A Recipe for Blended Learning

Like most other e-learning companies, Ninth House promotes the blended-learning approach.

January 30, 2004

The dirty little secret of e-learning is that a lot of people who try a computer module or online class won’t finish it. In a recent survey conducted by James Madison University, 375 corporate learners said they dropped out of classroom instruction only 3 percent of the time but failed to complete 26 percent of e-learning. The reason that 36 percent of them gave for abandoning the technology was poor design of the e-learning material or a mismatch of e-learning styles.

    "The quality of the online experience has not been good for most e-learners," says Jeff Snipes, CEO of Ninth House Inc., a San Francisco maker of online training modules. "In the past, companies have paid a premium to have people like Tom Peters do seminars and workshops, and they need the same level of content in e-learning."

    That pitch has made Ninth House an award-winning producer of e-learning modules that teach managerial "soft" skills—the kind of thing that many analysts think is the most difficult to learn online. To combat that impression, Ninth House has used a two-part strategy. The first part was to license and adapt high-quality material from business gurus like Peters and Ken (The One Minute Manager) Blanchard. The second was to give the e-learning experience some energy by using slick, movie-like simulations created with the help of designers at places like Disney and Pixar.

    Ninth House’s "Situational Leadership" module begins with a short video clip from Ken Blanchard, followed by vignettes and interactive videos that place the user in the middle of a movie. The fictional management scenarios range from a gold mine to a fishing pond. "We are changing the paradigm where people used to just sit in front of their computer and read text," Snipes says. "In a situation where you are trying to develop management skills and change behavior, you need a higher learning experience."

    Like most other e-learning companies, Ninth House promotes the blended-learning approach. "E-learning is not just good for one thing and the classroom for another," Snipes says. "Each is a great way to do part of the learning experience." He believes that concepts can be learned online, followed by simulated online role-playing on a general subject such as negotiation. After that, he says, people should get together to discuss the concepts and practice their skills more specifically with techniques such as role-playing how to negotiate their own company’s contracts.

    The Ninth House approach seems to be working. Last April, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a report about a pilot program using Ninth House’s online seminars based on Blanchard’s teaching. The department said that the amount of training the managers received in 4,247 electronic courses taken over two years would have cost $10.5 million more in a classroom. More important were the qualitative results. Ninety-two percent of the people who participated in the program said that they were able to learn and remember concepts as easily as in a classroom, and 64 percent said that the courses had helped improve their job performance.

Workforce Management, February 2004, p. 55 -- Subscribe Now!