Our understanding of adult learning is evolving, technology is advancing, and the way that we deliver training isn’t quite as straightforward as it used to be (hello, learning management systems!). As the lines between ‘traditional’ and ‘online’ blur, it’s becoming increasingly challenging to define blended learning in a way that is universally understood.
So, what does blended learning mean, exactly? And how does it apply to training?
What is Blended Learning?
Blended learning is any course or program where at least some proportion of learning takes place online, and the rest takes place face to face. Similarly, blended training refers to courses and programs where learning is an integrated experience of both traditional and online training methods.
There are different types of blended learning in corporate training. For example, on-the-job training and coaching can be paired with a self-directed eLearning program. Or, a classroom-based training session can be followed up with online discussion forums and quizzes. But for any of these approaches to be considered “blended”, they must meet three important criteria:
- They should include traditional training approaches led by a subject matter expert: Blended learning models depend, at least in part, on traditional training methods. Learning must take place in a physical setting led by a facilitator, coach or subject matter expert.
- They should include self-driven online learning: At least some part of the learning experience must take place through online learning tools and software. This could be fully equipped LMS software or simple tools for document sharing and collaboration, such as Google Drive. Learners should also have some level of autonomy to direct their own learning through these tools.
- Together, they must create a seamlessly integrated learning experience: More important than the proportion of offline to online learning is the way that these different learning methods are integrated. Traditional and eLearning approaches should complement each other so the flow of learning between physical and online training tools is intuitive and seamless.
Why You Need Blended Learning in Your Training Strategy
Now that the what of blended learning is clear, you might be wondering why you should include a blended learning approach in your training strategy. Well, we’re here to tell you that there are several good reasons.
1. To Deliver the Best Results
Blended learning is like having a toolbox filled with every wrench, hammer and nail you can think of. Only, with a blended learning process, your tools are a wide variety of traditional and online training methods. Armed with this toolbox, you can identify your training needs first, and then select the specific tools that are fit for purpose.
For example, a 2018 survey by TalentLMS found that blended learning could be the perfect fit for onboarding new employees. According to this survey, the combination of online and offline delivery methods while onboarding led to staff being more satisfied with the process. This is probably because new hires can receive valuable on-the-job practice, while also exploring the company culture and processes in their own time online.
2. To Save Time and Money
Academics and business professionals have been studying the pros and cons of blended learning for years now. The results are usually the same: blended learning is more efficient and more cost-effective.
Don’t believe us? Just ask the US Department of Education, which found that blended instruction is more effective than conventional face-to-face classes. Or ask D. Randy Garrison and Heather Kanuka, who discovered that blended learning strategies have the potential to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of meaningful learning experiences.
The reason behind this is surprisingly simple. By incorporating online tools and eLearning, blended training is able to reach more learners in less time. Learners can access the same training materials, even when they are geographically dispersed. This reduces conventional costs of training like travel, accommodation and catering.
3. To Personalize the Learning Experience
Cookie-cutter training is often ineffective because it fails to recognize the learning needs and styles of individual learners. Sadly, traditional brick-and-mortar training sessions are often generic by nature. This is because they must educate groups of learners in a limited time period.
Blended learning, on the other hand, offers a more personal learning experience. While more conventional training methods are still used, online learning platforms allow learners to deepen their education at their own pace. A variety of online media such as videos, infographics and written notes caters to learners with both visual and auditory learning preferences.
Disadvantages of Blended Learning Strategies
Of course, there are a few disadvantages to blended learning strategies, too. Make sure you consider these factors before creating your training strategy and investing in the online software tools to support it:
Difficult to Design
Firstly, a blended training program can be more complex to design. Each component must be selected from a wide variety of possible learning activities. However, when learning objectives inform which tools and activities will yield the best results, this disadvantage is often avoided.
Reliance on Technology
The other potential disadvantage has to do with blended learning technology. Because the online side of the blended learning experience relies heavily on digital tools, unreliable hardware and poor tech support can threaten the success of blended training programs. This makes it important to choose reputable vendors and service providers. You may also want to evaluate the IT resources available within your company and how they can be dedicated to a blended learning project.
