How to make the most of cohort-based learning  

Whether virtual, in-person, or hybrid, modern work is all about teams. Businesses today require collaborative work that often spans time zones, hemispheres, and organizational levels. The complex, team-centric nature of work is reflected in learning and development trends, leading to the growing adoption of cohort-based learning and team-based learning models. Forbes has claimed cohort-based learning is transforming online education. So, what’s all the buzz about?

What is cohort-based learning?

Cohort-based learning is a collaborative learning style in which a group of individuals advance through an educational program together. A cohort-based course is typically organized according to a syllabus and taken by a group of students simultaneously. Cohort-based courses can take place online, in a virtual space, or in a physical classroom. A simple example is traditional on-campus programs, such as high school or college—classmates complete the same assignments, adhere to the same due dates, and study material together. In an online cohort learning model, learners complete an educational program with their peers online instead of in person. In a business setting, a cohort of learners may be individuals who joined the company at the same time or are working through a leadership development experience together.

What’s the difference between cohort-based learning and self-paced learning? 

Self-paced learning is a learning style in which individuals advance through educational programs independently. Although they may take the same classes as others, they’ll progress through the course and complete assignments at their own pace. Self-paced learning is commonly delivered in the form of e-learning programs that make courseware available at any time, allowing learners to engage with the course material whenever it works best for them. 

A self-paced e-learning program is often recommended for busy professionals with changing schedules. Self-paced learning is an effective way to introduce knowledge, including concepts and processes. However, e-learning falls short when it comes to applying new skills and changing learner behavior. When you study alone, you typically remember 28% of what you learned after two days; when you practice the content, answer questions about it, and interact with others, you remember 69%.

Team-based constructs within the cohort-based learning framework are better positioned to help learners develop and apply complex skills, such as creativity, problem-solving, interpersonal skills, and leadership. That’s why L&D teams are incorporating small team activities designed to bring to life concepts and processes introduced through e-learning by offering opportunities to apply the learning in realistic settings. 

The benefits of cohort learning 

  • Collaboration: Particularly in an online environment, a cohort learning model facilitates social interaction and collaboration, enhancing the learning experience and providing a sense of community.
  • Support: Cohort learning connects learners to the support of peers and faculty. Some online learners may prefer a cohort learning model to a pure self-paced learning model because they prefer the solidarity that comes with learning in a group setting. 
  • Structure: Cohort learning provides structure in the form of set due dates and discussion forums. 
  • Perspective: As learners engage with teammates, they’ll be exposed to new perspectives, opinions, experiences, and ideas.
  • Networking: Learning with others makes it easier to further network and build relationships.
  • Application and retention: Individual learners are much more likely to retain information learned in groups.
  • Completion: Where self-paced courses have completion rates as low as 3%, cohort-based courses often see completion rates of over 90%

How does synchronous, team-driven, discovery learning fit in?

At Blueline, we design team-driven learning experiences. So, what’s the difference between cohort learning and our synchronous, team-driven, discovery learning? It’s not an either/or—these are complementary concepts. In fact, many of the world’s biggest and best-known brands are incorporating team-driven experiences within their cohort-based designs. 

The team-based learning approach in business satisfies three important criteria that promote optimal learning: 

  1. Learners are immersed in a practical, ongoing activity.
  2. Learning is multi-directional, with feedback from other learners and the instructor.
  3. Learning is functional and based on a real problem.
  4. Participants typically work together to solve problems, share stories, identify best practices, and uncover common failure points.

Effective examples of cohort-based learning design often incorporate a team-driven discovery learning component. These experiences may include gamification, real-world simulation, discovery learning, and customization to each organization’s specific aims and context

In fact, Blueline’s ExperienceBUILDERTM digital design and delivery platform can serve as a launchpad for effective cohort-based learning. It can also be used to create a capstone experience to e-learning or presentation-based curriculum, where learners engage further with the content through synchronous, team-driven discovery learning. 

