Blended Learning for Manufacturing Training

blended-learning-for-manufacuring-trainingYou can’t train a manufacturing workforce using just one “type” of training–just field-based OJT, just written materials, just instructor-led classroom-style training, just e-learning, etc.

Well, you can. But you won’t get the most effective training, and you won’t create a cost-effective training program. So you don’t want to.

Instead, it’s best to use a “blended learning” solution that mixes and matches different types of training.

In this article, we’ll give a few reasons why you should consider a blended learning solution for your workers; give you some tips for creating the right blend to help workers acquire basic knowledge, develop skills and learn procedures, and develop advanced job skills that really create value for your company; and show you some tools and techniques for making this all happen smoothly.

Why Use Blended Learning?

In short, blending is better.

But let’s look at that in a little more detail. We’ll focus on four aspects: employee engagement; individual learning preferences; suitability of the training materials for training needs;  and issues related to scalability, cost, and scheduling logistics.

why blend

Employee Engagement

Your employees will appreciate training more if it “comes at them” in different ways.

Doing the same thing over and over again gets boring. Mixing a little variety into your training program will make it more exciting for your employees.

And that will make them more active, engaged, receptive learners. And that will make your training more effective–meaning your workers will develop those job skills they need.

Appealing to Different Learning Preferences/Needs

Some people like a certain kind of training more than other kinds.

For example, some people really like instructor-led training but don’t care for e-learning or written materials as much (written materials can be especially problematic for workers who aren’t native speakers of the language, have limited reading skills, or are dyslexic). And on the other hand, some workers really like e-learning but don’t care for instructor-led training (maybe they appreciate the ability to train at their own speed with e-learning).

It would be great if you could design an entirely personalized training solution for each worker that takes into account their own personal learning preferences. If you can do that, hats off to you and go for it! But more likely, you can’t, and you’ll have to develop training solutions for everyone in a group, team, department, site, or job role. Given that, if you used a blended solution, you have a better chance of including at least SOME training that appeals to the various members of your training audience.

Suitability of Training Materials for Training Need

Some training needs are very well served by a particular kind of training.

For example, if you’re trying to teach someone a skill, and that instruction really benefits from a lot of hands-on practice (with real machines and equipment at your site) and immediate feedback from a knowledgeable subject matter expert, then some form of face-to-face training may be best.

On the other hand, if you’re trying to teach workers about a work process, explaining the machinery and equipment involved in the process and what happens inside those machines, an e-learning course with sophisticated visuals (that your employees can watch and rewatch at their own learning pace) may be just what they need.

In still other cases, you may find that the best way to train people for one training need is to use a blend. Maybe you’ll assign a self-guided e-learning course to workers first. They can complete that on their own, and this provides the basic information. Then you’ll have an instructor-led training session or do some field-based OJT if hands-on practice, demonstrations, skill evaluations, question answering, and/or spontaneous feedback are necessary.

Scalability, Costs, and Logistics

Sometimes, you’ll have to consider issues such as scalability, cost, and logistics when you choose which kind of training to provide for a given training need. Let’s look at each of these briefly.

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Scalability

You may find that the best way to train a person to perform job skill X is to personally demonstrate the procedure, have the employee perform it, and let them benefit from your instructive feedback.

But maybe you’ve got a day job, too, and you can’t give that kind of training to 1,000 employees a year (or some similar big number).

In that case, you may find that creating a video recording as you perform the procedure, and then delivering that video to your 1,000 employees online through your LMS (or even through mobile learning apps they use to watch the video in the field) may be much more scalable.

Cost

Maybe you find that pulling the department out of work, taking them out of town, putting them up in a nice hotel, booking the conference room, buying lunches, paying overtime, and leading some instructor-led training creates a very relaxed, congenial atmosphere that makes it easy to learn. And hey, you may well be right.

But the odds are, your company can’t afford that, or can’t afford that for every training need.

Even if we exaggerated our description above for the sake of humor, there’s no doubt that paying for instructor-led training can get expensive, either because it happens during overtime, or because there are travel expense involved, or simply because you pulled everyone away from their job responsibilities.

Many times, it may be more cost-effective to use training materials in written format (PDF or PowerPoint), video format, or an e-learning course, all of which can be delivered online and all of which employees can view and complete during their own downtime at work.

Scheduling Logistics

If you’ve got employees working multiple shifts, you know how hard it is to get them all together for training. It’s like herding cats, as they say.

