Browse Category by Blended Learning
Blended Learning, Learning design

Why we shouldn’t call it blended learning!

Image by Полина Андреева from Pixabay

Now for those of you who have read a few of my posts might think that a very strange statement.  Those who know me well professionally will certainly be taken aback – after all, to them, I must sound like a broken record (for those who don’t remember records, think scratched CD!) because I’m always banging on about how anyone remotely involved in designing learning should first learn all there is to know about blended learning.

So why am I considering a change of name?  Because there are still a lot of people out there who don’t understand what blended learning is (see my post about the myth of blended learning). In my view, the blended learning approach is the foundation on which all other learning and training components are built upon.

My earlier post talked about how some people think blended learning is a what I refer to as the eLearning sandwich (eLearning tutorial+classroom+eLearning tutorial); some people think it’s a classroom course with some computer work included within it; some people think it has to include classroom; some people think that it has to include some computer-based or online activity.  Well, it may surprise you to hear that none of the above are true – and yet – all are true.  How can this be?

I confess that in this day and age it is very unlikely that any learning solution will not include some sort of digitial activity.  However, it may be there is none.  It all boils down to putting together a solution that is right for the situation – and that situation may not have any access to modern technology.  There are too many variables to cover here.

If we consider what Clive Shepherd calls ‘the logical approach’ in his Blended Learning Cook book, 1st and 2nd edition, (see my review) we should first establish the current situation before embarking on determining the strategy for putting forward the learning solution.  This means we need to make a detailed analysis: a lengthy process so often skimped on.

Without this we don’t know our audience enough, we don’t know the resources we have or haven’t got, and we may not even know if there is a valid learning need.  Once we have all this information we can establish the most appropriate activities relevant for the audience and subject matter and be able to determine the most efficient way of delivering them.  It will also determine whether it is appropriate to go down the formal training route or the less formal approach of coaching, just in time resources, an ‘in at the deep end’ or a mixture.

Once we’ve set out our framework we can then start designing the individual components, facilitating and supporting as my diagram explains.

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.

So this is why ‘blended learning’ is the foundation of any learning solution and why it should be the first step for everyone needing to determine the best learning strategy for their organisations.  But what should we call it? What about just LEARNING!

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”!

Blended Learning

Pre-work! – Is it work or isn’t it?

Pre-work! Argh! There’s no such thing. 

Pre-work! – what exactly do we mean by this? Work is either work or it’s not.  And if it’s not ‘work’ what is it?  Is it reading?  If so, reading is something you do therefore it’s work!  Is it watching (a video)?  If so, it’s still doing – ergo – work.  There’s nothing ‘pre’ about it.  Are you getting the drift?

Of course, to make any sort of sense, it’s got to stand for ‘pre-course work’ but even that’s equally confusing.  Let’s explore.

The reason for this little rant is that my pet-hate of a phrase (as if you haven’t yet guessed) has been rearing its ugly head quite a lot lately.  I’ve read a few blog posts, articles and had conversations with people where these terms are being handed out without any thought about their implications.  

It’s always baffled me when people use this term.  I mean… really!  Even when traditional classroom training was the default delivery, we were very often given ‘pre-course work’ to do.  The term indicates that it some sort of activity (usually reading) that needs to be done before attending the course.  Students are usually provided with details of this as part of their joining instructions or booking confirmation.  And what do they do?  Well, the don’t do they?  This ‘pre-course work’ is often (to be fair not always) forgotten.  

Usually, it’s down to their perception that this pre-course work is optional.  After all, if it was necessary, it would be actually part of the course… wouldn’t it? It’s often provided with no clear guidelines about what they should do with it or how it’s going to be used when they arrive at the classroom.  There’s no real deadline apart from the date of the classroom course and more often than not there’s no tutor support or facilitation.

This all tells the student that if the tutors/facilitators can’t be bothered to put that effort in then why should they?  OK, I might be being a little unfair but it gets my point across.

Now us learning designers know that isn’t the case.  We’ve toiled for hours carefully creating this material and determining its importance in the course design.  I too have thrown my hands up in the air, looked skywards and silently screamed when set work hasn’t been carried out.  So why, if we have determined that this work is a necessary part of the course do we insist on calling it ‘pre-course’?  We’re not helping ourselves here.

In today’s multi-media rich world has opened the opportunities of the course to be more than classroom.  There is a wider adoption of blended solutions where different elements of the course are delivered via a range of different media channels.  Some don’t have a classroom element at all.  Strangely enough, those blended solutions where all elements are delivered remotely using a variety of media options are less likely to have ‘pre-course’ work included as it is easier to see it as part of that (likely) online delivery.

But where we do see these blended solutions having a significant classroom delivery element, any set activities outside of the classroom element are still being referred to as ‘pre-course’ or ‘post-course’.  Is it any wonder then, that we still hear concerns from learning solution designers that their learners are unlikely to carry that work out?  Using the phrase ‘pre-course’ perpetuates the misconception that the classroom is still the only place where the real learning happens.  Anything else is less important.  And, sadly, there are designers, trainers and facilitators who still think that themselves.

Over the past 5 years I tried to do my bit to persuade people to think differently about using the term ‘pre-course’ work and to consider using terms such as ‘part 1, part 2 or stage 1, stage 2.  It will also help when we no long consider the bulk of the learning/training to take place in the classroom and concentrate on the course being the content not the classroom.

So, come on folks, no more ‘pre-course work’ – please!