ExperienceBUILDER delivers scenario-based simulations that create powerful opportunities for competition, scoring, and engagement with the learning material. Crucially, the content is designed to develop skills and competencies that are closely linked to the organization’s success. Learners are pulled into scenarios in which they must engage in meaningful discussions to move forward. The answers are not clear-cut; as in real-life scenarios, these simulations offer multiple paths forward. A back-end scoring system with targeted feedback enables competition between teams, furthering their investment in the overall outcome. Through these features, the ExperienceBUILDER learning experience extends cohort-based learning and maximizes immersion, engagement, and retention.

If your organization is looking to scale learning across globally distributed teams, keep employees actively engaged in their learning, and help your teams gain today’s much-needed collaborative skills, get in touch with Blueline to learn more about our synchronous, team-driven, discovery learning experiences. 

Is the metaverse the next dimension of L&D?

The new world of work is here, and organizations are exploring how to engage a new workforce and improve employee experiences. As many businesses start implementing social and learning interactions in virtual environments, mentions of the metaverse are entering the conversation. Is the metaverse the next dimension for L&D? Although it could hold great potential, the answer is that we don’t quite know enough yet.

What is the metaverse?

You’ll be forgiven for being unclear on what that metaverse actually is. Because the metaverse is still being built, nailing down a definition right now is comparable to defining the internet in the 1970s—the internet existed, but no one knew what would eventually become of it. To help you understand the vague and complex concept of the metaverse, replace the phrase “the metaverse” in a sentence with “cyberspace”. Most of the time, the meaning won’t change substantially. Like the term cyberspace, the metaverse doesn’t really refer to one specific type of technology, but rather a digital construct.

Many experts see the metaverse as a 3D model of the internet—a hybrid digital paradigm that further blends the physical and digital worlds. In this new world, digital objects are used to represent real people, places, concepts, and situations. It’s basically a place parallel to the physical world where you spend your digital life and interact with others through avatars.

Did you know? 

The term “metaverse” was announced in 1992 in the Science fiction novel “Snow Crash” by the American writer Neal Stephenson. The novel revolves around humans interacting with each other in Avatar form in a three-dimensional virtual world.

Some metaverse pros and cons

In its current iteration, the metaverse has many pros and cons. Here are some that have come up in our conversations with clients and industry partners.

Pros of the metaverse today

  • Connecting the world and negating physical distance
  • Immersive experiences
  • Better online social interactions 
  • Social media upgrades 
  • New business opportunities
  • Potential to disrupt many forms of online learning and education

Cons of the metaverse today

  • Lack of clarity about what it is and how to use it
  • Cybercrime vulnerabilities and privacy issues
  • Losing connection with time and the physical world
  • Virtual bullying
  • Lack of moderation, rules, standards, and laws
  • Connection and hardware issues
  • Hardware requirements to participate widen gaps between the haves and have-nots
  • Ecological impact of high electricity usage

What might the metaverse mean for L&D professionals?

L&D leaders are often champions of the need to explore new ideas, thoughts, and paradigms—which makes applications of the metaverse to L&D very fertile ground. When virtual and augmented realities are more widely available, it will be fascinating to watch as metaverse technology makes it possible for people to push the boundaries of their physical limitations and immerse themselves in new paradigms of learning. We already know that virtual reality (VR) has a significant role to play in L&D. The metaverse has the potential to bring all our current learning practices (physical classrooms, e-learning, and virtual learning) into a single platform, further bridging the gap between virtual and real experiences.

For now, keep an open mind, as only time will tell. The entire concept is still in its infancy.

Learning for the here and now 

The metaverse today is still at an exploratory stage when it comes to large-scale learning deployment. However, large technology companies are already launching tools and products, such as Microsoft Mesh, that use mixed reality applications to enable shared presence and experiences. In the short term, we’re expecting some trial and error, and a “wait and watch” approach for many organizations, as it’s still unclear whether the metaverse will become the way of the world or a flash in the pan.

If you’re looking for a solution that can deliver on much of the promise of the potential metaverse (engagement, full immersion, gamification, fun while learning deeply, team-driven social learning, etc.), we have a solution available now that’s already proven its readiness for prime time. Blueline’s ExperienceBUILDERTM digital design and delivery platform immerses small teams of learners around the world in realistic simulations that allow them to practice their skills as they would use them on the job. It delivers meaningful, real-world experiences, while remaining scalable in terms of accessibility, practicality, and cost. Contact us to learn about collaborative and interactive learning solutions delivered to the hybrid workforce.

