The blended learning myth: eLearning plus classroom!

Image by Aline Ponce from Pixabay

I recently had a conversation with someone who was interested in designing more engaging eLearning but they weren’t sure where to start when deciding which of the suite of training programmes to sign up for. During the conversation I mentioned that it would also benefit him to consider looking into blended learning which would give him more of an idea how eLearning (as he interpreted e-learning i.e. self study modules) could be considered working as part of a blended solution. At the time he was adamant he wasn’t at all interested in blended learning because he wouldn’t be involved in designing or delivering classroom courses.

I hear a similar response from others on my programmes when asked the question “what do you think blended learning is?” The definitions from my students from a classroom design/delivery background are along the lines of “a mix of eLearning and classroom” mainly describing the eLearning as the ‘pre-course work’ in preparation for classroom events.
I have been running programmes on blended learning for a number of years and although there are more people attending with a less blinkered view, there are still so many under this impression given the plethora of resources out there extolling the virtues of various online options.

This then reminded me of another conversation I had some months back after a presentation I co-delivered on how learning is changing. This person mentioned he had already attended a course on blended learning and as a result, he didn’t think blended learning was appropriate at that time. After a little investigation into why he thought that way, it turned out that this particular company stipulated that a blended learning solution wasn’t a true blended solution unless it included eLearning. Now I only had this person’s side of the story but it didn’t surprise me as the company providing the course was an eLearning provider.

No wonder learning and development professionals are confused and skeptical about considering blended learning as a solution. Until we know what blended learning really is, how can we consider it as an appropriate solution? So if eLearning plus classroom isn’t blended learning, what is….?

I’ll leave that for another day.  In the meantime, what are your thoughts?

Gadget simulators helping us learn for the real thing

Image by Tomasz Mikołajczyk from Pixabay

Can home simulators help you learn and prepare for the real thing?

I was recently catching up with my ‘The Gadget Show‘ viewing (I hardly ever watch programmes when they’re scheduled these days so I can forward through the ads) when I pricked up my ears as they mentioned their experiment using home simulators. The task given to Ortis and Jason was to get some intensive use on simulators. Jason was given the task to train to become a martial arts expert using the robotic ‘wooden man’ and Ortis was to learn how to fly (and successfully land) a plan using a home flight simulator. Both had 8 weeks in which to learn before their real life assessment. Jason had to ‘fight’ in competition and Ortis would take to the air.

It seems even when switched off for the weekend, any mention of anything remotely associated with learning or technology can get my little grey cells trembling with excitement so the prospect of an experiment in learning WITH technology – well, they went into overdrive. For the purpose of this post I’m going to take Ortis’s experiment with the flight simulator as my focus.

The experiment claimed that Ortis would learn how to fly using a home simulator which would be tested by him taking the controls of a real Cessna 172 and completing a successful flight and landing. What I really found interesting was that Ortis didn’t just learn by using the home simulator even though that is what we were led to think. During the course of the programme I saw Ortis make use of the following:

  • Ortis began by using a ‘Virtual Aviation Experience’ simulator of a Boeing 737 800NG used to train commercial pilots.
  • An initial discussion with a Cessna expert pilot(SME) during which a small model aeroplane was used to explain how the it might behave in the air.
  • A job aid in the form of a single sheet with key points, wind speeds, flight plan diagram provided by the expert Cessna pilot to memorise before the final assessment.
  • The home flight simulator ‘X-Plane’ the “most sophisticated and realistic flight simulator out there” complete with a purpose built processor and three huge flat screens as well as a variety of flight control peripherals for added realism.
  • Access to the mobile version of the X-Plane simulator via the iPad to practise on the move.
  • Practise was also undertaken using the TRC472 Simulator and Cabin for even more realism
  • He also had access to a printed book to cram for the theory needed.
  • Finally he had his observed assessment with the SME sitting beside him who would have been able to step in should there be a real need.
  • During his intensive training, he was occasionally observed face to face by the SME who gave feedback and encouragement.
  • I also suspect that he would have been able to contact the SME if he had a query at any time during his study.

