Interaction with learners

What is blended learning? Benefits, best practices and more

The COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed the landscape of work and learning. A recent survey showed that 45% of full-time employees in the United States work from home, either all the time or part of the time. For L&D teams, this means expanding our horizons from in-person training to all that blended learning has to offer.

What is blended learning?

“Blended learning” is an approach to education that means different things in different organizations and sectors. It can encompass learning interventions that have both digital and face-to-face elements, those that are entirely on the participant’s own schedule, and more.

In the 1990s, blended learning incorporated new technology, namely e-learning, to augment in-person training delivery. It has been seen as an effective way for organizations to intensify learning, as well as provide different options for learners.

Donald H. Taylor, in his book Workplace learning technologies, explains: “This blended delivery typically took the form of an ‘e-learning sandwich’ in which classroom activity was preceded by online preparatory work, and followed by online reinforcement work. and consolidation.”

Today, most learning and development professionals define blended learning as the use of different elements of learning intervention over time. Jennifer Hofmann, president of InSync Training, describes it as: “a pedagogical treatment that takes into account the adaptation of content to the most appropriate technology and does it at the level of the learning objective, then the sequences of a way that makes sense to create a complete instructional program.

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Blended learning should not be confused with “hybrid learning,” which occurs when there is a group of people physically together, as well as a separate group participating online through a platform like Zoom. “Hybrid” is more about the placement of learners, rather than a design decision based on adult learning theory.

The Benefits of Blended Learning

First and foremost, blended learning helps establish an organizational culture of learning by expanding opportunities for development beyond the traditional classroom.

Julian Stodd, author and social scientist, points out that blended learning effectively prolongs the learning experience. “Instead of just sitting in a room for half a day, learners experience events and activities over a much longer duration. This can directly help them through critical steps from the shop floor to the workplace,” she says.

Similarly, Jane Hart, founder of the Center for Learning & Performance Technologies, says modern workplace learning is a range of activities, not just courses, and is “as much about working with managers, groups and individuals to help them learn in ways that work best for them.

Blended learning is effective because it reflects how people learn and grow naturally every day, through work, projects, and various contributions over time – a YouTube video here, a book chapter there, comments from other people, etc. It often includes asynchronous elements, where learners can engage at the right time and pace for them, and sometimes with a choice of what or how to learn.

Blended learning allows learning and development staff to tap into a variety of resources to bring the best learning around a particular topic to their employees.

This asynchronous approach is an important part of the design. Andy Lancaster refers to the research in his book Boost performance through learning which shows that self-direction in learning “has a strong correlation with self-efficacy” and “may be more cost effective, leading to greater performance improvement”.

Because they are more cost-effective, blended learning interventions can generally be offered more frequently than traditional instructor-led training. This is especially beneficial for teams that are spread across the world, as it reduces travel costs, absences from work, etc. Plus, using existing in-house platforms for social learning like Slack or Microsoft Teams means no expense.

Last advantage: designers are not limited to a single medium or distribution channel. Blended learning allows learning and development staff to tap into a variety of resources to bring the best learning around a particular topic to their employees. For example, Big Think+ offers a diverse catalog of courses taught by over 350 world-renowned thought leaders in various fields.

Blended Learning Best Practices

Last year, 79% of learning and development professionals said they expect their organizations to invest more in online training. The use of technology in learning and development has accelerated during the pandemic and is expected to remain the norm. Technology, however, should be viewed as a means to enable discussion and collaboration, not an end in itself.

Research shows that “effective blended learning programs for workplaces are those that provide opportunities for learners to engage through human interactions with facilitators, other learners and colleagues”. It’s easy to forget, because the focus in blended learning is often on which LMS should be implemented, which parts should be e-learning or video, etc.

Blended learning basically means training people more than once to help them learn gradually. This could look like dividing training into smaller virtual sessions as well as holding quarterly refresher sessions where more experienced employees coach newer ones. There should be opportunities for social learning and collaboration, ensuring that teams are not siled and that communication improves between departments and management levels.

Mixing different types of learning interventions, on different time scales and with different technologies, is a real art.

In his book More than blended learning, Clive Shepherd says there’s “more than one way to mix (not just a face-to-face and online mix)”. Whichever way you choose to combine, blended learning should include the right combination of options to achieve the desired performance results.

Shuffled deals should not be thought of as a matching bag of candies where you dip into the bag and a different candy comes out each time. They’re also not like smoothies, where you end up with something that’s indistinguishable. Instead, each time you offer blended learning, you paint a new picture with a complementary mix of digital and traditional elements.

Mixing different types of learning interventions, on different time scales and with different technologies, is a real art. Simply put, Hoffman suggests making sure the medium is appropriate for the learning objective – “If learners are going to use the skills at their desk, we should probably teach them the skills at their desk.”

Keep in mind that in-person learning and technology-enabled learning are valuable. Remain objective towards both methods rather than becoming biased towards one or the other, and always consider learner preferences when designing your strategy. This can be accomplished through learner surveys that ask which learning environments suit them best.

Final remark

Donald Clark, CEO of WildFire Learning, comments that blended learning is “an adaptive response to what is happening in the world of learning as the real world changes around it”. As technological changes shape and influence learner expectations, training and development teams must adapt.

For staff who are only accustomed to in-person design and delivery, blended learning options will require developing and applying their skills in new ways. Learning leaders must be prepared to support their team in this development.

Learning staff will need to be familiar with the technologies involved in blended learning, such as making the most of your internal learning management system, facilitating interactive virtual classrooms, creating and editing videos, recording webinars or podcasts, analyze learner data, etc. .

Designing and delivering blended learning options for the modern workplace learner starts with investing in your training and development team so they can use best practices and help the entire organization. to thrive.