, clinical research sites, and others.
Learners have different learning styles and preferences. A blended learning package can include different learning methods, such as:
- Classroom (instructor) training
- Learning from others.
Selection of learning methods is based on many factors, including:
- The nature of the learning needs
- Learners’ knowledge
- Complexity of the training
- Number of learners to be trained.
Blended learning fits different learning styles and makes training more efficient.