In a world where we are all focused on everything “on-demand”, blended learning solutions offer a refreshing compromise for learners, training professionals and instructional designers alike. However, like every corporate training strategy available, blended learning comes with a unique set of pluses and pitfalls that organizations should be aware of.
Understanding Blended Learning
To make the most of what it has to offer, you need to understand what it means to blend instructional approaches as part of your overall organizational training strategy. Blending is a hybrid approach to training, where on-demand training (delivered via a combination of methods including virtual labs, videos, and podcasts) and instructor-led teaching are fused together into a coherent and unified training strategy.
Parsing this description further, we need to understand that:
- Blended learning is not the same as using instructional videos or online content for in-class/in-person training
- Neither is it about conducting live training sessions using technologies such as Skype or Chat tools
Instead, what makes blending so unique is that it provides the opportunity for in-person, instructor-led training, delivered in an exclusive “work-free” environment, to be complimented (and not substituted) in a technology-driven “after-work” setting.
So, what do we mean by that, and how does blended learning bridge that gap?
Well, technology has made it almost impossible for the modern worker to segregate work-time from “work-free” time. Employees respond to emails once they get home from the office. And workers routinely join conference calls during their commutes before/after work. However, in an instructor-led, on-premises blended learning session, those work-related distractions don’t impact the quality of training.
On the other hand, employees also work from home on days where personal commitments must be taken care of. And sometimes those commitments, as well as work engagements – like period-end closing or an unforeseen work-related obligation – get in the way of attending an instructor-lead session. Blended learning, through off-line and virtual components, makes it possible for such employees to focus on the job and/or personal commitments, and yet not lose out on key elements of the course.
Corporate training flipped
One of the key advantages of blended learning is that it embraces the modern construct of a “flipped classroom”. This relatively recent paradigm turns the traditional training approach on its head. Conventionally, in-class instructor-led training delivered highlights of a lesson (mainly due to limited time constraint), and then exercises and homework reinforced those concepts away from the training venue.
The “flipped classroom” approach uses the on-demand portion of blended learning to deliver general concepts and topic highlights while blending that knowledge with more intense in-person (either face-to-face or remotely) instructor-delivered content. In many instances, this mix-and-match approach of flipped delivery results in learning outcomes that are far superior to the traditional way of doing things.
But while there are definite advantages for organizations in embracing blended learning, using this model doesn’t come without its perils:
- It needs a focused investment in associated technologies
- There needs to be a support strategy in place to ensure technologies are up-and-running “on-demand” when learners are ready – and not the other way around
- There’s always the risk that learners might gravitate to heavier reliance on technology – preferring to catch-up on recorded sessions as opposed to attending live ones; “binge-watching” old lectures instead of participating in the live discussions at an instructor-recommended pace
- Some learners might forego the self-study or self-paced component of the blended learning course, preferring instead to engage more intensely with the instructor. This could add pressure on instructors, and slow down the pace of the entire course
- Risks of plagiarism and the use of a plethora of unverified content are especially high in a fast-paced blended training environment
The dangers of flipping the traditional teaching model are especially prominent when organizations initially adopt blended learning. Instructors could overdeliver content in-person, or the self-paced component might be too scant in content forcing learners to over-compensate for the deficiency. In either case, cognitive over/under load could scuttle the most well-intended blended learning initiative.
Blended Learning Solutions
Despite the obvious perils associated with them, blended training strategies are becoming more popular among corporations. That’s because a number of vendors have stepped up to provide some unique blended learning solutions to their clients.
Here’s just a sample of what’s available:
- For multilingual training, the Valamis Learning Experience Platform is a great blended learning environment. Packed with data analytics, cloud-based hosting, learner accomplishment tracking and other instructor-led and social learning tools, this is a secure and scalable corporate training solution for anyone thinking of blending their training approaches
- TalentLMS offers a unique value proposition for corporate training professionals. The platform enables users to co-mingle online training with in-class learning and manage both learning environments from a single centralized platform
- If you truly want to embrace blended learning, then you need adopt a training solution that not only brings employees to the training site but also lets learning go to wherever learners go. Asentia LMS, through its LMS platform, helps move training from/to the classroom and the workplace (and beyond). Its built-in capabilities support asynchronous and synchronous learning as well as blended learning approaches
- If you are a company that believes in the power that social learning has, and wish to unleash that power within your company in conjunction with traditional in-class training, then Totara Learning might be just what you need. While it has all the typical features that make traditional learning platforms function – such as training monitoring, performance monitoring, and learning path analysis – its Totara Social is a power-packed enterprise social network (ESN) that makes blended learning a reality by moving training outside the immediate confines of the classroom and the workplace
Of course, as with any enterprise software solution, blended learning technology must be carefully reviewed for specific features and functionality that support existing enterprise learning tools and strategies. The last thing you want to do is to acquire a blended learning solution, and then learn that it does not fit within your corporate learning framework.
Making Blended Learning Work
Using the blended model requires a fine balance between traditional instructor-led teaching, autonomous self-study, and eLearning. There are many benefits to using this fusion of teaching approaches, the most important of which is the fact that it adds flexibility to corporate training.
However, blended learning only works if organizations get the mix of the “blend” right. Relying too heavily on online, self-study content could deprive learners of that much-needed in-person element of the blend. And tilting the balance towards greater dependence on instructor-delivered content can strip the training of the all-important self-discovery/self-paced aspect of blended learning.