The term 'Blended Learning' means different things to different people, and even experts can’t agree on what it means. Stephen De Kalb provides some insights.
Isn’t it simply combining face-to-face classroom methods with some form of e-learning or computer-mediated activities? Or is it training that’s defined by time or location, as in classroom, remote sites or online? Is it formal, informal, “learning by osmosis” or all three? And how much Blended Learning is driven by the learner, giving them control over time, place, path and/or pace?
“What we do know is that people learn differently,” says Jeremy Blain, managing director of Cegos Asia Pacific, “and Blended Learning helps match the learner with their actual needs. It copes with different personality types, preferences and requisites in a way that traditional training does not.”
Blain has co-authored a new report with TP3’s head of learning Robert Blandford that dispels many Blended Learning myths and brings much-needed clarity to how the relative successes of different Blended Learning elements are combining to alter the L&D landscape.
“From its earlier iterations where it simply combined classroom training with e-learning, Blended Learning now encompasses every learning tool both formal and informal, and allows learners to select what they consider to be the ideal learning mix for their specific needs,” Blain says. “When used alongside the wide range of existing face-to-face and self-study methods, online technologies generate new combinations that outperform traditional approaches in terms of acquisition of knowledge, building of skills and, ultimately, personal growth and productivity.”
TP3’s Blandford adds that, for many organisations, Blended Learning also helps answer a fundamental question: How can I reduce operating costs while at the same time find a way to build and maximise a high-performing workplace? “With recent economic downturns acting as catalysts, and increasing demand for L&D to deliver greater value to organisations, faster and with fewer resources, the past few years have seen many of the individual elements of Blended Learning like coaching and e-learning steadily increase in popularity,” Blandford explains.
“In fact, it could be called Blended and Extended Learning because, by its very nature, a blend helps extend a learning intervention from days to potentially weeks or more—and without the disruption to day-to-day work that concentrated traditional classroom training often entails.”
Cegos’s Blain says it is this extended approach that helps in the ongoing reinforcement of learning’s key messages.
“We see over and over again that a blended approach can assist in the application of new learning and skills back in the workplace. Partly this is also because Blended Learning can create a communication loop with the tutor, trainer and/or their supervisor throughout the entire learning process, starting from day one.”
The research and analysis by TP3 and Cegos takes a comprehensive look at the factors driving Blended Learning’s phenomenal uptake such as the changing demographics of Australia’s multi-generation workforce, new technologies including virtual classrooms/virtual worlds and 3D simulated environments, and learning applications built on mobile, social media, gamification and e-learning platforms.
“Best practice, or the key to success,” explains Blandford, “is Blended Learning that’s aligned to the learner’s individual needs and is driven by engagement with learners.”
Importantly, the TP3/Cegos report also reveals common pitfalls that can derail a blended implementation. These range from failing to link learning to a training need or, worse, a learning strategy—to lack of management support or ROE/ROI metrics, poor integration of learning activities (“mixing is not blending”, say the authors) and treating technology as the driver, when in fact it is merely an enabler.
“At the end of the day, Blended Learning solutions can do much more than simply help meet compliance or tick the our staff attended training box,” says Cegos’s Blain. “An effective blended solution facilitates the growth of knowledge and productivity improvement, manages change cost effectively, acknowledges diversity and meets both individual and organisational needs,” Blain says.
“What’s more, Blended Learning can also foster a genuine partnership between learners, managers and the L&D function.”
The Cegos/TP3 report is available from TP3 at www.tp3.com.au, where Human Capital readers can also download a recent webinar with Jeremy Blain and Robert Blandford on this compelling, and sometimes emotive, subject.