Blended learning: a short history

Blended learning is now being talked about more than ever- and is gaining momentum as the age of modern learners and remote working continues to develop.

But let’s ‘start from the very beginning’. Blended learning actually evolved from remote learning. One of the earliest examples of remote learning can be attributed to Pitman Training, recorded as early as the 1800’s. Sir Isaac Pitman invented shorthand and established his training company back in 1837. They went on to develop a distanced learning programme that allowed people, anywhere, to learn shorthand without having to travel to classes.

While this isn’t the same as blended learning, it is an early example of the shift in focus; the idea of taking learning out of the traditional classroom and to where the learner is.

Fast forward to the next century and many universities have moved to embrace true blended learning. Stanford and the Open University are two prominent examples, who have worked to combine distance learning, classroom learning, and one-to-one tutorials, even developing TV programmes to allow students to gain qualifications without having to attend university full time.

The TV programmes revolutionised learning, creating it accessible for those who would not previously been able to attend classes. People who either didn’t have the time or money to go to university full time could now access education in a form that flexed to their daily lives. The TV programmes were aired at ungodly hours; late at night or very early in the morning, and with the advent of the VCR, it became a much more manageable way for students to consume the content.

If you’d like to take a trip to the past…. check out one of the old remote learning programmes.

This type of qualification still exists and has evolved into a slightly different direction to create what is known as a MOOC.

What is a MOOC?

MOOC stands for Massively Open Online Course and is aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the internet. In addition to the usual, traditional course materials such as filmed lectures, readings and problem sets, MOOCs also provide interactive courses which include user forums to support community interactions among students, professors and teaching aides.

MOOCs are a more recent development in the field of blended learning, though they were first introduced in 2006 and emerged as a popular mode of learning by 2012.

The idea of it being open is a key part of its success, by allowing access to everyone many people could utilise the materials. Many academics and universities now offer them for free, and they are relatively short, often only lasting a few weeks. They are a wonderful way to learn from peers and experts at a higher educational level, without going down the formal education route, and while they don’t offer a specific qualification, there is the option to pay for a certificate at the end, as proof of completion.

Originally, MOOCs were purely part of the world of education, though businesses soon caught onto the approach, partnering with universities to offer MOOCs to their employees. For example, Microsoft offer MOOCs that are open to anyone who is interested in tech to complete. They cover topics such as coding, or learning more about their products and services.

Blended learning today

In most organisations, over the last 20 years, blended learning has meant a mix of Face to Face (F2F) workshops bolstered by eLearning. Increasingly, organisations have come to realise completing eLearning modules prior to a training programme can be a great opportunity for learners to consume content and knowledge before the workshop, so that it can be explored further in the F2F session, thus making better use of time together. Some even integrate eLearning modules between sessions in a longer programme to help to keep the learning alive and in front of mind. Others may encourage participants to completing eLearning modules once a training programme has finished, provides opportunities for learners to further embed their learning; refreshing what has been learned or extending their thinking around a learned topic.

Blended learning is evolving all the time already, allowing learning experiences to be varied, creative, and most importantly- accessible to all. Yet every blended learning programme is different- they can be flexed to meet the objectives of the organisation, or participant

Some common components of a blended learning programme include:

  • F2F Workshops
  • Virtual Workshops
  • Webinars
  • Flipped Workshops
  • Learning Apps
  • Forums
  • …and more

You can read the full list and details of each element in our other blog – ‘What is blended learning‘.

The key is in choosing the right tools for the job. Consider your ‘audience’, their locations, the demands they have on their roles, what outcomes you are looking for, budget and finally, timeframes. From this, you can begin to weave together the various threads that will build a robust Blended Learning programme to deliver the ideal outcome.

So that’s the past and present, what about the future?

The Future of Blended Learning

Well, some of the things that we know for certain will have an impact on the shape of Blended Learning programmes going forward are:

  • More people are working remotely/flexibly
  • Organisations will look to reduce employee travel time and cost
  • Technology and the internet will continue to evolve
  • Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality will become a more integrated part of our lives

Blended learning programmes are already becoming more virtual, with virtual workshops already replacing traditional F2F learning in many instances. The future of VR could mean we will begin to work and learn with colleagues around the world in real, physical time but entirely virtually. The future of blended learning is exciting, as we progress towards promoting flexible working and learning, and making it accessible for all.

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