After his 8 weeks intensive study, Ortis had his first flight and passed with flying colours (pardon the pun) and his comments afterwards were that although he was able to learn all the steps and practise as many times as he needed, there were certain things that couldn’t be replicated to prepare him for the experience. I suspect these would be that although simulators could make the situation feel as real as possible, what was missing was the adrenaline rush; the physical experience of the thermals affecting the plane; the vibration of the controls in your hand and the powerful noise of the engine and air the plane sped through the sky.

So, it seems that one can learn to fly using a home simulator? Yes?….. Hmmmm not quite. It was clear to me that his success was down to more than that home simulator game. The success was down to a great blend:

  • He had an initial discussion with an expert and was provided with some key points to take forward
  • There was a period of intense study
  • There was the opportunity for him to practise over and over again at a time that was convenient
  • He had some realistic hands on practise
  • He had the opportunity for reflection
  • He was provided with a simple job aid / crib sheet
  • I also suspect there was access to a subject matter expert for help and advice

Of course Ortis isn’t the only one to benefit from using simulation tools to be the best they can be. F1 driver, Mark Webber (Red Bull) explains advantages of using simulators to practise and prepare for races:

So, back to the question ‘Can home simulators compare with the real thing’? My answer is ‘not on its own’. Learning in a simulated environment is never like learning in the real environment but we all know it is impossible to do that efficiently. What we can make sure of however, is that applying the right blend of tools for the situation and making sure we don’t compromise on the quality of the learning by using an appropriate mix of learning activities, learning this way can be both engaging and successful.

Oh and how did Jason get on? Well, he also succeeded bu I think he had a rum deal. It looked like he only had the robotic wooden man but boy did it feel real. When he punched and kicked, it punched and kicked back and he lost a tooth to boot.

Social Media for Trainers

A review of Jane Bozarth’s new book

If trainers are to secure their futures, it’s important to evolve beyond training and be there where the learners are most comfortable. They need to find out what social media is all about; really all about – not just what they hear in the hyped up media. They need to understand the pros and cons, what they can use it for and above all, try it out for themselves. Jane Bozarth’s Social Media for Trainers is a great place to start. You may also be interested in a previous post where I reviewed an interview Cammy Bean had with Jane on her virtual book tour.

Although the book concentrates on the most popular of social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as general tools such as wikis and blogs, Jane stresses that the tips and ideas can easily be transferred to similar tools such as Yammer and Elgg to mention just two that may be allowed within organisations’ firewall.

The book demystifies these tools in layman’s terms. It highlights the advantages and disadvantages of each and when and how we could use them. But what the uninitiated would really find useful is the ‘how to get started’ section. As you read through the wealth of ideas for learning activities within the formal training environment you will also discover how to help your learners continue their learning back in the workplace with various social media tools. You will also discover a little about other media tools you may not have thought of as learning tools such as TeacherTube and SlideShare.

However, as technology evolves quickly, the downside of printed material (as the author points out at the beginning of the book), information can often become out of date at the point of publication. This has happened with Google Wave (a promising collaboration tool) which has since been discontinued.

Unusually, the glossary of terms appears at the beginning of the book and is a perfect place for it to be to prepare you for the read.

The book is more than a bunch of ideas on how to use social media tools in your training. It goes beyond training and how trainers can become part of the ‘spaces in between’ the formal training events to nurture and facilitate learning back in the workplace. It will help trainers help themselves grow and ensure their viability in organisations. But even more than that, it gives trainers an opportunity to try the social media out for themselves.

So if you want to get to grips with starting and keeping the conversations going beyond the training room – read this book.

If you want some tips on how you can persuade others that having conversations is where the learning is at and social media will help them do it – read this book.

Or if you want to start your own personal social media learning journey – read this book and start your own conversation.

Revolution for the Classroom

Redesigning the learning environment

My vision of face to face learning events of the future is not a ‘classroom’ but more a social meeting area.  If we are going to embrace the change in learning that has to happen and soon, we should also rethink the environment our learners visit when attend a face to face learning event.