How to Incorporate Blended Learning Tools Into Your Training Strategy
Figuring out how to incorporate blended learning into your training programs can be daunting. Luckily, you don’t have to. With a wide selection of blended learning technology tools available to companies small and large, adding blended learning to your training strategy is simple.
The first step is to decide which learning objectives will be best achieved via traditional training methods, and which will be best achieved through blended learning with eLearning. Mapping out the complete learning journey, which should include the new knowledge and skills that will be acquired at each step along the way, can help ensure that traditional and online learning are seamlessly integrated.
The next and final step is to select the tools that will transform your training into a blended learning approach.
Learning Management System Tools
Fortunately, there is one particular blended learning tool that combines the functionality and benefits of all the others. A “best of all worlds” blended learning solution. Enter, LMS software.
An LMS has everything you need to incorporate a blended learning approach into your training strategy. From calendars to live webinars to bite-sized modules of content, a powerful LMS has got it all. Not to mention, LMS takes care of real-time reporting to track learner engagement and reward performance. Plus, with most LMS solutions being customizable, it’s easy to create a seamless transition between offline and online training methods.
While you can get the following tools through a variety of different systems, an LMS combines them all into a centralized online learning platform:
1. Web Conferencing Tools
Web conferencing tools are the very essence of blended learning. They combine traditional classroom training methods with digital tools to reach many, dispersed learners in a virtual classroom setting.
Here, instructors share knowledge and insights with an unlimited number of learners located anywhere in the world. The added benefit? Online webinars and tutorials can be recorded for those who missed the session, and those who need a recap at a later stage. While not every LMS contains web conferencing tools, companies focused on blended learning should consider a solution with this capability.
2. Digital Badges
Traditional training methods share a common struggle. A single instructor or coach must identify learning performance and provide recognition for a large number of learners. Coaches often have their own jobs to perform, too, which makes it challenging to find the time to track and observe learner performance.
The solution comes on the wings of code. Digital badges can be awarded in an LMS for modules and assessments that are completed online. With no need for instructor input, digital badges can be automatically awarded to learners who achieve certain learning milestones. For example, an offline team-building workshop might be followed by an online peer rating. Those who receive top ratings might receive a badge to recognize their high performance as a team player.
3. Content Creation Tools
For blended training programs to be engaging, their online content needs to be relevant, concise and visually appealing. Luckily, you don’t have to be a professional videographer or graphic designer to produce great learning content.
There are many free and user-friendly tools for creating infographics, with a wide range of customizable templates online. Vimeo and Screencastify are helpful for creating and publishing videos and screencasts respectively. But several advanced LMS software solutions allow users to create and publish content right from the system.
4. Scheduling Tools
For online and offline training to integrate smoothly and intuitively, learners must be aware of when and where each learning activity will be completed. For example, mandatory classroom-based training might take place once weekly for four weeks. However, the eLearning course that complements these training sessions might have a completion deadline of six weeks, to be completed in the learner’s own time.
To maintain clarity about the what, where and how of a blended learning program, the scheduling tools within an LMS can be used. Online calendars provide learners with an overview of their learning tasks and events. Tools like Asana go a step further by providing email prompts for looming deadlines and overdue learning activities.
5. Collaboration Tools
While the online side of blended learning tends to focus on the individual’s learning path, many training programs still require collaboration. Sometimes teams must work together to complete a project. Other times, employees from different teams and offices are encouraged to share ideas and perspectives about a particular problem.
Commonly used tools are discussion forums and online chats, where learners can engage in informal conversation around a particular topic right inside their LMS.
It’s hard to deny that blended learning approaches will play an integral role in the future of corporate training strategies. But why wait for the future when you can start today? Stay ahead of the trend and start incorporating blended learning into your training strategy in 2019 by adopting an LMS.
About the Author
Aris Apostolopoulos is a Content Writer for Epignosis. He is a faithful follower of the eLearning mentality, and a cosmonaut in orbit around the latest trends in the eLearning solar system. After multiple, around-the-eLearning-universe tours, his spaceship has landed on TalentLMS’ blog. This is where he publishes articles related to eLearning, as well as the continuous learning philosophy, and posts on the latest industry news and trends. An avid reader and travel enthusiast, he spends his days among reading, writing and watching classic film noir movies.