Originally, blended learning referred to adding an online component to instructor-led training or classroom education.
But now that technology offers so many varied options, a blended approach has evolved to mean the use of more than one delivery method to provide and enhance training and support. This is the way of the future.
Advantages of Blended Learning
Some of the advantages of using an effective blended strategy include:
- Designers and learners are not limited to one medium or delivery channel to meet the learning objectives.
- It promotes a continuous learning approach which is more effective at creating change and deep learning.
- It provides more opportunities for social learning, collaboration, increased participation and informal strategies.
- Using both synchronous and asynchronous approaches can provide more opportunities for learners to cultivate skills and apply them.
- There is the potential for faster development and reduced costs depending on the approaches that are selected.
- Technology-enabled delivery can reach a geographically dispersed audience.
In workplace training, blended instruction can incorporate any strategies that improve on-the-job performance and satisfaction. For example, a blended approach could mean a webinar enhanced with forum discussions and outfitted with mobile support tools. Or it might involve a flipped virtual classroom and working with a mentor.
Ten Best Practices
Designing for blended instruction is going to be different than designing for a stand-alone course. In an effort to identify effective design strategies for this approach, I researched journal articles, books and white papers and synthesized the following ten best practices.
1. Design to meet learning outcomes, not to use specific technologies. Choose approaches that will fulfill the learning outcomes, rather than focusing on a specific technology. The appropriateness of meeting the learning objectives should take precedence in the design.
2. Design to meet organizational drivers.
Know the underlying purpose for using a blended approach. Is it to reach a wider audience or to meet the needs of varied learners? Whatever the organizational drivers are, be sure to also meet those goals.
3. Design for synergy.
Determine how the components of a blended strategy will fit together as a whole. Link the learning experiences from each component of the blend to each other so they work to reinforce and augment each other. Think in terms of weaving a tapestry.
4. Consider learner preferences and use cases.
Take learner preferences into account during design and development. Survey the audience to discover the learning environments they prefer. For example, if audience members are isolated from their peers, such as a widely dispersed sales force, they may wish to partake in an online learning community.
5. Design from scratch rather than redesign an existing course or curriculum.
In The Handbook of Blended Learning, authors Bonk and Graham recommend taking a fresh start with your blended design. A blended approach needs a new perspective. If you re-work an existing course you are already constrained by the previous approach.
6. Consider the full range of options.
Learning designers have more options now than ever before. There are numerous online technologies and apps. One thing to remember are the on-the-job options, such as coaching, mentoring and shadowing experts.
7. Find ways to make social and emotional connections.
Provide ways to build community, when this is appropriate for the audience and content. Make interaction and engagement part of the blended approach. Social learning is powerful.
8. Ensure the asynchronous components are considered as valuable as the live components.
Although this may be obvious to eLearning professionals, those who are coming from an instructor-led background could have a bias toward thinking that classroom training is more important than other approaches. Value all the components that are part of your blend.
9. Evaluate the program with a pilot.
To evaluate a blended program, start with a pilot version. See if learners can understand how it works and watch to see where people may stumble. Note which aspects are motivating and which are frustrating. Implement a continuous improvement strategy.
10. Prepare the learners.
Because a blended strategy will be new to many employees, it is important to provide an orientation and rationale for using this approach. You may need to introduce it at an organizational level, getting buy-in from upper management.
What about you? Please add your best practices in the Comments below.
- Bonk, C. & Grahm, C. The Handbook of Blended Learning: Global Perspectives, Local Designs. Pfeiffer, 2005.
- Glazer, F. & Rehn, J. Blended Learning: Across the Disciplines, Across the Academy. Stylus Publishing, 2011.
- Kineo & The Oxford Group. Blended Learning Today, 2013.
- Oliver, M. , & Trigwell , K. Can “blended learning” be redeemed? E-Learning , 2 ( 1 ), 17 – 26, 2005.
- Schuhmann, R. & Skopek, T. Blurring the Lines: A Blended Learning Model in a Graduate Public Administration Program. The Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 10(2), 2009.
- Singh, H. Building Effective Blended Learning Programs. Educational Technology,
43 (6), 51-54, 2003.