To me, the word classroom conjures up a memory of chairs all in a row.  Sometimes, these chairs may even be locked together so we can’t move them.  Some of them have little tables attached.  Have you ever tried to sit at these strange contraptions?  For me they are certainly not comfortable and very restrictive not to mention difficult to adjust my seating or cross my legs.  Then there are those conference chairs.  I have short legs and often find that the majority of conference / classroom / training event chairs leave me with legs a-dangle cutting off the circulation.  If I wear my killer heels this is slightly better but then by the end of the day I can’t walk!

The alternative to the rows upon rows of lecture-style layout  in corporate training rooms is the ‘horseshoe’ style with the premise of making the experience much more friendly allowing the trainer more opportunity to become more accessible to their learners and allow learners to see each other, thereby interacting more easily.  A lot better than the first option but the trainer often still stands at the front ‘in charge’.  With the barrier of tables it can be tricky to break down the walls of formality.  I’ve tried pulling a chair round and sitting at the front.  This feels odd but a little less formal.  I’ve tried sitting on the table but then I’m almost on top of some people and a little distant from others.  It’s also uncomfortable (short legs and no circulation again).

If I had my way, I would redesign the environment so it’s no longer like a classroom but an inviting area where learners feel at ease on a range of comfortable chairs and sofas, where the the trainer becomes a facilitator.  There will be coffee tables and any slides are viewed on a flat screen TV from a laptop.  Individuals will have a much more comfortable experience and a more informal approach to learning.  Where computer based activities are required, of course safe ergonomic considerations are needed but I feel this would also benefit from a more informal feel to it.

Considering that with more emphasis these days on blended learning*, where we will be using face to face events more appropriately and collaboratively I think it’s time to adapt the environment accordingly.

*note that blended learning doesn’t necessarily mean face to face is included.

Taking a SatNav approach to learning!

Photo by Samuel Foster on Unsplash


In Donald Clarks recent post, 7 tactics for training in a recession, I found myself agreeing with many of his thoughts.

Donald’s 7 tactics are:
1. Dump daft duplication
2. Last century courses
3. Courses too long
4. Tyranny of time & location
5. Crap evaluation
6. Non-scalable
7. It’s the technology stupid

He says:

“Achieve more with less to optimise limited budgets and time. The world has changed and we can be reactive and get dumped upon, or take it upon ourselves to reshape our own learning landscape. Fast access to learning needs to be available 24×7 at point of need. This is the norm in the real word and it should be the norm in learning. We need to provide Satnav help for learning journeys, not big, thick, fixed atlases. Flexible responses to your organisation’s needs, not fixed, repeated, timetabled courses. Focus on productivity and promise impact, not happy sheets and course passes. Reduce carbon footprint, reduce travel & meeting costs and above all scale – EMBRACE TECHNOLOGY.”

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last few years, it has been abundantly clear that learning and development HAS to change. The way we work and live has changed. We are constantly having to do more with less; find different and creative ways of delivering (and I don’t mean training here). If we need to know something what do we do? We ‘Google’ it – we ask a question from our wider networks via Twitter, we share our likes, our opinions, our expertise through blogs and harvest from RSS feed readers.

When are we likely to do this? At home, on the train, the bus but rarely at work. Why? Because we’re not allowed to. Or, if we are allowed to – we haven’t got a clue how we could harness this collaborative technology. Perhaps it’s because we don’t really understand their value. It doesn’t help when the media, in order to sell stories, write misleading (and even fabricated) headlines leading to businesses banning their use.

After all, do we start banning cars because the idiots behind the wheel are irresponsible? No! We all have to learn to drive safely. We take tests to prove we are capable. We know rules and the consequences if we break them.

This analogy brings me nicely back to Donald Clark’s SatNav help for learning. Perhaps we should start thinking about how we can help learners continue to learn, and support them in their roles. But before we can do that, we need to learn how to drive this new technology properly ourselves. Until we know what they can do, we will never be able to understand how they can be used for learning and collaboration in the workplace. I think this is where L&D can really become indispensable.

Trainers need to be more than trainers concerned only about single events and tick-box exercises to appease the gods and become learning consultants helping others navigate their own learning journeys. Before they can help others they need to help themselves to reduce their own skills gap, open up their minds and try these tools out for themselves – take control of their own development and experiment. I realised very quickly, if I was to survive in the world of learning I would have to embrace new technology.

