Blended learning, the pick ‘n’ mix selection of the learning and development world. A generous scoop of traditional learning methods, with a sprinkling of online opportunities, mentoring and coaching. Just like a trip to Woolworth’s in the 1990s, blended learning enables your professional development options to become that little bit sweeter. But why does it work? What impact can you expect to see both within your organisation and for yourself?
To ski or not to ski? That was the question I asked myself before our holiday last year. Since I first attempted skiing, aged thirteen, on a bitterly cold Scottish mountainside, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with this seasonal activity; feeling alive and in love with the mountain one minute, to wishing I could chuck my skis over the edge of it the next.
But skiing has become part of my family’s life. The kids love it and it’s something we can all do together, incorporating our love of the outdoors with quality family time. However, I was increasingly aware that I often packed a fixed mindset into my suitcase along with my ski goggles. Cries of, “I’m such a rubbish skier!” and, “I won’t be able to do this run!” were holding us all back, putting unnecessary stress and pressure on me and taking a lot of enjoyment out of our holiday.
So, in preparation for last year’s ski trip, I decided that I would apply my expertise in the area of learning and take a focused, blended approach to my ability to ski.
When you take a blended learning approach, it’s important to have a clearly defined goal, aim or objective that you’re working towards. Mine was to be able to ski confidently, with control and to actually enjoy the experience.
Once you’ve defined your goal, choose the methods you will use to reach it. To work out the best plan, I broke mine down into two distinct areas:
Beforehand, I decided to apply a little metacognition (thinking about my thinking) and determine what affected my ability to ski confidently. I also spent time using a self-coaching method, with tools similar to those covered in our Growth Mindset workshop. It got me thinking about the ‘wonky thoughts’ I have and how I could challenge those with some positive re-framing.
I also turned to YouTube and watched useful, inspirational video clips of ski techniques, tips and tricks. I started to get excited about trying these out and applying my learning from the videos, on the slopes.
Fitness is important in skiing too and I knew from experience about the aching muscles I never even knew I had! So, I reached out to my network (another huge part of blended learning) and spoke to skiers, personal trainers and a yoga teacher. Each shared their expertise, helping me form a bespoke exercise plan to get myself in shape for my skiing adventures.
When we arrived at the ski resort, I already felt less apprehensive than in previous years. For the first time, I felt excited to get out on the slopes and try some of the methods I’d been learning about.
Embedding online learning with follow-up activities almost always leads to success. I therefore wanted to spend the first day taking things at my own pace, practising my turns and having the freedom to find my ski legs without unnecessary pressure. In order to do this successfully, I sent the rest of the family off to fly down the runs at their own pace. Planning, flexibility and learning at your own speed are more great benefits of blended learning.
Another crucial factor is having the support of others. Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory is a useful model to consider here. Hearing my husband and children give me positive feedback for skiing down a run quickly and efficiently was just what I needed. Positivity really does breed positivity.
We also learn through observation and imitation. I loved watching others ski and observing their turns and techniques. Recognising the opportunities to learn from them only enhanced my experience further. And, frankly, what could be better than sitting on a deckchair in the sunshine at the side of a mountain, sipping a hot chocolate and people watching?
What did my attempt at blended learning result in? A thoroughly successful ski holiday, a renewed love for skiing, a happy family and huge tick in the box for the power of blended learning.
But I also realised something else. When you start looking for these opportunities to learn, it’s really quite astounding how many ways you can build a fantastic learning journey. And that’s sweet news for anyone’s professional development.