3 blended learning trends that will make your learning programs more impactful

Blended learning experts Mariëlle Kouters and Tom Dogterom love sharing their experiences, insights and tips with their fellow L&D professionals. During an online event with an enthusiastic group of L&D pros, they applied the concept of social learning; because learning from and with each other is a proven method for achieving results. In this article, you’ll learn all about the three most important trends we covered during the event, as well as the main lessons that all the participants learned.

3 trends in L&D

There are various interpretations of what “blended learning” really means. If you’re working in L&D, you’ve probably heard questions like this from time to time: “Isn’t blended learning just a combination of online and offline learning?” For us, blended learning is all about combining the optimal mix of various learning interventions, usually with a focus on shorter interventions. These can include activities such as online learning, peer coaching, individual coaching, assessments and workshops (either in-person or virtual).

Research shows us that combining various learning interventions results in a greater learning impact. And today, because of the pandemic, the demand for blended learning has sky-rocketed.

Trend #1. From “face-to-face blocks” to “fully virtual”

Traditional long-term blended learning programs often centered around a series of face-to-face interventions. Today, we see a greater demand for shorter blended programs. These short programs focus on one specific topic instead of an entire range of topics. That means that long learner journeys are split up into shorter “chunks.” And, they are now being offered entirely virtually. This provides clear advantages:

  • participants are now free to choose the topic(s) that match their own personal learning needs.
  • This has a positive impact on the learner’s motivation.
  • Another advantage is that much larger groups can take part in the learning programs.
  • These programs are also more cost-effective (with no expenses for travel or accommodations).
  • And groups of learners can be assembled internationally, since the learners’ location no longer prevents them from taking part in a program.

The Hill Model

The HILL model provides a strong basis for designing a learning program. HILL stands for “high-impact learning that lasts.” It is based on research from two Dutch universities (Maastricht University and KU Leuven) that examines which learning interventions are most effective for achieving lasting change.

The HILL model provides you with a checklist for designing and conducting a learning program. This checklist focuses on seven factors for success (see figure).

During our online event, we found that many of the participants had already incorporated some of these factors into their own learning programs; especially the factors of urgency, hybrid learning and action & sharing. However, some of the other topics (such as learning flexibility and learner agency) had often been overlooked. Do you want to know more about the HILL model and how it can help you? Download our free ebook. [zet hier de juiste link onder op Relevance site]

Trend #2. One-size fits nobody

The second trend that we are now observing focuses on the high degree of diversity among organizations and learners:

  • Differences in experience levels

  • Younger generations have a different style of learning

  • Differences in motivations for learning (Daniel Pink’s Motivation Theory)

  • Personal needs are highly individual and constantly changing

There appears to be a conflict between self-directed learning (the employee learns on demand) and guided learning (the employer offers learning). As Tom explains, “Increasingly, we are structuring learning programs so that people are free to choose and to “google” the content they need. What makes this approach so strong is that it combines a structured approach with the freedom to choose. And another trend that goes hand in hand with this is the use of artificial intelligence: this allows you to offer personalized advice to learners and to use chat bots.”

How do the participants in the event feel about this trend? Mariëlle and Tom surveyed the group to see what they thought about the following statement: Employees devote more time to guided learning than they do to self-directed learning. 75% of the participants agreed with this. But is this statement really true? What about learning opportunities such as watching a YouTube video, taking an insta-course or asking a colleague for advice? When asked to consider these learning activities, the participants’ answers suddenly changed to the opposite. 83% said that self-directed learning does in fact take place more often, but the problem is that it is not always visible.

According to Tom, “This seems to be a sign that a lot of learning is taking place beyond the scope of L&D. We see that L&D is looking for a new role: from developing and providing programs, to offering an environment in which people can learn. Less content, more process. It’s all about personalizing and contextualizing the learner’s experience within the organization. And facilitating social learning is definitely a part of that.”

What are some specific new components that you could add to your L&D strategy right now? Our tip: offer more variation to keep your participants feeling motivated. In summary:

  • Make things personal and focused on your target groups

  • Offer a rich selection of content with something for everyone

  • Provide a 24/7 learning platform

  • Support off-the-shelf content with webinars, peer-to-peer learning and coaching

  • Get up and running fast and continue to make adjustments based on the data

  • Make it fun with actors, serious games and online game tactics

  • Monitor progress using 360 scans and effect scans

  • Specify your KPIs

Trend #3. From 10 to 20 and, above all, 70

The term 70-20-10 is now widely used within the world of L&D. It refers to the ideal mix of 10 percent formal learning (face-to-face or online), 20 percent social learning and 70 percent on-the-job learning. For years, L&D professionals have been devoting most of their attention to the smallest component (which also has the least impact): formal learning. But now things have finally started to change.

