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Tips on Blended Learning Programs from the 2018 PDC Summer Conference

By Ian Nelson

Anna Jodi Ian

A compilation of the practical tips, ideas, and best practices on blended learning programs that PDC members discussed at the PDC 2018 Summer Conference.

I was a co-presenter at “Flipping the Conference: Blended Learning in Action,” a session at the PDC 2018 Summer Conference in Portland, Oregon. My co-presenters (Jodi Lucena-Pichardo and Anna Thea Bridge) and I promised the audience “no deck, no lecture, and no panel.”

Lots of PD teams are implementing blended learning programs, and we wanted everyone to learn from the collective knowledge of the attendees. So rather than subject the audience to a long lecture, we facilitated an interactive, collaborative session where people could share their experiences and learn from one another—which is the idea behind blended learning in the first place.

Before the session, we asked people to watch this video on the basics of blended learning. At the session, we talked through an exercise and then had a group discussion that covered the following topics:

  • What to use for pre-work
  • How to get partner buy-in
  • Motivating associates to do the pre-work
  • General tips and ideas for successful blended learning programs

The main takeaways from the discussion are summarized below. A downloadable version of these takeaways can be found here.

Pre-Work Ideas

Case Studies Based on Firm Matters: Use existing firm matters as a basis for a series of trainings. Added bonus: The participants are already familiar with the facts for each subsequent training.

Hypotheticals: Don’t reinvent the wheel. Create hypos based on actual case law. Reveal and discuss the outcome of the case during the session.

Hotshot: Great-looking quick-bite videos; also includes blended learning exercises, outlines, and quizzes.

PLI Videos/Written Content: Use one-hour briefings or shorter segments as pre-work. Added bonus: Participants receive CLE credit.

Practical Law Forms and Practice Notes: There are now litigation offerings too.

Create Outlines from Existing Decks: Already have a dense, wordy deck for a training? Turn it into an outline/handout and pare down the actual PPT slides. The outline can become the pre-work.

Previously Recorded Trainings: Record a training (preferably a high-quality recording, 60 minutes or fewer) and use that recording as the following year’s pre-work.

Brainstorming: Ask the participants to “Come to the training prepared to address a few examples of . . . . ”

How to Get Partner Buy In

Less Work, More Effective: The blended learning model = less work for the partner facilitators. They need only provide practical tips based on their experience rather than have to teach the foundational material. The presentation can be conversational and more like an informal chat on key concepts and practice pointers. It’s what the associates really want to hear and what the partners want to talk about too.

More Likely to Be Retained, More Engaging for All: Creating a “buzz” of interactivity or discussion in the room completely changes the dynamic, making it a better experience for faculty and participants alike. Engaged participants who are actually working through problems in real-time are much more likely to retain key concepts.

Make it Easy/Train the Trainer: Create facilitator guides for trainings, complete with ideas for discussion questions, exercises, etc. Include timing and speaker breakdowns. Walk the presenter(s) through the structure of the training so they understand their role.

Opportunity to Involve Clients and/or Alumni: Invite clients to come in and run business scenarios (for business acumen trainings). They also question the associates and judge their answers. Partners buy in because their clients are there.

Collaborate with Financial Consulting Advisors: Many financial consultants (FTI, Cornerstone) would be happy to come in and teach. Have them work off of a case study based on an existing (or past) firm matter. Short videos or other resources can be distributed in advance.

Motivating Associates to do the Pre-Work

Have Partner Presenters Do the Dirty Work: Ask them to send out the pre-work and set expectations.

Alternatively, Lean on Partner Expectations: Set the tone that the partner facilitator will be expecting them to have reviewed the pre-work in advance and to arrive prepared to participate in interactive exercise during the session. You can also build in a piece where the associates present to the partners.

Consider Gamification – Make the Session Fun and Competitive: Develop a competition or game out of the material associates learned in pre-work – e.g., Jeopardy or Pictionary. All partners have to do is sit back and judge and/or advise.

Make it Modest: It should take no longer than an hour to do the pre-work (and ideally much less). Set the expectation in your informational email (“You should spend no more than minutes reviewing these materials.”).

Start with the Summer Associates and First-Years: You will likely have less resistance from the new lawyers early on. Train them from the get-go to expect these types of sessions. They’ll be used to this type of structure from law school.

Track Participation: Use an app or LMS to track who has actually completed the pre-work and follow-up with targeted (non-threatening) communications. Consider asking the partner presenter to send the follow- up email.

Add Humor/Engaging Visuals: Spice up your informational and reminder emails. Use humor and different, eye-catching subject lines. Consider using memes (or make your own!).

Cialdini/Principles of Persuasion: Consider handing out small gifts/thank yous in advance for doing the pre-work (e.g., a chocolate/candy offering). Will also serve as a reminder.

Utilize Your Most Engaging/Likable Presenters: Consider relationships/rapport when planning a training.

General Tips and Ideas for Successful Programs

Play With Room Set Up: Place presenters in the middle of the room rather than on a podium or stage. This alters the dynamic to make a training more interactive. Consider classroom style or smaller tables that are more conducive to group work/discussion. Partner/associate faculty table leaders are also a good approach.

Have a Few Plants: Reach out to a few associates in advance and give them ideas for questions.

Collaborate with Law Schools: Hire a local professor to come in and teach the material. Record that session. The substance piece can be part of the pre-work for next time.

Pre-Work for Mentoring: Pre-work can be a great basis for discussion for mentoring pairs. The mentee can receive pre-work in advance of a mentoring meeting. The pre-work becomes the source of a unique, more directed one-on-one opportunity to impart wisdom and coach (can be substantive or skills-based).

Thanks again to the attendees and my co-presenters for a great session!