Despite its increasing prevalence, some people ask, “just what is blended learning?” When others talk about blended learning, they believe that the term is simply a synonym for ELearning.: In reality, blended learning can incorporate all modalities of learning, whether it be ELearning, a presenter speaking to a group over web-conference, or a group of colleagues working together on a case study.
First things first: A definition
Although sometimes used as a synonym for eLearning, blended learning actually incorporates all modalities of learning, whether it’s an online module, a presenter addressing a class via webinar, or a group of participants working together on a case study.
As we at StratX work with companies to develop their managers' capabilities, we define blended learning as using the optimal mix of learning modalities to enable clients to achieve specific business objectives.
Unique participants have different needs. Whereas many L&D initiatives have a “one-size-fits-all” approach for large swathes of an organization’s population, participants’ relative knowledge and skill levels are usually distributed across a broad range; a blended approach allows participants to focus on the content they need at an individual pace that suits them.
Organizations have greater expectations in terms of quality and flexibility. Stakeholders expect both internal and external solution providers to design more flexible approaches that consistently achieve learning objectives and can conform to the circumstances of a division, business unit, affiliate, etc.
Providers need to demonstrate value. Amid growing calls for doing “more with less,” organizations and stakeholders need to understand what they are receiving in return for their investments in L&D initiatives. Furthermore, they expect providers to achieve results more efficiently.
Companies face growing time and cost constraints. As the pace of business increases and participants grow “busier,” they are less able to devote large, continuous blocks of time to L&D interventions. In addition, many of the costs that come with training – both direct and indirect – are under growing scrutiny.
Some basic terminology
Now that we have a definition in mind and understand the case for blended learning, let’s look at some basic concepts:
Synchronous – “Existing or occurring at the same time.” Multiple participants experience an activity simultaneously, either in-person or virtually. Examples include an on-site classroom session with instructors and participants together, a peer discussion group, or a webinar held with participants in different locations.
Asynchronous – “Not existing or occurring at the same time.” Participants perform a task at different times, without simultaneous interaction. Examples include reading an article alone, completing a ready-made eLearning module available online, or individually preparing a personal development plan.
Face-to-face learning – Participants engage in the same geographical location, which can be an instructor-led classroom session, on-the-job learning with a supervisor, or a collaborative project with peers.
Remote learning – Also known as “distance learning,” participants learn in different geographical locations from their instructor and potentially each other. Remote learning can occur synchronously, in which all participants connect at the same time through an environment, or asynchronously, when participants learn at different times through a medium such as eLearning.
Note that many activities, such as business simulations, can be either synchronous or asynchronous. Likewise, activities such as lectures or coaching can be delivered remotely or face-to-face at different stages of a learning journey.
Factors to consider
Variables that should influence the selection of modalities and their sequencing include:
Time – How much available time will participants have and how flexible will it be? This will impact the balance of synchronous and asynchronous learning, as well as what occurs remotely versus face-to-face. For example, if schedules make synchronous learning difficult to accommodate, more content should be available for participants to access when they can find or make time.
Feasibility – What is the available budget for the learning initiative? As bringing participants and instructors together on-site can be costly, careful consideration should be given to how face-to-face modalities are used, if at all. Likewise, it might be tempting to incorporate new tools into an initiative, but some technologies can prove to be more expensive, more difficult to use, or less impactful than expected!
Subject matter – How simple or difficult is the content to learn, comprehend, and test? Relatively simple content can usually be delivered asynchronously online. On the other hand, more complex subjects require discussion, coaching, and hands-on practice and are therefore more suitable for synchronous, face-to-face sessions. In addition, the adoption of new processes on-the-job can benefit greatly from performance support tools and templates distributed for use in the latter stages of a learning journey.
Participants – Are some modalities more suitable than others for the target audience? Factors such as participants’ preferences and technological sophistication will impact how they learn best and the effectiveness of different approaches.
Practically, blended learning provides a toolbox from which we can build effective learning journeys that support business objectives, by taking into consideration available resources and constraints and by selecting the right modalities.
At StratX, we collaborate with our business partners to create engaging learning journeys that lift capabilities for lasting business impact. Contact Yann Cartier (email@example.com) to see how StratX can help your organization succeed in 2017 and beyond.