Browse Month by October 2012
Blended Learning

Why we shouldn’t call it blended learning!

Image by Полина Андреева from Pixabay

Those who know me will certainly be taken aback. After all, I admit, I must sound like a broken record; I’m always banging on about how blended learning is the foundation on which successful learning solutions is built on.

So why am I advocating a change of name?  Because there is still a lot of confusion around what the term ‘blended learning’ describes.

What do some people think it is?

  • eLearning tutorial+classroom+eLearning tutorial (what I call the eLearning sandwich)
  • A classroom course with some computer work included within it
  • Has to include a classroom element with virtual classroom and or online tasks
  • A mix of different learning methods
  • Has to include some computer-based or online activity
  • A collection of diverse resources to dip into when you need some on-demand help

Well, it may surprise you to hear that none of the above are true – and yet – all are true to a greater or lesser extent.  How can this be?

We are in a time where digital has become our first means of communication.  The world COVID crisis has removed the option of any (or mostly) face-to-face learning delivery.  Our default has become digital – it had to.  But an effective digital learning solution is a blended one. And no, blended learning doesn’t necessarily mean there is any classroom in sight.

So what IS blended learning? 

Well, it depends.

“Depends on what?” you might ask…

It depends on the situation and because there are too many variables in any given situation, there is no one right blend template. The only right blend is the one that has been carefully designed for a particular set of circumstances. Every blend should be as unique as the situation it addresses. 

How can we get the right blend?

We can only do this if we investigate thoroughly before making any decisions.

  • What’s the need: What’s happening that shouldn’t or not happening that should? What impact does this have on business performance? Where do we need to get to?
  • Who is the audience: what are their needs, gaps, experience, motivation?
  • What are the logistics: what do we have available, what do we need, what can’t we get, what are the limitations, what are the strengths etc

Our investigations will help us establish whether formal training is the solution (or part of) and where it fits. It will help us identify where less formal approaches such as coaching, just in time resources, and an ‘in at the deep end’ will play a part.

Once we’ve established there is a learning need, we will use the data gathered to help us outline the most appropriate instructional/learning strategies, a clear structure, and effective combination of learning activities.

We will be able to decide on how we can deliver these activities that makes the best use of the resources we have and that will work well for the particular learning activities we’ve chosen. 

In his ‘Blended Learning Cook Book, Clive Shepherd refers to this process as The Logical Approach. Wouldn’t you agree that it is aptly named?

This framework is helps us to make the most efficient choices in delivery tools whilst maintaining (and often improving) the quality of the learning that supports performance throughout.

The model below, illustrates how our learning framework leverages all contexts in which people learn from formal training (live virtual classroom, self-paced online content, classroom, elearning tutorial), formal learning facilitation (live virtual classroom and self-paced tasks) performance facilitation (coaching and mentoring), supporting continued learning and performance and on-demand resources. On top of this sits ‘support in the workplace’ whether this is from the learning and development team, line managers or peers).

Blended Learning Infographic showing the blended learning framework as the base foundation bar and support in the workplace as the top bar. In between there is shown a range of 6 learning method examples. Group 1 is designing live online and self-paced learning and the facilitation of both. Group 2 is classroom design and facilitation. Group 3 is elearning tutorial design. Group 4 is coaching and mentoring. Group 5 is on-demand media content and group 6 is learning on the job in the workplace.

I firmly believe that ‘blended learning’ is the foundation of any learning solution and why it should be the first step for everyone for determinig the best learning and performance strategy for their organisations.

A blended learning solution is a whole workplace learning approach. 

But if not ‘Blended Learning’, what should we call it?

Learning design, Online learning

Wonderful eLearning

Happy Day by Peter IsmagilovLast week I attended yet another excellent event run by the eLearning Network. I always enjoy spending time in the company of like minded people all with one goal in mind – better quality eLearning. If you weren’t able to make it, then there was an active back channel in Twitter so check out #elnevent to catch up.

First up was Bill Miller of Wonderful Learning. Well, it was certainly a wonderful session and a great way to kick the whole day off which was all about attaining ‘truly effective eLearning’.

