In November 2017, we jointly delivered a blended learning event on Program and Performance Budgeting (PPB). One of us took care of the content and facilitation, and the other dealt with the technical side which included a complete update of our online learning space – CEF Online Learning Campus. The event consisted of an online learning phase and a three-day workshop in Ljubljana for public officials who work at line ministries and ministries of finance. We would like to share our experience with this event and convey some of the lessons learned in order to continue developing our capacities in blended learning.
At the beginning of 2017, I wrote a blog post »How to create your own facilitation style«, where I talked about my experience as a facilitator of face-to-face events. Half a year later, I decided to facilitate a blended learning event. This was my first experience with blended design, and my conclusion is that, in many ways, facilitating blended design is similar to facilitating a workshop, but when it comes to online environment, one has to learn new techniques and tools of engagement with participants.
As I was also preparing instructional design, my idea was not to put too many activities in the online phase of the event. I decided to follow the »recipe« that my colleagues have been using, and my assumption not to overload the participants was correct, as they positively commented on the workload that was required from them. On the other hand, I introduced some new elements, such as interactive quizzes, using the H5P tool. The majority of the participants needed 3 to 6 hours to complete one learning unit, which lasted for a week. Lesson learned: use interactive elements and find well-balanced workload.
In blended learning, a well set and designed online and physical learning space is of extreme importance. It is crucial to have a platform that is flexible and easy to navigate, while enabling connectivity. We had recently updated and improved our platform, and now we divided each learning unit into steps. Almost every step included a commenting feature – participants could comment on the videos and peers’ assignments, ask questions, etc. After a bit of encouragement, participants started to use this feature and continued to do so until the workshop in Ljubljana. Lesson learned: incorporate and encourage peer-to-peer communication.
When the participants came to Ljubljana, the group was already formed. At the beginning, we had a short ice-breaker, led by our colleague Ivana, and then after a brief theoretical session we immediately continued with our program. We decided to have less theoretical sessions and focus on practical exercises and country case studies. Feedback from the participants showed that they appreciated the practical side of this initiative. Lesson learned: design an agenda that includes as much of sharing practical experience as possible.
I was glad to see that participants expressed great interest in online learning technologies. I couldn’t shake the feeling that the demand for this field is slowly but surely rising, and they constantly kept asking me when there will be more of such learning initiatives. They wished for some more such courses this year. Lesson learned: blended learning is a very interesting approach to organizing learning initiatives. Evidently, participants like it and they benefit greatly from the online part of the learning initiative, as it helps them get better prepared.
Participants also felt better connected, knew each other better and could quickly add a face to their online contacts. They commented on each other’s assignments and learned about interesting views of others. I was able to observe them during the breaks, lunches and dinners, talking about their comments and assignments.
They also really liked the gamification part of the online phase, and here I can say thanks to Kaja, who made a wonderful job as the online facilitator, adding interesting quizzes and other elements that made them more active, rather than just reading the materials. In general, many participants expressed that they would like to see more of
such elements. Lesson learned: online facilitation is very different from face-to-face facilitation. I encourage thinking out of the box, finding different interesting tools, and making the courses even more interactive in the future.
What I also gathered is that we need to do more of the final knowledge testing, as my talks with the participants revealed that they would like their knowledge to be tested better, before continuing with the face-to-face workshop.
This was our first blended learning event, using the updated online platform, but for sure not the last one. We are looking forward to having more opportunities to be engaged in blended learning in the 2018 CEF Learning Program.