The Path To Blended Learning: The New Normal
In the not-too-long-ago olden days, we thought of blended learning as pre-work we expected learners to read before they got to our lecture-based, instructor-led training. Most didn’t read it, some may have skimmed it walking down the hall to class, so we learned not to rely on the learners having the concepts we wanted them to pick up from the pre-work, and included it in the materials covered in class and neatly assembled into a three ring binder that would sit on a bookshelf in the learner’s cube collecting dust once class ended. We considered it blended because some work was done independently, and some was done in the classroom. We considered it multimedia because we had overhead transparencies, that paper binder, and our stellar presentation, often accompanied by a pre-lettered flipchart. We may also have given learners homework of some sort to apply what they learned, knowing that practice reinforces learning. Yeah, they didn’t do that either.
Then the swirling fan of evolving technology blew away the paper in all those notebooks. We could create CD-ROMs with self-paced training, leaping forward until we had the abilities we have today, with cloud storage and live streaming of synchronous webinars and collaborative software. Good thing, since the world of L&D flipped upside down with a pandemic that separated people from the normal of 2019 into a world where meetings occur over Zoom, and work is completed online. According to McKinsey, COVID-19 created an average of a seven year leap ahead into the world of digital adoption1 as people were forced into doing things digitally. Fortunately, blended learning allowed us to continue to develop our people.
What is Blended Learning?
Most definitions consider blended learning to be a mix of face-to-face and technology-mediated learning. During the pandemic, face-to-face became Zoom-enabled rather than in a classroom.
Around 2011, the education world began chattering about the flipped/hybrid/inverted classroom. It had been discussed for a while, but became mainstream at this point. Teachers recorded lectures for students to watch at home, and classroom time was used for interaction and group work. Educators focused on four pillars, which coincidentally, spell out FLIP.
- Flexible Environment
- Learning Culture
- Intentional Content
- Professional Educator
Educators who had already embraced the concept of the flipped classroom had a much easier time transitioning to online school when they found themselves and their students separated from one another.
The Path to Blended Learning
There is no one right formula for blended learning. The key is leveraging the best element for each objective. A critical component, however, is interactivity. Watching a boring lecture, reading article after article, then coming face to face to take a test is a recipe for disaster.
When planning a blended learning program, you must leverage the tools available to your organization and to your learners like you are producing a show.
Consider your tools. Here are some to get you started:
- Breakout rooms in webinars
- Chat threads
- Discussions (live and online)
- Collaboration spaces
- Learning games
- Research and assignments
Consider your content. What works best with learners together, and what could be learned independently? What needs a teacher? What can be handled by a computer? Break this list down and decide which category each falls under. (Hint: Many will fit in more than one)
There are more that you can incorporate into blended learning. The key here is to think about what needs to happen together in the classroom/webinar space, and what can happen outside of it. Would it make sense to have people log into your session and spend 20 minutes reading an article? No. That’s an independent activity. The key, however, is to get them to read it.
Build It Like Lasagna
When we make a lasagna, we alternate layers of pasta, sauce and cheese. Similarly with blended learning. We layer different techniques to achieve our objectives. We often think of our learning activities as single events. Once and done, whether it’s elearning, or a classroom session. Learning theory (and likely your experience) shows that once and done may not drive the changes we are looking for. But what if we looked at our class like lasagna, and ran shorter live sessions, layered with out-of-class activities? Could we use four half-hour sessions spread out over time instead of one two-hour session? There are many reasons this works. Students come back to the content multiple times, reinforcing what they have been learning in earlier sessions. The in-between activities allow them to apply what they are learning, or prepare for the next session. If you are doing collaborative work, can you let your learners self-organize and connect on their own schedule outside of class time?
Consider this blend:
- Session 1 – 30 minutes. Kickoff. Introduce the topic.
- Assignment 1 – Research the topic. Come to session 2 with two ideas for application
- Session 2 – Sharing of application ideas. Extension of the concept. Leverage the webinar breakout rooms for group work.
- Assignment 2 – Complete elearning, which is scenario based.
- Session 3 – Discussion of scenarios, intro new topic
- Assignment 3 – Create a poster with a partner about the benefits of the topic.
- Session 4 – Partners share their posters. Review game about what was learned.
- After class follow-up scenario questions delivered over email once per week for three weeks.
Not all material works this way, but consider how much more interaction would come from this format. All learning doesn’t need to be teacher-directed either. The creation of discussion forums and threads for information sharing, or using collaborative tools like Slack allow learners to share resources or ask for help when it is needed.
There are many ways we can build our blended learner. Here are some additional resources for ideas about better engagement online.
Curt Bonk. Adding Some TEC Variety: 100 Ideas for Motivating and Retaining Learners Online and slides from his 2021 Master Class on Blended Learning with some ideas for implementation
John Chen: Engaging Virtual Meetings – free 1 hour class full of tips for conducting virtual meetings. He has a book by the same name available from Amazon.
Of course, here at Illumina, we can help you craft your blended learning curriculum as well as build the eLearning components of it. Just ask! We’re always here to help.
Jean Marrapodi is a thought leader in the online learning industry and consultant to Illumina Interactive. In March of 2016, Jean was honored by the eLearning Guild as the recipient of the Guild Master Award in recognition of her outstanding contributions to the eLearning Guild and the Learning Technologies industry.