Why? Because Bill took us back to considering what is THE most important element of successful eLearning – how our learners feel!

If we consider for just a moment, how many of us are unable to think straight whenever we feel anxiety or stress; how we go blank when taking exams. Bill’s session took us through a highly engaging and entertaining trip through the thinking of Carl Rogers and his setting of the emotional climate; introduced us to the neurobiologist Antonio Damasio and his thoughts on the effect emotions have on our decision-making; and a little insight into recent brain research.

With the introduction of MRI scanning, we’ve been able to find out amazing things about how our brains react to different stimuli. Connie Malamed in her blog The eLearning Coach shared a great piece about Emotions and Learning

Without going into the science bit… you can look that up for yourselves… let’s consider the following-

For some years now, as classroom facilitators we’ve begun to realise how important it is to ‘settle’ our learners so their learning environment is comfortable. We understand about removing barriers that may ‘get in the way’ of their openness to learn. We are what some may call ‘people’ people. We know it’s important to build a trusting relationship between us and our learners and to foster the same among them. Becoming increasingly aware of how our own actions will help or hinder has transformed the physical classroom environment into a positive and enjoyable experience.

Why, then, do we often forget this when introducing learning in an ‘e’ environment?

If you imagine that you have been taken out of this familiar, comfortable, setting surrounded by others in the same situation who you can confide in, draw on for support, and where there is someone who can give guidance and advice… then you are plunged into this strange and isolating world of technology, where the only voice seems to be your own, where the tools you have been given are unfamiliar and it seems you are cut off from humanity? How do you feel?

It seems when our learners are thrown into the unknown, the unfamiliar, we remove from them that which helps overcome their feelings of anxiety. If anything, as instructional designers and facilitators of eLearning, we should work even harder to incorporate the research of Carl Rogers, Antonio Damasio and what we are increasingly learning about that little almond shaped part of our limbic system, the amygdala and its influence on our decision-making.

Becoming more self-aware in our design of learning (‘e’ or otherwise, or rather, more aware of our learners’ needs, experiences and emotions, we can design for THEM.

Taking you back to Bill’s session here are some of his thoughts to leave you with:

  • There are more neural pathways to the pre-frontal cortex (the thinking part of our brain) than going back
  • The rational thought processes have been emotionally tagged because they pass through the limbic system (our emotional part of the brain)
  • Emotions need to be at the forefront of learning

The session that followed Bill’s linked superbly by looking at the importance of user interface design from Richard Hyde of Mind Click but more of that another day.

Blended Learning, Learning design

Knowing me, knowing you … A-ha! The key success

What makes an effective learning solution?

I’ve asked the same question many times over the years with the following responses:

  1. Relevant
  2. Realistic
  3. Interactive
  4. Goal based
  5. Flexible
  6. Challenging
  7. Structured but not controlling

Although all of these elements are important they pale into insignificance without one vital consideration because without it, learning doesn’t hit all the marks.

When discussing a hypothetical situation recently, it was suggested that if we were to produce a specific training programme within the given timescales, within the given budget, using the given resources, to the large number of learners, the only way to get this done in time was to forego the analysis of the audience’s needs, experience and characteristics! The reason given was that there would just not be the time.

Looking back at the first word in the list above (and this is more often than not the top-most mentioned word), then how can you produce a learning solution that is relevant if you are not fully aware of the current situation. Without knowing your audience, how can you design the most appropriate solution for them. What you’d actually end up with is the usual blunderbuss approach i.e. blast it out and hope you hit the target!

Unfortunately, and sadly, this seems to be a common decision and subsequently, is the reason why a lot of training solutions, ‘e’, classroom or blended, can suffer.

Today I attended an eLearning Network event where the theme was ‘truly effective eLearning’. The key ingredient for its success running throughout the discussions was the need to be more learner-centred. Without knowing your audience, how could eLearning (or indeed any learning) be learner-centred?

Then tonight, by chance, I also read something Clive Shepherd posted on an Onlignment blog post ‘making transforsmation happen: analysis and design‘ which reinforces how imperative the analysis is.

So as the song goes… “Knowing me, knowing you is the best I can do”!