OK – I’ve always had more than a little interest in how technology could make my working life easier having moved from manual typewriters, to electronic then to the clunky early PCs (oops – giving my age away there!) but I would never describe myself as a techy geek. I guess this continued interest in technological progress helped and I acknowledge that there may be others who are totally disinterested. But just like it’s now almost essential to be able to drive to widen our employability, it will be essential to learn to use these tools to the same end.

There are plenty of resources available out there. Jane Bozarth’s book ‘Social Media for Trainers‘ is one great resource to start with. Keep visiting for a review as well as some extra tips for using new learning technologies. In the meantime – go on – dip your toe into that water – there are plenty of learning technology lifeguards out there to help you (me included).

What hope is there for eLearning?

Creating engaging eLearning: Part 4

We need to rise up and join the revolution – the eLearning revolution. I am always keen to keep up to date with what is going on in the world of technology. I love how clever programmers can be when creating amazing ‘special effects’ on screen. And yes – the visual design is important but not at the expense of the learning.

When is information just information and why do we think by adding a multiple choice quiz at the end makes it learning? All this does is test immediate recall of the facts. What it doesn’t do is test how this information or knowledge can be transferred to performance. I explored this in my second of this series in creating engaging e-learning where we talked about putting the learning back in eLearning.

Today I received a usual e-mail alert from an award winning e-learning software provider after making an enquiry some time ago. I don’t often have time to look at these alerts but, tonight I decided to take a look at their news. It included examples of e-learning they produce for customers. I must say, I was very impressed with the clever graphics, special effects and novel ways of taking you through screens etc. As I worked through the examples of their portfolio, a question came to mind….

Does flashy programming, great use of graphics and clever special effects equal engaging eLearning? My answer? – No! I totally support that care has to be taken when designing the visuals (more of that in later posts) but what really engages the learner is how they use their brains, not their fingers on the mouse.

If only the eLearning companies asked their learners what they hate about eLearning they will find out they can’t stand clever ways of dressing up information where they just click or roll over to reveal more information. What learners are crying out for is to be able to think for themselves, to solve problems – realistic, work-based, relevant problems..

I’ve seen an example of a timeline where the ‘interaction’ is merely moving the mouse back and forth through the timeline ribbon and rolling over images for more information about key events. Again, I loved the graphics, the colours and the visual design but, in my opinion, this is just e-information. (I have already differentiated between e-information and eLearning in a previous post.) Now e-information certainly has its place but there’s no cognitive application involved. It’s just passive exposition.

As a result of looking at these examples I thought I would re-think some of them to give you some ideas of how to make your own designs more engaging by incorporating the right sort of interaction.

Another example where I love the visuals: the learner clicks to turn the pages of a book where they read a case study (the producer refers to it as a scenario). This is a super, visually engaging way of displaying information. But that’s all it is – oh and guess what? It is followed by a really long multiple choice quiz where learners are ‘tested’ on the content. A lovely idea initially, but why not use the case study to act as a problem solving activity where the learners have to make the decisions as they go along on behalf of the people in the scenario? The story could be told in installments and it is unlikely we will ‘lose’ our learners along the way.

Let’s think about another example:

The learner is shown a beautiful image of a coral reef. Again the visuals are superbly set with clear thought to relevance and placement. To the right of the photo but set within an aquatic template is a whole bunch of text. What is the ‘interaction’ planned for the learner? Well, the learner has to grab the [thin non-standard?] scroll bar to read more text because there is too much to go on the screen. What does this text give us? A heap of facts telling us about the threats faced by coral reefs from man and the environment! And, yes – you’ve guessed it – another obligatory multiple choice quiz. Does this put the learner at the heart of the coral reef? Does it help the learner understand the consequences of their actions? Not really – just regurgitating facts again.

For those starting out on the e-learning design journey they take these examples as best practice and replicate them.  ‘What would I do differently? No…. I’m not going to tell you…. What would you do differently????

I would love to hear some of your own ideas of creating real interactive learning activities. C’mon let’s start that eLearning revolution