Mariëlle says, “The solutions we are using in 2021 are much more in line with the 70-20-10 concept; for example, shorter virtual sessions and more focus on social learning and on-the-job learning. So, that means if you offer a virtual training session in the morning, also make sure to give your learners a chance to keep learning in the afternoon by pairing them up with a buddy, so they can also learn by doing.”

“Also be sure to devote attention to social bonding during virtual programs. There are more and more options for doing this, and it strengthens relationships between the learners, as well as their relationship with the organization. Try organizing a virtual campfire session, a walk with your buddy or a virtual breakfast meetup.”

What is the return on investment?

As we mentioned above, specifying your key performance indicators (KPIs) is a must. What is the measurable impact of the learning? This is a highly relevant question for linking the learning with your organization’s business goals. Research among our clients has identified as many as 80 different KPIs that you can measure. Below, we provide a handy three-level overview (based in part on the Kirkpatrick model).


  • Number of participants
  • Time spent
  • Most-used content
  • Participation % in workshops
  • Hours of coaching


  • Satisfaction with the program
  • Employee satisfaction
  • Involvement by management
  • Sick leave and stress
  • Work time < > free time
  • Total spent


  • Team performance
  • Benefit for the department
  • ROI
  • Employer branding
  • Customer satisfaction

The learning climate plays an essential role

You might decide that you’re ready to start measuring the KPIs right away. But, Tom warns, “Unless you have the right learning climate within your organization, it’s a waste of your investment. The learning climate has a major influence on the results. Seventy percent of your behavior is influenced by your surroundings. You can learn all kinds of new things, but it will never work unless you also have opportunities to apply what you’ve learned.”

Which factors determine the learning climate?

The L&D professionals who took part in the event identified the following factors which they say influence the learning climate:

  1. The manager

  2. Trust

  3. Being allowed to make mistakes

  4. Time

  5. Safety

  6. Open culture

  7. Practical application

  8. KPI’s

  9. Motivation

  10. Experimenting

Source- Emonds, Dochy & Segers 2016

But what does the science say?

Research by Maastricht University and KU Leuven identified six factors that determine the learning climate at any organization. Fifty percent of the impact is determined by the attitude of the employee’s manager. That means that managers’ attitudes have a major influence on achieving successful change in the workplace. When rolling out a new program, we always recommend devoting special attention and support to managers.
The other five factors include topics such as: time and funding, the level of curiosity within the organization and whether learning behavior is viewed positively by colleagues.

Best practices for L&D professionals

What are some good examples that you can learn from? The participants in the online event shared their best practices with regard to our three trends, and Mariëlle and Tom contributed their insights:

1. Guiding internal trainers towards the new way of working

According to Tom, “This is something we definitely recognize in our everyday work. Most trainers enjoy working with groups and find it important to share their knowledge. Transitioning to the virtual world has been a challenge for many of them. We are also training our trainers on the transformation process from transferring knowledge to guiding a learning process. That requires a different way of working and a different mindset.”

2. Involve the target group during the development stage and give them plenty of space for their own personal preferences and needs. Be sure to also use ambassadors to build support.

Mariëlle says, “Today, we are shifting towards a more agile way of working, which means that during the development stage, we can make adjustments more quickly to ensure that the program meets the participants’ needs. It’s also entirely possible to make adjustments based on the system’s data on learning behavior. And, on top of that, if you ask participants for their explicit feedback on the form and content, it keeps them engaged in the learning process.

“Especially for social learning, it’s a good idea to use ambassadors, because this enables new learning networks to form, which learners will continue to use for the long term.”

3. Using blended and virtual learning in smaller groups while offering content for multiple forms of learning and in multiple phases.

According to Tom, “We are taking more time for the learning process. It is now always available, 24/7. At the same time, learning is offered in shorter chunks, which means participants need less time each time they want to learn something. The advantage of working in smaller groups is that you have more in common, so the group is more focused.”

Mariëlle and Tom point out one important common denominator: democratization of learning through the possibilities of digitization. Mariëlle says, “For a long time now, learning is no longer just for the happy few. It is for everybody. It is becoming more accessible for more people, and it is aligning more with people’s personal learning needs. This is essential too, because our world is changing so quickly.”

Making your blended learning program even more impactful

We hope this article has given you some inspiration and practical tips for your work in L&D. We are always happy to offer personal advice that is tailored to meet the needs of your organization. We’re also happy to share the research sources behind this article, if you would like to read more on these topics.


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Mariette Schram


Mariette Schram

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