It’s been almost 20 years since I completed my BA in History at the University of Utah. The experience was outstanding, and I would definitely recommend the U (yes, a shameless plug for my alma mater). But why was it such an outstanding experience? I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, trying to unpack the experience that led me to where I am today. To this point, I’m going to loosely reference some educational psychology professionals because there is a lot of research that has gone into education as a whole. That is the way folks learn, the value of learning, and what makes learning valuable.

First, there’s how folks learn, or more to the point how adults learn. The brain will take in information from our senses, and process that information using previous experience as a reference. That previous experience can be biased (which really is where our biases exist), but they also help the brain process and make sense of new information. The more that information is repeated, the more likely neurons create a permanent connection, which moves the information from short-term memory to long-term memory. It’s an oversimplification to be sure, but I wanted to point out some things with this process:


  • The brain is processing information from all senses, not just a given one. Some may find it easier to process by listening, some by doing, or some by seeing it being done, but this is a preference. The brain processes everything coming in. To this point, I can still recall a lecture from paleoanthropology given by a visiting professor discussing the Neanderthal mastoid process because of the musty smell of the old Mathematics building. All senses are valuable, even those we may not expect.
  • What is processed is information, regardless of source. That source can be a book, lecture, video, quiz, exam, research paper, or casual conversation on a walk across campus.
  • What’s interesting is that the source itself doesn’t matter. It could be college, high school, trade school, University, post-grad work, graduate degree, or just reading in a library. The brain can learn as long as there’s information to be processed.
  • Bias has a huge impact on our ability to learn and gain new skills. Whether it’s a pre-existing bias against the content being taught, challenges to existing knowledge, or experiences that are at odds with the information being processed, biases will tend to filter, influence or down-right negate the information being taught.


If the brain doesn’t care where its information is coming from, why do I cherish my University days so much? It all comes down to the experience. I was a commuter student, much like the majority of those at the University of Utah (not many stay in dorms). I would go to school during the day, spend time in the library studying alone or in groups, walk and discuss questions with other students as we went from one class to another, and continue the learning journey until the evening when I would go to my full-time job to pay tuition. The experience went beyond the classroom and continued into related classrooms. As I took paleoanthropology, a senior seminar on Roman Britain, and followed that up with classes in Latin and Ancient Greek, I got perspectives that I could share with my fellow students, who would share some of the same if not all of the same, classes with me. We formed a loose cohort that remained together as we progressed together. This was, essentially, an ecosystem of experience that we all shared.

Experience ecosystems fascinates me. Apple and Google both have built powerful ecosystems around their platforms for Mobile devices that generate loyalty because of the experience. They tie tools that everyone uses together, such as email, browser, documents, multimedia, etc. within a single experience by making it easier to use together. As a user, you have a solid platform from which you can do what you need or want, and do it much faster and easier than before. This is because Apple, Google, and others look to the full experience from search to purchase to use and find ways to make that process easier.

The current experience in learning is one of two: Liberal Arts, or Certification. Within the Liberal Arts education, you get a wide range of training and experience that can map to multiple career paths, with guidance to a more targeted discipline. Certification takes a targeted and focused approach, be it technical or Graduate-based, by focusing on a single certification at the end of the journey. In either method, a single goal remains: show you have knowledge as certified by a trusted learning institution or industry standard. What happens thereafter is left entirely to the student. The experience of getting to that point is rewarding, but what now? What’s the next step?

Suppose for a minute that a learning experience ecosystem could be developed. An experience in learning that would take someone from where they are (baseline) to where they would like to be and map out the process to get there. I’m not just talking next stage in a career either, I’m talking full map to the final goal(s). This would be a process of mapping out skills for every persona or discipline that someone has or would like to have, and then mapping out the skills necessary to get there. As the skills are mapped and found to overlap, multiple possibilities can be presented based on existing and desired skills and experience. Whole careers could be suggested based on current preferences, or as preferences evolve. Learning now takes an active role in career development, which engages the learner. Now they are learning with a purpose because they know what their career could map out to be if they continue.