The problem with PowerPoint-based training 

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many trainers and training companies to transition their in-person workshops into the virtual space, which meant giving up many of their go-to tools. Bereft of flip charts, colored markers, and the magic of human interaction, they turned to PowerPoint slides and talking-head presentations delivered via pre-recorded video or a live feed. Many are leveraging breakout rooms and virtual whiteboards, but they’re still not engaging learners enough to prevent the dreaded zone-out that happens when audio is muted and cameras are off.

The new world of work necessitates remote learning. But with minimal facilitator training and the limitations of synchronous virtual course design resources and tools, training can feel impersonal and learners isolated. As a result, its effectiveness is greatly diminished. The initial phase of “make it work” is securely in the past. With virtual and hybrid work arrangements showing up as the clear future for many organizations, it’s time for trainers to provide immersive development experiences designed from the ground up for a geographically dispersed audience.

All point, no power? 

Even before the acceleration of synchronous virtual learning, many trainers considered the ubiquitous slide deck a non-negotiable. The slides were there with relevant information, but they generally provided a background visual and served as a tool to help remind the facilitator of key talking points. In an on-site setting, this type of learning has its limitations; take it to the virtual space, and it really falls flat. Slides lose their effectiveness in the online world because they become the star player (taking up the full screen view) instead of playing a supporting role to the trainer.

Think about what happens when a trainer becomes a disembodied voice-over. It typically takes just 10-15 seconds for people to read a PowerPoint slide. What happens next? Their eyes certainly aren’t going to stay glued on an inanimate visual, so they start to wander—to TikTok, the daily Wordle puzzle, their emails—anything that isn’t the PowerPoint.

Talking heads are a pain in the brain 

Then there’s the “talking head” (facilitator) who supplements PowerPoint slides by speaking directly into a webcam or recording a video tightly focused on his or her face. This format means that the vast majority of information delivered in a corporate training video or workshop is auditory, which takes a heavy toll on the learner’s cognitive load.

Cognitive load is an important consideration in instructional design, and it provides significant evidence explaining why traditional talking-head corporate training is both taxing and ineffective. Cognitive load refers to how much of our working memory resource (the part of our memory where we store information for short periods of time while we work with it) is taken up by a task. 

Research has found that our working memories have a very limited capacity. In order to get people to learn more, it’s important to pay attention to instructional design that reduces cognitive load by engaging the learner in novel ways (i.e. not PowerPoints delivered by talking-head trainers). The combination of talking-head video and PowerPoint involves the learner taking in written and/or spoken words; it takes significant mental effort to translate these words into rich visuals and scenes that enable the learner to contextualize the information into the job environment. And with little-to-no opportunity for practice, exploration, or iteration, these learning tactics often fail to make a significant impact on employee performance.

Simply put, L&D teams should not expect traditional employee training solutions to solve the latest problems and work for hybrid teams. Effective learner training that drives enhanced employee performance in the hybrid working world requires new resources and tools that enable disruptive learning designs. 

Effective remote learning design tips

Make it interactive

Watching a lengthy PowerPoint-based virtual delivery can strain attention and inadvertently cause learners to check out. Make the experience more interesting and help learners stay active and engaged by using synchronous activities, question and answer sessions, learning simulations, and live feedback. Present learners with realistic, challenging dilemmas that don’t have a single right answer so they are forced to engage with one another, dig into the content, share experiences, and tease out best practices and common mistakes—all of which drive interaction and engagement. 

Use a team-driven model 

By leveraging the strengths and experiences of all team members, team-driven learning is well-equipped to develop skills more effectively than traditional talking-head formats, PowerPoint presentations, or e-learning experiences. Immersing and engaging hybrid and remote teams of learners in team-based learning experiences transforms the way that businesses build new knowledge and skills, and results in better learning outcomes. 

