Blended learning: What it is and why it’s important

Face to face training is a thing of the past, for now at least. Right now, 100% digital is the way things need to be and there are some aspects of digital that will benefit us long term. In this article, we discuss why blended learning is important and what it means in a digital only world we find ourselves in.

Why blended learning is important

In the 1980s, there were a lot of high expectations of elearning and this new thing called the Internet. This marriage was going to open up a world of learning opportunities that weren’t available to us before. As a result, the pendulum swung towards elearning, but a lot of money and effort went into initiatives that often didn’t deliver, for all kinds of reasons:

  • The technologies and tools were immature.
  • L&D (and other learning institutions) weren’t skilled at applying the new technology.
  • Learners were still shy of the relatively new technology.

In short, elearning got a bad rap, and the pendulum swung sharply away from elearning in many quarters, back to an instructor-led mode.

But over time, technologies and tools improved, and L&D recognized that learning doesn’t have to be all elearning or all instructor-led. They realized that it was possible to mix the two modes, and the term blended learning was born.

Blended learning uses a mixture of delivery channels to create the best learning experience for the audience. It takes the best parts from the range of delivery mechanisms available and combines them to create something greater than the sum of its parts. 

These days the pendulum has, due to COVID-19, swung in the other direction. We are no longer talking about blended learning in relations to instructor led as opposed to online learning. All learning is online and in this environment blended learning means something a bit different: blended digital learning. In today’s blends, a mixture of different digital tools can be combined to create an engaging experience.Think elearning, virtual classrooms, practical activities, video, downloadable resources and more.

Why blended learning is important

Not only is it possible for a single learning initiative to have elearning and instructor-led components, but it’s often better than using only one approach or the other. By taking the best attributes of both approaches and applying them in ways that maximize their respective benefits, learners can be more engaged, learn more, and learn in less time.

This is no different when it comes to an online blended experience. Most of the instructor-led elements can be easily be taken online.  Learning technology has come a long way and this is now absolutely possible. 

With a tweak or two even workshops can be taken effectively into the digital world. Imagine a conventional one-day workshop for managers on Handling Difficult Employees. Usually, this would take managers away from their desks for a full day. Two hours would be used to bring participants up to speed with the terminology and background knowledge. And then the rest of the day would be taken up with doing things around hypothetical situations that may, or may not, apply to all of the participants.

An online blended approach to this same event could see the managers do all of the terminology and background learning via elearning. This elearning could include video and activities to demonstrate to the managers how important this training is. Perhaps the elearning would also include activities where managers could practice some of the skills. It could have a questionnaire asking the sorts of situations the managers are most likely to encounter or feel least prepared to face. These could feed through to the facilitator, who could then tailor the next online steps around these pain points. The workshop instructor led elements could be brought in using a combination of video conferring and collaboration tools. 

When the managers attend the final online workshop – which is only half a day because the participants are already enthusiastic and primed – they can spend their time practicing soft skills customized to their needs. This is liable to stimulate conversation and to leverage the learning, as learners ‘compare notes’ on their real-life challenges and exchange what has or hasn’t worked for them in the past.

A good practice following the course would also be to provide additional online interactive resources to help them through tough employee situations that they may face.

It’s easy to see that the blended online model gives a customized experience that is just as, if not more, efficient, comprehensive, and powerful.

Online blended learning best practices

Knowing what to put online and what to put into an instructor-led online event in a blend can be tricky. 

One way of looking at this is as a flipped learning approach. To understand where the flip occurs, let’s consider how a conventional instructor-led event would work: learners come to a training event and get told how to do things by an expert. The learners then go back to their work stations and (hopefully!) practice it by themselves.

In a flipped approach, the learners effectively teach themselves how to do something via elearning, online readings, or activities; then, they go to the expert and practice with that expert to get finer points and pick the expert’s brain. This uses the expert’s experience and expertise to best effect. There is no reason why this cannot be done online as well. If done correctly! 

Let’s look at an example of this in practice.

Blended Learning

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In conclusion

These days digital learning is a necessity. We need to go beyond this though and see it as an opportunity to future proof and de-risk how we train. It took us so long to see the power in these simple approaches. Now that power is obvious. 

And as the elearning authoring tools get easier to use and learners’ appetites for engaging learning grows, incorporating blends into your learning offerings will only make more and more sense.

Have you seen any good examples of online blended learning initiatives? Share how these worked in the comments section below.

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