There are a lot of pieces that could be plugged into this model, but the framework should be pretty sound. It would be a fascinating project for anyone looking to build a successful engagement for their learners. As far as I’m aware, no one has yet put together a learning experience ecosystem (if anyone can provide an example, please let me know!). So until then, it remains a thought.

Hybrid learning is a popular term in Learning today, often used for a variety of different training models involving various amounts of mixing an online, self-paced learning component with live instruction either in-person or online. Because it’s such a popular term for such variety, it’s difficult to pinpoint its value. So let’s walk through what it is, how it’s different, why it should be considered, and finally the ultimate question: does it work?  

What Is Hybrid Learning?

Hybrid learning combines live instruction with on-demand, self-paced training modules. As a definition, that leaves a lot of ambiguity: how much time is spent online vs. in the classroom? Do you need a classroom? Fortunately, there are ways to further define hybrid learning (College of DuPage, p.3). 

  • Traditional classroom: All instruction is in the classroom, with possibly some online content to enhance learning, though minimally
  • Web-enhanced/Blended learning: Learning still happens within the in-person or virtual classroom, with activities being enhanced by online content (lectures, labs, etc.).  
  • Hybrid/Flipped Classroom: A substantial amount of “seat time” is dedicated to on-demand content with some instruction taking place in the classroom, either in-person or virtually.  
  • Online: Most content is online with little or no interaction with an instructor

To this list, I would add another level, which is the hybrid learning path: A series of classes along a learning path that can be taken either completely through on-demand, hybrid, web-enhanced, or traditional instruction.  

How Is It Different? 

Everyone learns differently, and studies (Manning, article 69) have shown that bite-sized teaching is a preferred method of learning, and on-demand content caters to that learning methodology. Bite-sized teaching, also called bite-sized learning, breaks topics into small, easily understood pieces of learning that can be quickly consumed and applied. Think of it as YouTube learning: 3-5 minute videos that cover a topic, piece by piece. On-demand content can cater to this easily, and allow folks to learn what they need when they need it (just-in-time learning), and on their schedule (self-paced learning).  

The one drawback is asking questions: where do you ask them? How do you interact? That’s where a hybrid, or flipped model, comes into its own: the instructor is there to facilitate question sessions, walk through problems, and provide solutions. Instructors can then tie the concepts and topics together into a coherent, job-specific narrative through demonstrations and open-ended challenges outside of the on-demand schedule.  

Why Do It? 

Why should hybrid learning be considered outside of strictly on-demand or traditional classroom models? Well, you get the best of both worlds: learning modules that can be quickly consumed and easily processed by the learner on a schedule that doesn’t heavily impact current workloads, while still having that interaction with an instructor to ask questions and validate the concepts learned and its application in real-world scenarios. Employers benefit because day-to-day impacts on productivity are minimal compared to huge blocks of classroom time during the week. Employees benefit because hybrid learning caters better to their schedule and is more likely to be approved by management. Both benefit because training makes for a more productive, skilled, and happier workforce.  

Does It Work? 

Of course theory and studies aside, the main question is, does this work in the real world? At ServiceNow, we launched a new offering: Now Assist. This is a delivery method that takes our award-winning on-demand content and adds the interaction with a live instructor during the two-week duration of the course. The breakdown is pretty simple: 

  • Access to an exclusive forum to ask (and answer) questions, get additional content from the instructor, and collaborate with fellow attendees
  • 4 scheduled webinars with the instructor to go over forum questions in demonstrations, as well as additional real-world community questions relevant to the topics covered
  • Scheduled over two weeks, which breaks down to about 1 hour per day of on-demand work

The reception of Now Assist has been very positive. The flipped classroom model takes the stress off of completing a lot of instruction while having to work, while still having a set deadline for completion. Those who have taken our on-demand content and struggled because of questions have the opportunity to work with an instructor to have those questions answered. The most powerful piece has been connecting what is learned to real-world scenarios that folks find on the job.  

Hybrid learning is an opportunity to rethink standard learning and give flexibility to those who need it. It’s helpful to understand what it is, but more importantly, how it fits within a working business. Now Assist is one example, of which I have a lot of experience, and has proven to be a popular solution for attendees looking to get that little extra bit of help.  