And that gets harder if the shifts that people work change from time to time, or if an employee may work at different locations on a given day of the week, or if you’re trying to train workers at multiple locations or workers who work remotely. Often times, logistical issues like this will play a role in the training you choose to provide. This is one area where online training, which your workers can complete individually and within their own schedule, creates a lot of efficiencies.

manufacturing-training-course-library

How to Use Blended Learning

You’ve now read that it’s a good idea to use a blended learning solution, why it’s a good idea, and have even picked up some tips for creating the right blend when you’re designing training for each job role.

But let’s take a closer look at one aspect of this: the type of material that you want an employee to have learned after the training.

We can break that down into three different levels, as shown below.

pyramid

Let’s look at those in more detail.

Basic Job Knowledge

There’s always basic, foundational information that employees need to know in order to perform a given job. This information can be broken down into facts (example: this is a boiler), concepts (example: these are all different types of boilers), and processes (example: this is how we make our product).

In many cases, this is information that your employees can most efficient process in a self-guided learning activity, such as with some written materials, a video, or a simple e-learning course, like the course below, which demonstrates the important concept of Meeting Customer Expectations.

Basic Skills and Simple Procedures

In nearly every job role at a manufacturing facility, workers have to learn a set of procedures-the way to do this job task, the way to do that job task, etc.

In some cases, a simple written document (maybe with some labeled pictures) can do this quite nicely.

In other cases, you may want to use an online learning tool (like the one shown below) that your workers can watch from a mobile device while in the field.

And in other cases, you may need some face-to-face training for this, either in an instructor-led, classroom setting, or in an OJT setting in the field.

Mobile Records

Click here for a more detailed explanation of how to teach your employees basic job skills and procedures (and this article on the Training Within Industry Job Instruction program may also prove interesting).

And you can also read more about tools to help you with training workers to perform basic job procedures.

Advanced Job Skills

Finally, in every job (or most every, especially those higher up on the line of progression), workers develop what we might loosely call “advanced job skills.”

These are the job skills that turn key workers into true value creators for the company. They include things like problem-solving skills, troubleshooting, process improvement, adaption of things like lean manufacturing techniques, new product creation, and more.

Traditionally, workers develop these advanced job skills after many years on the job and as a result of experience and trial-and-error. The problem with that is it takes a lot of time, it’s an unorganized process with no standardization or consistency, and it doesn’t work for every employee.

You can help workers develop these advanced job skills more quickly and reliably by creating structured learning activities that allow them to practice these skills  (in addition to their work experience). This kind of training often requires some form of face-to-face interaction (in the form role-playing exercises or other types of classroom-style instructor-led training and/or field-based OJT. And that’s one reason why it’s nice to reserve face-to-face instructor time (which is often a scarce resource) for this kind of training.

In addition, e-learning courses that make use of scenario-based learning and/or gamification can also be effective for this.

Tip: another benefit of using written documents and online learning tools for teaching workers foundational knowledge and simple procedures is that you accelerate them through the early processes of learning their job role and get them ready to begin learning advanced job skills more quickly and efficiently.

Click to read more detailed information about using scenario-based learning to help workers develop these advanced job skills.

Using an LMS to Administer Your Blended Learning Solution

Now that you know what a blended learning solutions is, and have some ideas of how to develop one to help employees in a given job role understand the knowledge, develop the basic skills and perform the simple procedures, and acquire the advanced job skills that are necessary for their jobs, you may wonder what’s the best way to assign, deliver, track, and otherwise administer this kind of training.

You can use a learning management system (LMS) to manage much of this, including automating a significant portion. The LMS will save you a lot of time and clerical hassles, allowing you to more productively use your time on instructor-led training, field-based training, or other aspects of your job.

The short video below provides a brief overview of things you can do with an LMS.

Conclusion: Your Own Thoughts on Blended Learning Solutions

What are your thoughts on blended learning? Do you blend? What elements do you include in your blend and how do you make that decision? How do you administer your blended learning training?

The comments section below awaits your pearls of wisdom.

And please do download the free Guide to Effective Manufacturing Training below.

 

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Manufacturing Training from Scratch: A Guide

Create a more effective manufacturing training program by following these best practices with our free step-by-step guide.

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Jeffrey Dalto

Jeffrey Dalto

Jeffrey Dalto is an Instructional Designer and the Senior Learning & Development Specialist at Convergence Training. Jeff has worked in education/training for more than twenty years and in safety training for more than ten. You can follow Jeff at LinkedIn as well.

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