Primer on 'Blended Learning'
Learning’s rich tapestry
Blended learning is the use of different and relevant forms of learning experience to match different learning objectives. At its best it is a more learner-centric approach than a single-channel approach, one that is more sensitive to the real needs of both learners and the context in which learning has to take place.
Blended learning is nothing new in vocational learning, where a rich mix of learning experiences is the norm. But we mustn’t be too smug about this, as much vocational learning still fails to use contemporary techniques and can be stuck in old practices, especially that of ‘chalk and talk’.
Beyond blended teaching‘
Blended learning’ is not ‘blended teaching’. It is not simply slicing and dicing up different methods of teaching, so that we have, say, ‘some classroom and some e-learning’ – the ‘Velcro model’.
Above all, blended learning is NOT to simply rely on or preserve current practices. The classroom may well be an important part of your new blend. But it may not always be – what matters is to re-evaluate your current classroom methods. Nor should it be a simple duplication of methods, with the same material in print, online video and in the classroom. This is expensive and unnecessary.
With blended ‘learning’ we must look beyond the boundaries of traditional teaching, and even beyond the boundaries of the course – for example into open online resources such as YouTube, or even blogging and social media, as well as a plethora of offline/online learning experiences such as tutorials, workshops, seminars, role play, simulations and conferences. This expansive view of learning delivery offers lots of scope for exciting new approaches to learning.
Search engines have become the primary means of accessing content and services. The simplicity, ease of use and public acceptance of search engines make them a wonderful knowledge search and acquisition tool. This, along with the bookmark, past history and local storage of data makes the PC an incredible knowledge and learning tool. Research resources are migrating whole scale onto the web as the Internet becomes the primary knowledge base and tool for the exchange and sharing of knowledge.
Most learning is not formal through designed courses, but informal, through content and resources found on the Internet or intranets. It is important that these resources are understood and used in blended learning.
Whatever your subject, whatever your course, whatever mix of students you teach, you must always search for the OPTIMAL blend. This does not always mean many more methods of delivery, merely better methods of delivery. So what are the options?
What follows are components, offline and online.
Offline component groups:
* Classroom/lecture room
* Face-to-face tutoring, coaching or mentoring
* Distributable print media
* Workplace learning
Online component groups:
* Online learning content
* E-tutoring, e-coaching or e-mentoring
* Online collaborative learning
* Online video resources
Offline blended components
Classroom learning covers a huge range of activities including:
* role play
This has been the mainstay of education and training and will continue to play a role in blended learning. One must be clear about what form of classroom training is required and in what way it will be integrated into the other components of the blend. Note that the classroom has become less didactic, with far less ‘chalk and talk’ delivery, it is increasingly interactive and much more attuned to problem solving. It may even be flipped. (see Flipped classroom) <LINK TO THIS>
Offline: tutoring, coaching or mentoring
One-to-one, face-to-face support can include:
Tutors are seen as expert in their subject, passing on direct knowledge to the learner. Coaches provide support on specific learning courses or tasks. Mentors are used to give high-level support in a general career or development programme. Human support introduces a personal touch to help with problems, sustain interest, prompt and manage the learner. This type of feedback is also powerful in diagnosing weaknesses and overcoming obstacles to learning. Note that while being a very effective spur to learning, it requires expensive human resources, is difficult to administer and is not scalable.
Offline: print media
Print is still a primary learning resource:
* keeping a journal
* review/learning logs
An often-overlooked component in blended learning, books can be cheap, portable and powerful learning devices. These have long been a key component of learning in education and training. One may also want to think about e-books, often cheap, even free, as well as Wikibooks, free textbooks available online. Workbooks are an attempt to introduce focused, interactive texts into the learning process. These can be printed from online sites as PDF files or Word documents, making distribution easier. Many learners prefer to print online text resources, as it is easier to read and can be read at a time and place of choice. Written journals and learning logs are commonly used in vocational learning.
Offline: workplace learning
There are many ways in which workplace learning can be formalised:
* manager as developer
* learning on the job
* site visits
The workplace is likely to be the place where most learning takes place, so to ignore workplace learning is to ignore a natural learning environment. People spend far more time working than in formal training. Pushing training beyond the traditional and electronic delivery channels into the workplace improves reinforcement and transfer to the learner’s actual job.
Online blended components
Online: online learning content
E-learning content can include:
* simple learning resources
* interactive generic content
* interactive customised content
At the simplest level, documents, PowerPoint presentations and other simple, non-interactive resources can be described as e-learning content.
Interactive generic content is what most of the large catalogues of e-learning content offer on management, IT, financial and other areas of training. This content is appropriate for basic skills and generic topics but will not be tailored to your organisation.
Interactive customised content tends to be used as training that tackles business issues particular to your organisation. They are seen as giving you ownership, control and more effective learning as the content is specific to your institution or organisation, and culture.
Simulations are becoming possible as the technology matures. These are increasingly used in performance simulation and to bring sets of skills together, as in business simulations. (see Simulations)
Online: e-tutoring, e-coaching or e-mentoring
One-to-one, electronic support can include:
This is similar to the face-to-face deliverables above. The difference is that the providers will need new skills but many more learners can be supported by fewer tutors, coaches or mentors. It is important to be clear at the outset about what type of personal online support is required - is it administration of e-learning, or is it actual tutoring\coaching\mentoring?
Online: collaborative learning
Collaborative learning can include:
* virtual classrooms
* social media
Methods of electronic collaboration vary in complexity. At the simple end sits email, perhaps the most underrated learning tool on the Internet. It has become so embedded in everyday use that we forget how recent, necessary and important it has become in asking for, receiving and sharing knowledge.
The middle ground is occupied chat, forums, and audio/video conferencing, simple techniques used by groups of people who see themselves as a community of learners. Although easy to set up, they are not easy to sustain. These communities need to be nurtured and developed. The more complex – virtual classrooms and integrated learning environments – can also be used to shift learning online.
A growth area is the use of social media for learning, including blogs, Facebook, Twitter and Google+. These are being increasingly used to create, share and collaborate in learning.
YouTube set the pace and others have followed. It is now common to use existing video resources that are online and free. You may also want to consider creating your own video resources and uploading them to YouTube for use by students.
* Lecture repositories
* Khan Academy
* TED talks
Learning has been delivered using the same channels for decades, of not centuries, yet many more channels have emerged, especially online. We’ve outlined a few in this piece but we’re sure you can think of many more. To ignore blended learning is to ignore common sense. In vocational learning, blended has long been the norm, yet there’s still a long way to go with lots exciting new options.