Incorporate gamification

Integrating game elements into non-game activities has been shown to maximize engagement and motivation. Using gamification tactics (such as point systems, leaderboards, and other game-based elements) challenges learners to apply newly acquired information in both familiar and novel situations, rewarding correct application, and correcting mistakes in real-time.

Put it in context

Creating real-world scenarios enables learners to contextualize information, think deeply about potential issues, and practice applying their new skills. Simulations and practice environments should mimic on-the-job applications as much as possible, using enterprise metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure success. There’s significant value to be achieved in providing learners with a safe place to experiment in various contextual situations, determine the value of what they’ve learned, fail forward, and iterate to modify their approaches.

How to bridge the gap between employee training and desired on-the-job performance

Designing remote learning courses and pathways to development that improve learning experiences and outcomes requires a new approach. This was the inspiration for Blueline’s ExperienceBUILDERTM, the digital design and delivery platform that provides an interactive environment for teams of learners to collaborate to solve real-world problems. The platform’s powerful simulations are created by Blueline’s team of front-end alignment consultants, simulation designers, and digital producers, who know how to leverage synchronous, team-driven, discovery-learning experiences to facilitate business transformation. 

Contact the learning experts at Blueline Simulations to learn more about our hybrid training and engagement solutions.

The Role of Virtual Reality in L&D: Immersive learning that goes beyond the buzzwords

Search for ‘virtual reality’ on Google trends, and you’ll see a non-linear journey: almost nothing, until a slight uptick in searches from mid-2015 (the year Google Cardboard and the Samsung Gear VR created an accessible form of virtual reality using smartphones), then a significant spike in December 2016. This was a watershed year for virtual reality (VR) as a commercial product, as three high-end virtual reality headsets hit the market: Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR. Clearly, they made good Christmas presents. 

Source: Google Trends 

VR headsets, such as the Oculus Rift, have long been the poster children for virtual reality, and most consumers today have been conditioned to think of the headsets when they hear VR. As a concept, however, virtual reality has been around for much longer than the tech peripherals. 

What is virtual reality?

Although virtual reality is well-served by many tech innovations, as a concept it goes beyond delivery modes. Virtual reality is an immersive, simulated experience that can be similar to, or completely different from, the real world. For VR to work, it requires engaging the participant in a situation or alternate reality to the point that the user suspends his or her disbelief and is motivated to participate in the simulated realm. While a lot of VR experiences take advantage of cutting-edge media elements, by definition virtual reality can be created effectively with very low media fidelity. Who remembers the View-Master? Patented in 1939 and still produced today, this special-format stereoscope can still be considered VR. 

As a fundamental premise, immersion matters when it comes to VR. In the current market, it’s easy to get caught up in the latest technology and forget that it’s possible to immerse people in an experience without expensive hardware. We maintain the premise that the principles of VR transcend delivery mode—which means that it’s possible to create an immersive learning experience that’s affordable AND scalable.

From there, the question about VR shifts: When is the right time to use virtual reality in L&D, and how do you use it effectively?

To help answer these questions, imagine VR as a continuum. On one end (the left) are relatively low-tech experiences that take you to an alternate space, such as the good ol’ View-Master. In the context of corporate learning and development, a good example at the lower end of the continuum would be a role play or a simple branching simulation, which immerses learners in a scenario in which they need to make decisions to move forward. Further along the continuum, you may find branching that uses a complex algorithm to distribute nodes to make that experience feel more real. Add the ability to recognize voice, and you move more to the right. Add video, artificial intelligence, and 3-D environments, and you’ll continue to move to the far-right end of the continuum. VR headsets are one incredibly powerful way to deliver 3-D environments.  

When it comes to practical application, where should your L&D initiatives fall on the VR continuum? 

We know that engaging, immersive learning experiences are key to knowledge retention and behavior change. By that statement, you’d likely assume that the far-right end of the continuum offers the best possible outcomes for business training needs. However, when you move from left to right, adding immersive media elements, you give up scalability because costs increase exponentially. For this reason, organizations need to be judicious about when, where, and how they apply the stuff on the far-right end of the continuum, and consider whether a well-designed immersive learning experience can achieve similar behavior change while also being scalable across a large population. 

