Learning Smarter: Blended Learning Models to Grow

Predictions of the imminent demise of instructor-led training courses at the hands of online courses, are already contradicted by a new growth in niche market instructor-led seminars coupled with performance consulting and performance support value-added benefits. Here's why a 19th century German philosopher was so right about the twin paradoxes of growth in both online AND instructor-led training.

The concept of opposites is well known to historians, fiction writers and savvy marketers.

Jefferson had Hamilton, Lenin had Stalin, Clinton had Starr.

Good versus evil, spiritual versus economic bankruptcy, young versus old are recurrent themes in literature.

The emotional sell versus the rational sell, low price versus creation of a total experience, frills versus no frills are subjects of great interest to earnings-driven organizations.

In a long-out-of-print book, Harvard's Ted Levitt popularized the "go-reverse" principle, which is that every time there is a strong movement in one direction of tastes, values, attitudes and activities, another movement emerges that’s almost the complete opposite.

Specifically, Levitt wrote:

"In the early nineteenth century, Friedrich Hegel enunciated in elaborate detail his dialectical conception of history. Hegel’s ideas spawned those of Marx, and they are highly useful today in helping us to understand and chart the future.

According to Hegel, successful historical forces or ideas inevitably generate their opposite—what he called the 'antithesis.'

The resulting struggle or competition leads each opposing force to ingest some features of the force it opposes. In the process, there emerges a synthesis of the two. In time, this becomes a distinct new force in itself, which in turn generated a new antithesis to repeat the cycle.

Hegel thus viewed historical development as a continuous evolution of thesis, antithesis and synthesis.

So, every movement in one direction (thesis) begets an opposite movement (antithesis) which inevitably leads to a synthesis which becomes the new thesis.

Feudalism spawned mercantilism, which was synthesized into capitalism.

Monopoly capitalism in Marx’s view would spawn the dictatorship of the proletariat, which would ultimately synthesize into utopian communism—the classless society. The Hegelian dialectic served Marx. It can also serve management."

Levitt brilliantly showed how to apply the Hegelian principle of opposites to projecting what lies ahead for business.

Now for Some Practical Applications

When there develops in any area of activity or taste or values a strong thrust in one direction, noted Levitt, "we may expect in its wake a strongly opposite thrust."

Consider this: The great growth in packaged convenience foods was paralleled by an equal growth in gourmet cooking and the explosive sale of cookbooks, herbs and exotic condiments.

The great boom in one-stop-shop retail stores was paralleled by an enormous increase in small specialty boutiques.

Hegel on training

The Hegelian dialectic helps us understand what appears to be opposite phenomena in training today: the growth in instructor-led training programs and the growth of instructor-less online training courses.

Predictions regarding the imminent commercial annihilation of instructor-led training courses are already contradicted by a new growth in niche market instructor-led seminars coupled with performance consulting and performance support value-added benefits.

Like many others, we strongly believe in online training. But in many skill-based programs we also believe it must be supplemented or augmented with performance support, performance consulting, coaching and mentoring, and the like.

Action learning has been defined as: "I forget what I hear; I remember what I see; I understand what I do."

Learn-by- doing and learn-after-doing case studies and exercises must be incorporated into online training programs, a topic that we've explored in further detail in an article "How Lessons from Billiards can help Six Sigma Training".

"Learning While Doing," a 20-minute video product from Harvard School Business Publishing, asks the following question: "What are the key elements of effective corporate education in today’s constantly changing business world?"

For companies like General Electric and Conoco, the answer is education that enables employees to learn while solving their own real business problems. Their programs demonstrate how to utilize learn-by-doing principles to increase the effectiveness of company education and training activities.

Using today’s jargon, we conclude with the following comment: Hegel’s predictive model of likely outcomes supports the empirical (i.e., observed) evidence that online learning technology won’t displace instructor-led training programs.

We truly need a "blended learning" approach in skill-based programs. Knowledge without skill is unproductive.

There is no substitute for a truly knowledgeable instructor working individually and collectively with employees requiring training for results.