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Blended Learning is "New Again"

Employee Communications

In today’s connected world, where we have such ready access to the Internet, it seems almost nonsensical that an organization would rely solely on the classroom to instruct their workforce. Why ignore the ability to deliver content outside of the classroom, making the in-classroom experience better.

Blended Learning has some very wide interpretations. Some will say that it is a mixture of brick and mortar classroom with online content. Others will say that it is a brick and mortar classroom that also includes computer lab time in the classroom. Still others will claim that it is any instruction that includes the use of online media and web technologies to instruct.

I most closely align with the first group – except that I count virtual, distance learning classrooms as part of the classroom portion of Blended Learning. I believe that this is the most effective and realistic training and education model for distributed businesses (and I include government agencies and non-profit groups in this as well).

Whether in person or virtual, distance learning classrooms, the classroom is the most expensive portion of training. You are consuming the time of the learners and also the subject matter experts. This time should be used more as a workshop and not a lecture hall. Using online delivery of material allows learners to consume the material in advance of time with the instructors. It allows the learners to consume at their own pace. Then when they are in the classroom they are ready to ask questions, share their ideas and participate in meaningful learning exercises.

The phrase, “Consuming at their own pace,” may mean that the learner is reading a little bit each night when they have free time. Or it may mean that they are reading and re-reading the concepts until they feel they have mastered the concept and are ready to participate in a workshop on the topic. Online delivery of the material means that students can consume in their preferred method and timing. It breaks away from the “one-size-fits-all” lecture hall method.

The ratio of classroom time to online material will depend on the type of training being done and the learner’s ultimate use of the training. If you are training an employee on how to use internal systems (e.g. POS register, time clock, etc.) then you likely can use more online media for the training, because it is really a rote understanding of how to accomplish certain tasks. But if you are training the employee on how to handle customer complaints, then you may want to expose them to some pre-recorded situations and then in the classroom let the group share thoughts and various experiences with the instructor moderating the discussion and making sure that standard company practices are the foundation.

The point of this post is to show how blended learning is being used and also to make the point that there is a significant resurgence in the discussion of blended learning as a method to make sure you are creating the most successful training and learning solution possible. Even in the K-12 education systems, there is an increasing emphasis being placed on the use of online tools to help the student master key skills outside of the classroom. In this scenario, students treat learning math like they did learning to ride a bicycle. They can simply continue to try a concept until they have mastered it. If the students are allowed to practice and master outside the classroom, then the teacher can use the class time to mentor those who are struggling, give examples of where the concept can be used and lead a discussion. Rather than teaching to the lowest common denominator or worse, leaving behind those who cannot keep up with the class.

There are many technologies that can be used to accomplish blended learning, but the use of technology should be treated as a secondary component of the solution. Decide what you want the learning outcome to be and then choose technology and the ratio of in-classroom to online delivery based on that learning objective.

And stop waiting – the great thing about this type of learning delivery is the flexibility to change based on results. Start a program, evaluate the results, adapt and continue. Learning will always be dynamic and the delivery of that learning should be dynamic too.