“Frankly, It Works Better” – Why Henkel Went From Classroom Training to a Blended Learning Approach

December 21, 2017

See why Henkel went from an in-person training model to a much stronger blended approach, with online learning coupled with in-person training.

It was a transformation.

Since its foundation in 1876, Henkel – a German-based industry and consumer goods company with more than 50,000 employees worldwide – has been prioritizing development and structuring learning around its key business needs. During the past years the traditional classroom training has been mainly replaced by a blended learning approach.  

As a consequence of this, the learning landscape is drastically changing. In some programs  several months of online training, where learners check in once-a-week with instructors, are combined with digital learning elements and social learning components. The content is split into chunks and participants can apply what they have learned in between the sessions.

Why this shift? Because it’s more effective.

“Frankly, it works better,” Director of Expertise Development Nora Schoenthal said. “We know from brain science that what is taught in a three-to-five day classroom training is not likely to stick. A four-month interactive and engaging online program is better to boost performance.”

Senior Digital Learning Manager Wilma Hartenfels agreed.

“All the research on how people learn shows that learning a little over time is much more effective than trying to learn a lot at once,” Hartenfels said. “We know that the less input you get, the more likely you are to apply it. Habits build up slowly. So, we try to teach in sections and have them apply it, as opposed to throwing a lot of learning at them at once.”

How it all works

Around five years ago, Henkel centralized its corporate learning offerings and set-up functional campuses. Among those the Adhesive Technologies campus is the predominant one with its sales, marketing, innovation and supply & operations offerings. All core programs include blended learning elements as pre- and postwork to the classroom component. In addition to that, the virtual training programs were added to the curriculum in which participants do not physically come together anymore but are meeting every week in online sessions.

The employee reaction

This is a large change to the way people were used to learning and development at Henkel: from a traditional in-person model to a more modern, blended learning and digital approach. And it was up to Henkel’s development team to manage that change.

“It was like most changes an organization goes through,” Digital Learning Senior Manager Iva Radenovic said. “It may be a slow process but with focused initiatives and right levers, we are moving away from a “push” to a “pull” learning approach. We see more and more employees taking advantage of our new engaging digital formats for their professional development and we have received very good feedback so far.”

To help facilitate this change, the development team is heavily communicating the benefits of digital learning. When they purchased Lynda.com licenses, for example, they used the internal social network to promote content on digital leadership. They also arranged all-hands physical meetings. And they held competitions called digital knowledge quests, where employees were challenged to watch a curated collection of Lynda.com courses and then were asked a series of questions about what they learned. If the person got all the questions right, they were entered into a raffle to win free admittance to a course at Harvard’s online college.

The first person to win one of these knowledge quests? Erdem Kocak, a vice president at Henkel.

“The digital landscape is changing and the edges of our organizations are shifting,” Kocak said. “As a leader, I recognize the power of this change and am always keen on learning in any form from my surroundings.”

All of this was important. But ultimately, the biggest driver for learning engagement is that the offerings are relevant and actionable.

“It starts with relevancy,” Hartenfels said. “If the course isn’t relevant, they aren’t going to do it. You need them to walk away with something that they can apply to their job.”

The takeaway

Henkel serves as a microcosm for what’s happening across learning and development departments across the world. As more digital learning options become available, companies are increasingly using them to complement their in-person trainings and to bring learning closer to where the employees need it.

That transition comes with challenges, though. What should be the share of digital vs. traditional classroom training and how does this ratio change according to the topic and the target audience? How do you find out which method works for which audience? And how do you communicate these changes so that employees understand the benefit?  

Henkel is in the middle of this exciting journey. As world is changing faster every day, so will the challenges continue to thrive.

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