Situations in which learning outcomes increase in correlation with the richness of media elements are highly valuable in training for high-risk jobs, such as performing surgery or working on an oil rig. When it comes to developing leadership skills, influencing business culture, and other business transformation initiatives for large populations, we recommend immersive custom training solutions that target desired outcomes while remaining scalable. Team-based discovery in a synchronous environment can drive significant behavior change without lots of expensive tech peripherals that make deployment a complex trial.

Put another way—corporate L&D can achieve the training outcomes similar to those made possible by VR without the cost and scale challenges presented by the elements at the far-right end of the continuum.

What questions should L&D be asking about virtual reality?

If you’re tempted to start snapping up VR goggles in the hopes of outfitting your entire learning center, answer the following questions:

  1. What are your desired learning outcomes?
  2. What does success look like for this initiative?
  3. What skills do you want to convey? Or, what behaviors do you want to change?
  4. Who is the audience? 

Now, consider the size of the learner population, context, and budget, and work out where on the continuum you’ll find the appropriate intersection of costs, scalability, and creating the most immersive experience possible. 

At Blueline, we have experience delivering training solutions along the full VR continuum, but we don’t believe that moving to the far-right end is always the best solution. Sure, those rich media experiences using VR headsets are really cool. They also introduce a long list of challenges if you’re training any more than a small group of learners. We’ve been experimenting with innovative and disruptive learning technologies for decades, and we know that a fancy headset is not the holy grail. In fact, when it comes to skill transfer and behavior change, an effective learning design trumps sexy tech every time.  

The team-driven simulations powered by Blueline’s ExperienceBUILDERTM digital design platform can be found near the middle of the continuum—in the sweet spot between scalability and cost. ExperienceBUILDER uses real-world simulations to invite learners into a storyline, in order to deliver highly immersive and engaging synchronous learning experiences. Each scenario is carefully crafted to maximize participant engagement and drive knowledge retention and skills acquisition. The real magic happens in the conversations between team members as they work through complex problems without clear right or wrong answers. Our solutions are scalable and customizable, and they have become a darling for organizations embracing a hybrid workforce. We’ve identified very few learning needs that an ExperienceBUILDER simulation can’t meet. 

Immersive learning offers answers to so many difficult training questions. That explains why virtual reality is getting an outsized share of attention right now, but leveraging virtual reality is so much broader than deploying VR headsets. Contact the learning experts at Blueline Simulations for help finding your sweet spot on the VR continuum.

Get your head in the game when it comes to L&D

Humans learn by sensing, thinking, and doing. These three stages are reflected in the building blocks of the brain: sensory neurons, interneurons, and motor neurons. Integrating elements of games with educational stimuli fits with the sensing-thinking-doing functionality of the nervous system and the natural needs of the brain, which are: 

  • To survive
  • To feel good
  • To play
  • To be rewarded
  • To save energy

Using gamification tactics in learning meets these needs by making the brain feel in control, stimulated by fun and rewards, and addressing the need to save energy by having a congruent story. But a common misconception is that successful gamification requires actually creating a game—which doesn’t work in many business contexts. We’re going to take a look at why gamification works and how it can be applied to authentic, simulated learning environments.

Which is better for business: gamification or game-based learning? 

A quick clarification on gamification vs game-based learning (GBL)

Gamification is the integration of game elements (such as point systems, leaderboards, badges, or other elements related to games) into non-game activities to increase engagement and motivation.

Game-based learning involves designing learning activities that include game characteristics and game principles within the learning activities themselves.

As you can see from these two definitions, there’s a lot of crossover between gamification and game-based learning. Gamification allows learning designers to take advantage of the benefits of game elements without the need to turn the learning itself into a game. 

In the business environment, we’ve found that games are especially good for team building and in many eLearning contexts, but they fall short when building skills. Although game-based learning can be great fun, tying the game back to the business requires an extra step and is not always immediately obvious to participants. At Blueline, we don’t use games to teach (i.e. game-based learning). We use the engaging characteristics of games to help motivate and engage our learners through realistic simulations of real-world work environments (i.e. gamification).

