The term "blended learning" certainly isn't new. That goes without saying. The reason for saying it, however, is that this term has received particular scrutiny over its true, current meaning. Questions remain about whether learning professionals share the same perspective on its definition.
If someone asked you what blended learning is, would you say, "It's offering a mix of traditional classroom learning and online learning?" If you answered, yes, you're not alone. Brandon Hall estimates that "about one-third of organizations still think of blended learning as having available classroom learning plus additional modalities."
As the learning and development space evolves, however, we now have a more sophisticated understanding of what the term blended learning should mean as we develop our enterprise learning strategies. I'll again rely on Brandon Hall for backup:
"The analogy I like to use is the Arnold Palmer. It is a drink featuring a mix of lemonade and iced tea. But if you put a glass of iced tea and a glass of lemonade next to each other, it is not an Arnold Palmer. It doesn’t become an Arnold Palmer until you actually blend the lemonade and ice tea. Likewise, if you offer classroom learning and then an eLearning course, it is not blended learning, it is just multi-modal learning."
Love that analogy! So, how do we really create the blend, the true hybrid approach to learning that enriches the learner experience with the right mix of traditional and online learning? Add to mix the right blend of experiential, informal, and formal learning (i.e. the 70/20/10 model). Blended learning is a cocktail of all of these things and it's not a one-size-fits-all approach. There's no one prescription for what will work for your organization or your learners. You will likely discover different mixes for different groups even within your organization, depending on role and other factors. One thing is certain though. When you realize the right blend(s), there's a wealth of benefits to your learners and to your company as a direct result
Here are three clear positive outcomes of a blended learning approach:
- It deepens the understanding and retention of information. When companies combine online learning with traditional to work toward important business objectives, the results can be powerful. Learners can get their wheels turning and generate questions at their own pace online and then bring those inquiries to the live setting, where they're answered and discussed. The social / informal aspect of discussion and collaboration serves to solidify the knowledge far beyond if the information were received solely online or in a classroom. As related experiential learning occurs, so does mastery of the subject matter.
- It saves time, money, and productivity. It's well known that a significant percentage of traditional training costs are spent on travel and hotel (unless you're one of those rare companies that has onsite facilities that support all workers, which is increasingly rare given the rising number of remote and globally diverse people). By relying on your LMS to deliver large portions of your training, you dramatically lower those costs. Plus, it's a no-brainer what offsite training does to productivity; most people can't sufficiently do their jobs when they're traveling. The amount of time people spend in physical classrooms can be reduced, but to the point above, it doesn't mean that their learning experience or retention is decreased at all. In fact, quite the opposite. You can use the digital learning portions of courses to level the playing field for newer employees or those needing additional training. By the time they're gathered in the classroom, you've got a group ripe and ready to take their knowledge to the next level.
- It's a best of all worlds approach. Let's face it, we're all different. Some people do better solo; some in groups. Some people like self-paced; some like instructor-led. Some people are visual learners, some audio. The list goes on. Depending on your particular audience(s), you can create the right blend of how digital supports live and vice versa. You can determine how to underscore formal training with experiential and informal. You may even want to survey your learners to identify preferred formats. Some may request more video, others gamified modules, and others anything as long as it's mobile. It's not an easy process, but as an end goal, using available models as a guide, you may arrive at a mix that produces stronger learner performance and business performance outcomes than simple multi-modal training.