Have you ever noticed how often, when it comes to taking a decision, the process ends up being focused on one solution versus another, when actually, the best answer might be found by looking somewhere in-between the two extremes?
This reality is well-illustrated by the example of supply chain training and education. Until a few years ago, there were really just two ways in which you, your employees or the staff you manage could receive education and training in supply chain concepts, strategy, and methodology. You could take advantage of face-to-face education or, if it suited the student’s learning style, you could try distance learning, which usually meant an exchange of learning material and completed assignments via the postal service.
The Rise of Online Supply Chain Training
Initially viewed with skepticism by many–a view often reinforced by the emergence of courses intended more to turn a fast profit than to provide any educational value—online supply chain training courses have grown immensely in popularity. There are now many high-quality programs available online, all of which offer a worthy alternative to traditional forms of on-campus and distance learning.
For many new or developing supply chain practitioners, online supply chain training and education programs offer an engaging and interactive way to develop skills without the necessity for extended spells of time outside the workplace—a benefit for employer and student alike.
At the same time though, online learning does have its drawbacks, for example:
- No face-to-face interaction with trainers, lecturers or fellow students
- Limited opportunities for networking
- Fewer group projects to facilitate development of team-working skills
- It can be hard to stay on track without a high degree of self-discipline
Of course, a lot depends upon the length and nature of the online curriculum, but still, it has been suggested that a lack of personal contact with peers and instructors can create motivational issues, resulting in a higher dropout rate than is seen in traditional classroom education.
Blended Learning: The Happiest Medium in Supply Chain Training
The weaknesses in an entirely online approach to supply chain training have not gone unnoticed by education-providers, who are increasingly turning to hybrid strategies, sometimes called blended learning.
The blended learning format combines the delivery of online training with periodic “workshops”, held in a physical brick-and-mortar facility, which can be attended by students and are designed to provide the networking, socialising, and team-working elements missing from programs delivered entirely via the Internet.
Blended learning is not something that’s restricted to graduate degree programs. This combination of online and classroom education is taking hold within logistics and other supply chain companies that host their own employee training programs, as well as being adopted by specialist supply chain training providers, such as our very own Supply Chain School.
Benefits of Blended Learning for Employers
If your company sponsors high-performing employees to study for graduate degrees, or runs long-term supply chain training programs, blended learning can be a more cost-effective way to do so than paying for online courses, running frequent and regular classroom sessions, or sending students to part-time, on-campus programs. There are three main reasons for this:
- Students on hybrid courses tend to achieve learning outcomes in shorter periods of time than those on classroom-based or online programs.
- Blended learning is typically less expensive to conduct than classroom training, with the amount to be saved determined by the way in which blended learning programs are run—some formats will reduce costs more, and some less than others.
- Then there are the savings to be had from keeping employees at work, rather than losing them frequently for days at a time, as is usually the case with brick-and-mortar schooling. While your people will still need to attend the physical workshops on occasion, you won’t be losing them for one or more days each week as you might with even a part-time college or university program.
If you run long-term internal supply chain training programs in your organisation, these same advantages apply. Additionally, blending classroom training with online education can help to ease the pressure on conference and meeting rooms if space is at a premium in your business facilities.
Instead of having rooms booked for days at a time, your employees can spend more time learning at their computers, leaving meeting rooms free for purposes other than training, except when the spaces are required for workshop events.
How Students Benefit from Blended Learning
As well as achieving learning outcomes more quickly, students gain a number of other advantages when their supply chain training is delivered with a blended-learning approach. Not only do they enjoy personal interactions with instructors and classmates while attending the workshops, the multiple modes of learning can actually improve communication skills—an aspect of supply chain training which continues to grow in importance.
Why does blended learning improve students’ communication skills?
Because they get to use a variety of communication methods in the course of their studies and training, due to the combination of digital and physical training methods.
To qualify that a little further, we need to look at how students interact with their trainers/instructors/ faculty members/peers on blended-learning programs. At the workshops, for example, students get to work together to solve physical problems and conduct exercises or simulations. They are also interacting face-to-face with their trainers. All in all, the classroom portion of a blended learning program encourages and enables the development of face-to-face communication skills.
Meanwhile, the online element of the program utilises a high volume of reading material, written tests or assignments, and perhaps even webinars and other online conference-based activities.
The various skills that students must employ and develop to interact in all these different ways, can only support and benefit them in the workplace, as the multi-channel exchange of information becomes increasingly critical in managing today’s complex supply chains.
Blend a New Approach into Your Supply Chain Training Strategy
Whether you are a supply chain student yourself, a manager seeking better ways to develop your reports, or a company owner/exec with a need to reduce training costs and improve quality, blended learning probably has no equal when it comes to catering for all learning styles and reducing the disruptive impact of vocational education.
Juggling the demands of a day job with the dedication required for intensive study can be tough on working students, especially when you add in the domestic obligations of family life. By incorporating blended learning into your career development framework, you can ease the student burden as well as the pressure on working resources.
A mix of convenient, flexible online learning with occasional intensive workshops, can lead to faster learning outcomes, greater trainee engagement and lower education costs.
In fact, it’s hard to find anything not to love about blended learning, so why not consider joining the many students, management teams, and business owners that are successfully including it as part of their supply chain training and career-development strategies?