Blended Learning: Getting the Mix Right

Blended learning is becoming a common term that is getting a lot of attention in educational and training circles. What does it mean exactly? Quite often the answer is, “Anything you want it to mean.” Blended learning is much more than just a mix of training formats thrown together in a single course. At Marquee, we have some very specific ideas on blended learning and the importance of clear objectives in a successful blended learning program.

What is Blended Learning

The past year of remote learning and virtual communication has brought new technologies to the forefront of education and training. Content delivery can include online, asynchronous video courses, virtual courses on Zoom, short format webinars on specific topics, study groups on Slack or Discord – the list of options is extensive. As educators plan for the post-pandemic world, in-person classes are also being considered. As training practitioners, we realize that learners can benefit from some of these new technologies and there is a desire to use all these new approaches to “blend” a new learning experience. Blended learning thus sounds like a “best of all worlds” solution but we have to be careful not to create a muddled mess. Clear objectives will make real blended learning easier to achieve.

It’s About Time

At the core of the blended learning initiative is the idea of optimizing the participants’ time to maximize the efficiency of learning. To build a time efficient program however, the needs and preferences of the training audience must be considered. For instance, online video training creates great flexibility with respect to content selection and time spent on the content. Users may like this freedom in certain circumstances but other training objectives will require a much more curated and defined approach. A university student may like the ability to explore the content and enjoy unscheduled usage but a corporate training participant may want to know which three videos to watch, in which order and when is optimal to review them. Our key recommendation is always consider the learner’s “time budget” and design the program features appropriately.

Each Piece Works Differently

Blended learning must be considered an ensemble not an assembly. Throwing different learning formats (“modalities”) into a program achieves nothing if the different options do not work together. An example can be made of compliance training. Combining online instruction and in person instruction will not increase efficiency for the learner if the same content is covered in both formats. The instructor led portion of the training will also likely ensure that participants will walk through all the training in the correct order but for the online portion, sequential testing will be required to validate progress.
Our recommendation is to use the technology that best addresses the objective. For base level knowledge and introduction to a subject, online videos with brief testing can be efficient and flexible ways to prepare and level set a group of participants for an instructor led session. Issues requiring greater instructor involvement, participant judgement and closely observed sequential processes are then covered in the instructor-led session.

Leave Time for Community

Gathering groups of individuals to solve problems is one of the cornerstones of the pedagogical process and the development of tacit knowledge. Too often, the blended learning approach seeks to employ multiple techniques in rapid succession at the expense of gathering to figure something out. It requires nothing more than dedicated time without distractions – sometimes hard to do in complex training programs. Whether it is in individual breakout groups, longer term project work or an instructor-led solution to a problem, effective training programs must ensure that there is always an opportunity for group discussion and problem solving that builds knowledge through practical application and decision making.