“Blended learning” has become a buzzword in the learning and development world. Everyone’s talking about how they can implement blended learning in their training programs.
But what, exactly, is blended learning? How is it different from elearning? Does it have enough benefits to justify the cost of implementation?
We’ll take a look at these questions and then point out a few things to keep in mind when you develop your own blended learning approach.
In the end, you’ll be able to decide whether you should combine in-person and online trainings. (Though you can probably guess the answer already.)
Let’s start with a common question:
What’s the Difference Between eLearning and Blended Learning?
Most trainers, teachers, and learners are familiar with electronic learning (“elearning”). It’s any type of learning done digitally—usually online.
So how is blended learning different?
Blended learning is any approach that combines traditional classroom or in-person training with self-paced online learning.
That could mean that you supplement regular seminars with self-paced online sessions. Or that learners can attend classroom trainings once they’ve reached a specific point in an online learning track.
Blended learning is very flexible. If you’re using the tools available to provide the best experience for your learners, you’re probably already using blended learning.
If you have an idea that doesn’t quite fit into the definition of blended learning, that’s fine. It’s all about adapting different methods to foster learning.
Benefits of Blended Learning
Blended learning is gaining momentum in the training and development world. But is it just hype? Or are there real benefits of blended learning that HR managers and trainers should know about?
Here are a few studies you may be interested in:
- Pereira, et al. (2007): Blended learning resulted in higher grades and more tests passed
- Maloney, et al. (2015): Blended learning is more cost-effective after three years
- Lothridge, Fox, and Fynan (2013): Blended learning provides “affordable, accessible, high-quality” training
- Eryilmaz (2015): Students rated a blended learning approach more effective than a traditional approach (possibly due to active cooperation)
- Means, et al. (2013): Blended learning was significantly more effective than face-to-face instruction
Experts have also weighed in on the advantages of blended learning. Multinational corporations that instituted elearning methodologies to supplement their traditional trainings reduced costs by 35–60%.
Karen Peters and William J. Rothwell point out that “Blended learning combines the best of both instructor-led and e-Learning worlds to accommodate the full range of cognitive, affective and psychomotor learning domain needs.”
In short, research shows that blended learning is more effective and cost-efficient than in-person training. And experts are confident in its continued importance in the training and development field.
It’s worth noting that not every study has found blended learning to be more effective than traditional instruction.
Lim, Morris, and Kupritz (2007) found no significant difference between blended and online-only delivery.
In general, though, research and expert opinion agree: blended learning is an effective way to impart knowledge.
And because it uses elearning methods, it also inherits elearning’s advantages: flexible scheduling, mobile learning, the use of video, and so on.
A Note About Costs
“That’s great,” you might be thinking, “but those benefits come at significant cost, don’t they?”
Maloney et al. (2015) state that there are significant upfront costs to implementing a blended learning approach, and their study only showed a savings in cost after three years.
Of course, the savings keep accruing after those three years.
It’s easiest to implement a blended learning approach if you’re already using some elearning solutions. If your company is using an elearning solution, all you need to do is plan a blended course.
If your learning and development program is completely in-person right now, you may need to make an upfront investment (in the 2015 study, the company paid AUS $40,000 to get started).
But that means you can invest in a system that works equally well for traditional and blended approaches. And that will save you a lot of time and effort in the long run.
(If you want to see how Continu can help you create a cost-effective blended learning environment, schedule a free demo!)
Developing Your Own Blended Learning Approach
So blended learning isn’t just hype—it’s a cost-effective way to improve learning. How might you go about designing a blended learning approach for your company?
There are as many answers as there are companies. Because blended learning is such a flexible framework, you can create a system that works well for you.
You might uses an existing blended learning model like outside-in, station rotation, or mastery-based learning (project-based blended learning is an especially good fit for many corporate learners).
Or you can design your own system. There’s no right or wrong way to approach blended learning in a corporate environment.
When designing your own blended learning approach, there are three important things to keep in mind:
Don’t implement blended learning because it’s the trendy thing to do. Implement it because you’ve identified a goal that it will help with.
Of course, that means you need to identify the goals of your blended learning approach before you put the system in place. What are you trying to achieve with this new system?
Here are a couple ideas to get you thinking. A blended learning approach might help you
- decrease time to completion when learners are busy;
- improve learner satisfaction rates;
- offer a wider variety of courses at lower cost;
- decrease overall training cost and increase training ROI;
- improve learner competency scores; and
- just about anything else you can think of.
The flexibility of blended learning means you can pursue almost any training goal. But you won’t know if blended learning makes a difference at your company unless you set a goal in advance and measure it carefully.
If the online portion of your blended learning courses are just recorded versions of seminars, you’re not taking full advantage of the tools at your disposal.
Yes, getting people the information from a live session at their own convenience is great. But the personalization options available to you in elearning can radically change how your learning and development program works.
Let’s say that your training program looks like this:
- Seminar: Understanding Documentation in Agile Development
- [online option]
- Seminar: Putting Agile Documentation into Action
You could offer everyone the same online session in step #2. But why not let them personalize their experience?
By offering different sessions for people involved with different parts of the documentation process, you help people focus on the information that’s most relevant to them.
For example, you might offer “Agile Documentation for Developers,” “Agile Documentation in Project Management,” and “Common Issues With Agile Documentation.”
Now employees can get the most out of your blended learning approach. Using a tool that allows for this type of personalization is crucial.
Once you’ve put your blended learning system into action, you’ll need to find out if it works.
Fortunately, most tools that support blended learning can administer quizzes and other forms of evaluation. This is especially important if you don’t have much experience with elearning.
Assessments give you immediate, unfiltered feedback on whether employees are really learning in your sessions.
But you can also use different types of assessments to find out whether your blended learning approach is working for learners. You could administer a survey when the course is finished to find out if people found it helpful. Or ask for employee feedback on how the online and in-person portions of the course fit together or could better support each other.
These assessments can also be used in assessing your learning program’s KPIs.
Identify the goals of your blended learning strategy before you start offering courses. Then plan your assessments around those goals.
Make a Blended Learning Plan That Works for You
Blended learning is a flexible, adaptable way to deliver training content. It lets you combine the in-person advantages of traditional training with the power of digital learning to create a training program that’s unique to your company.
That’s an important thing to keep in mind. There’s no right or wrong way to use blended learning.
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