Scheduling training classes sound easy: put the class on the schedule and the seats will fill themselves, right? If this is your method, you probably find that more often than not classes cancel, or that you have more demand than you can handle and struggle to meet customer needs. The most common question I get from partners, instructors, and potential training partners is: what courses are in demand to avoid cancelled classes? What kind of volume can we expect should we ramp up our instructors? It’s a tough question to ask, and can have different answers based on each location. Fortunately demand is pretty easy to estimate, if you have all the right data. It all comes down to the product being sold, and how many folks need to be trained per purchase. 

You start by looking at potential sales. The Sales team will generally break down their sales opportunities, or All-Commodity Volume (ACV), using the following stages with a fiscal quarter:

  1. Lead – usually a potential contact from a cold-call or other marketing outreach project.
  2. Opportunity – initial conversation with the lead was positive
  3. Discovery – Customer is interested, and is willing to explore the product solution
  4. Business Issue – Identifying the customer’s business issues and addressing their needs
  5. Power Partnership – Someone high enough to influence the sale has been identified and is willing to back the sale
  6. Present Solution – Sales team is on site presenting a solid pitch for the sale
  7. Power Validation – Customer is reviewing the solution (and deciding against other potential solutions)
  8. Validation Completed – Deliberations on which solution is the best are underway
  9. Deal Imminent – Decision has been made, waiting for key decision makers (usually CFO and CEO) to give the green light
  10. Closed – Won – We sold it!

The most common stages that produce results, and would need to be looked at from a planning point of view, are stages 3 through 10. The closer to Closed – Won, the more likely it will actually close that quarter. Sales pipeline will indicate how likely a sales opportunity will be closed in the quarter. Early on, there will be a lot of Upsides floating out there, which then translate to Closed once it works through the pipeline. Any Upside accounts near the end of the quarter will likely be moved to the next. That’s how sales generally works, which means now we just have to find out how that translates to training.

Some assumptions I’m making, which may or may not apply in your business situation:

  • One product sold means one person will be in charge of it, and will need to be trained. 1 product = 1 seat in class needs to be sold. 
  • Sales data and delivery data remain pretty consistent. This can be a challenge if you have a sales team that doesn’t follow through with necessary sales, or deliveries that are not fulfilled predictably.
  • A sale in one quarter means training in the next. If your delivery model provides for a more lengthy implementation or fulfillment, this may not be the case. If you don’t have to worry about a lengthy implementation (Out of the Box deployments) or have immediate fulfillment, then you could be looking at a shorter turn-around. A quick historical analysis of your sales vs. training delivery numbers should give you a clearer picture of the relationship between the two.

Once you know how your data get’s broken down, you just need to run the numbers. I’ve worked with a couple equations to predict this, but the easiest one is really simple:

  • Sum the total number of products sold over a span of time (month works for me)
  • Divide that number by the average number of seats in a class (10 is generally good).

Now you have the maximum expected number of potential classes you would need to run based on projected ACV. For a Training Delivery Manager, this is ideal. You know the number of classes you could expect to run if every customer were to schedule training on time, at the same time. If you are looking to know, for instance, how many trainers you should have ramped up at a given time, this would give you that number.

At this point you just need to shift the dates to meet your deployment schedule and you are gold, right? Well, not quite. Not all sold products will equal trained folks, nor would that training be taken on schedule as expected. There will be some exceptions. That margin of error can be predicted over time, but a safe number I’ve found that works for me in my industry is 66.7%. That means that two thirds of all training seats expected for the quarter are realized as actual seats in class.

You multiply your maximum expected number by the percentage that tend to run, and you get a pretty accurate number of seats you can count on to fill. With that number you can schedule classes, either quarterly or annually, train instructors to cover those classes, and even book contract instructors ahead of time for coverage.

Now, I know this method may not work for everyone and for every circumstance, but it gives you a starting point. Working this part of the business can be a challenge. You may not always have access to the ACV from sales (it’s pretty important company info, after all!), and even then you may find the numbers don’t quite work. But the better you understand your Sales process and structure, the more likely you are to understand how you can train folks on what was sold.