The Best and Worst of Blended Learning

best hybrid blending learningBlended learning is here to stay. But if the very idea of blended learning fills you with dread, or makes your learners groan and try to get out of training sessions, chances are you’ve been exposed to a bad blended learning experience. What might that look like? How about an instructor conducting a session in Zoom that was originally designed to be in-person with no modifications to the material at all. Or an online course trying to be its live counterpart — and taking up as much time as the original? Or live sessions that don’t relate to the online parts of the learning experience?

There are a lot of ways hybrid training can go wrong, but done well, there are also plenty of ways that hybrid training can offer the best possible training to your employees, giving them both valuable facetime with instructors as well as quick online modules that help learners retain information. In fact, according to LinkedIn Learning’s latest Workplace Learning Report, blended online learning is likely to stick around post pandemic, as training budgets put more resources into online learning and fewer into live Instructor-Led Training (ILT).

What is blended learning?

Blended learning is — as the name suggests — a blend of different training modalities. Usually blended, or hybrid learning refers to a combination of traditional face-to-face classroom teaching methods and online learning platforms. This can mean traditional live instructors teaching some courses while self-paced modules are used for other training topics, or an online curriculum paired with on-the-job training or mentoring. Blended learning isn’t new; distance education and face-to-face instruction have been combined in different ways since it was possible to deliver a course online.

However, during the pandemic, a different sort of blended learning has evolved: blended online learning. Blended online learning is a combination of self-paced courses and virtual instructor led training (VILT). LinkedIn Learning’s report found that many companies made a shift to blended online learning during the pandemic, and many plan to keep this approach even after people come back to the office. ILT is often the most expensive part of an L&D budget after all, and VILT can reach more workers at once.

What does blended learning look like when it’s done wrong?

Despite the fact that most companies use blended learning in some capacity, that doesn’t mean it’s always done well. Fortunately, there are a handful of common errors that are easily corrected.

Common mistakes in a hybrid learning program:

  • Isolating your learners: Despite the instructor-led components, online blended learning can contribute to learners feeling isolated. According to LinkedIn’s report, 31% of employees feel less connected to their leaders and 37% of employees feel less connected to their teammates than they did before the pandemic began. If your blended program is designed so that the instructor-led piece isn’t interactive, your learners may feel like they’re sitting in the back of a classroom, not engaging with the rest of the class.
  • Not connecting the instructor-led pieces of your program with the online components: When off-the-shelf online modules are added to a program without being integrated into your existing training program, L&D leaders may think “more learning is better,” or “what’s the harm in adding new courses?” However, this can be a problem. In K-12 education, where this is also an issue, poorly integrated blended programs have a low success rate with students because their online learning doesn’t support their classroom learning. Why is this a problem when training adults in the workplace? When an instructor isn’t familiar with self-paced modules a learner is taking, they may repeat or contradict lessons. They also aren’t reinforcing the lessons learned in self-paced courses.
  • Ignoring the tech: While yes, content is important, it’s also crucial to remember that a course can’t be taught in the same way online as it is in a classroom. When the same exact curriculum is put online, you lose some of the interpersonal connection learners get in a classroom, but you also gain a suite of tools that help you communicate the same material in a different, more engaging way. For example, rather than always using Zoom for VILT, you might decide to avoid web conferencing fatigue and host a discussion about a topic using a group chat. Integrating technology well is important when creating engaging training.

How can blended learning be done well?

Good blended learning makes the most of both online and in-person training to provide the best experience possible for your learners.

  • Make it social: Your learners need social interaction, especially if they’re working from home. LinkedIn found that 91% of learners believe successful teams learn new skills together, for example. They also feel that learning as a team fosters a sense of belonging. LinkedIn found that social features were being used much more in 2020, as learners of all ages joined learning groups, participated in Q&As, and shared courses with one another.
  • Pare some lessons back: Don’t feel like a lesson that would be an hour long in person should be that long online. Cut online modules down to the essentials so your learners can focus on what’s important and return to those lessons when they need a refresher.
  • Tailor your learning: While you may not be able to customize every lesson to your learners, blended learning works best when it’s personalized to the learner. Provide learning pathways so that your learners can learn the information that’s relevant for them.

Blended learning is the future

This past year in particular has highlighted some of the challenges of blended learning as everyone struggled to adjust to the new normal, and they’re not just seeing the challenges in their own training – they’re also seeing what blended learning looks like for the family and friends they were locked down with: kids in hybrid classrooms, college students in blended courses, or maybe even their spouses’ workplace training.

Your learners know what they don’t like when it comes to hybrid programs, but they’re also learning what works for them and their family. They know what modules engage them and what training they look forward to. Talk to them about what they’ve loved, what they’ve disliked, and what ideas they might have about how to improve training. This feedback is key to making your program as strong as it can possibly be. Communication with your learners has never been more crucial.