When it comes to work-relevant learning, gamification provides the same incredible benefits while immersing learners in real-world dilemmas. Where appropriate, gamification can be used in learning experiences to bring the dynamics of engagement, competition, and fun to learning—while presenting challenges in real-world contexts and enabling learners to acquire and practice new skills as they would on the job. Gamified learning can be serious and business-appropriate because it doesn’t require the artificial constructs (e.g. a fictional world and characters, made-up storylines, etc.) needed to create a true game.

How does gamification enhance learning objectives?

Although it is becoming increasingly sophisticated and digitalized, gamification in the realm of corporate L&D is nothing new. And for good reason. Not only do game elements meet the brain’s inherent needs, but they also increase cognitive activity by firing up different areas of the brain:

  • The visual brain: evidence supports the attentional benefits resulting from the use of gamification tactics
  • The motivated brain: winning and receiving positive feedback stimulates the reward center of the brain
  • The creative brain: creativity is stimulated by simulations, symbolic thinking, visualization, mentalizing, and curiosity
  • The social brain: cooperation and competition evoke different reactions in the brain
  • The emotional brain: games are emotionally engaging and help us remember events better
  • The cognitive brain: gamification helps with the application of knowledge, and there’s also a positive relationship between adrenaline and memory

From a neuroscientific perspective, the benefits of gamification depend on the design of the learning experience and the individual’s unique neural responses to educational stimuli. According to Jan L. Plass, Paulette Goddard Chair in Digital Media and Learning Sciences and Professor at New York University: “Good games aim for the ‘sweet spot’, where players can succeed but only with some struggle.” 

The combination of success with a side of struggle is an inherently engaging experience. And in the field of learning, engagement translates to retention; retention translates into application; and application translates into results. If you want to drive results, you need to focus on learner engagement. Gamifying learning is a surefire way to engage learners.

Here’s how gamification brings extraordinary levels of engagement to learning

Research shows that play is a potent force in learning contexts in all spheres of life. The freedom to experiment and the joy of experience are not merely techniques to enhance the learning process—they are the learning process.

Another element of gamification comes in the form of collaborative competition, which harnesses natural group competitiveness. When it comes to immersive learning experiences, working with a team and competing against other teams takes engagement and commitment to a whole new level. It isn’t about being cutthroat, but about furthering learners’ investment in the overall outcome.

Common to most gamification techniques is the ability to access immediate and constant assessment of where one stands in the learning process. Gamification offers a number of ways this can be accomplished, such as badges, leaderboards, and other point-based mechanisms. When feedback comes from a publicly visible leaderboard, it is both engaging and motivating to the learners. As an analogy, consider your level of effort working out at home in front of a video, and then going to a class at the gym and doing the same workout with a group of people. Being in an environment with other people naturally raises the stakes, even when they’re all equal participants in a shared activity. Now turn it into a competition—say you could see who is pedaling fastest out of a group of people in a spin class. Wouldn’t you push yourself even harder to beat the other people in the room? That’s the power of a live leaderboard, and it translates extremely well from athletics to many other activities.

These elements can all be included in a complex simulation that still maintains verisimilitude with the work environment. While game-based learning is a form of escapism that takes learners out of the workplace, gamified simulations keep learners immersed in their very real daily challenges while still providing an engaging and fail-safe environment for practicing new skills.

Blueline is no stranger to the learning game

We have been perfecting the use of gamification techniques to increase learner engagement for the past two decades. Blueline’s ExperienceBUILDER™ digital design platform synthesizes the most powerful of these gamification elements in one tool. The synchronous, customized simulations designed and delivered through ExperienceBUILDER incorporate teamwork, live leaderboards, peer challenges, real-world application, and feedback mechanisms to leverage the benefits of gamification; the most important of which are learner engagement, knowledge retention, and concept application. 

At Blueline Simulations, we combine the elements of play, competition, and feedback to enrich our designs and support learners in achieving better outcomes—but no one is playing around here. We have perfected the use of immersion techniques like simulation, gamification, and storytelling to design synchronous, team-driven discovery learning that drives business transformation. We are also breaking new ground with hybrid learning designs that are just as effective as live classroom experiences. Get in touch with the Blueline Simulations team if your organization is ready for this next chapter.