What is Blended Learning? Different Types of Learning Blocks
A great way of picturing Blended Learning is imagining a wall made of brightly coloured bricks. Likewise, Blended Learning is made up of a number of components which all contribute to successful learning transfer.
Design is very important when it comes to structuring a Blended Learning programme. While there are no hard and fast rules as to how this should be done, giving it enough careful consideration is important.
Design approaches can differ from programme to programme. Many organisations choose a structured end-to-end approach where their learners all experience the same journey together. Alternatively, there are also ways of allowing learners to choose their own journey through the content; accessing the learning as and when they need it. Others complete a learning diagnostic prior to the programme to help learners determine which elements of the learning they need most. It’s all down to professional preference.
Keeping the purpose in mind while designing is key. Define the required outcome early then build the rest of the learning components to support it. Your outcome is the base and the learning components form the bricks to build your wall.
While it is tempting to look at the options as a bit of a pick’n’mix or tasty array of goodies to throw into the programme, it is essential to focus on your purpose. Ask yourself; is this useful and relevant to the learners? Does it move us towards the desired outcome? If not, it doesn’t make the cut - be ruthless!
Let’s have a look at some of the components, the bricks to build the Blending Learning wall with.
Face to Face (F2F) Workshops
A staple in almost all learning scenarios, the option to include F2F workshops is common. These can consist of short bitesize workshops or longer, deep diving sessions that maximise having a group of people in a room together. This works best if travel time and cost are limited and people are co-located, or near-located to one another.
Providing the same benefits as a F2F workshop, but minus the travel. Learners are giving the option to learn together, interacting, sharing ideas and working on challenges, but in a virtual, live platform such as Zoom, Cisco Webex or Microsoft Teams. This is best if learners are disparately located, to save on travel time, cost and carbon.
Less intimate and interactive than a virtual workshop, webinars are less likely to explore the deeper levels of learning transfer yet can still be a useful medium in a Blended Learning programme. They can be recorded and broadcast on demand, with the option for participants to submit questions to their host.
A flipped workshop is when learners consume provided content prior to a group workshop, using this time to then explore the content further and practice any techniques together. This can be done through either a F2F or virtual workshop and content can be consumed through a varied mix of mediums; video, reading, eLearning etc.
By having learners consume the content beforehand, it maximises the live practice time and discussion, also adding the benefit of learners being able to reflect on the content prior to putting it into practice.
“On the Go” Learning Apps
The number of learning applications is on the rise. They can be pre-programmed with super-short learning “sparks” that introduce, boost or recap on learning. They are great examples of micro-learning, creating a new division of learning that is ‘just in time’, allowing learners to access regularly and easily, whenever they want it.
A brilliant example of this is an up-coming company called Intao. Their Director, Alain van Gils, says “Learning is a journey, not a one-time event. In fact, it's something we all do all the time. Intao simply brings a little more awareness to the process with daily nudges, learning impulses and nuggets of wisdom. Essentially, it's about setting a clear intention to consciously grow and develop each day, and building a habit to match. Manage that and amazing things start to happen.”
You can check out their website here.
This can be a live opportunity to have an “expert”; be it an internal colleague in the organisation or an external expert/trainer. This works best done virtually, rather than having the colleagues travel for the event and learners are still able to spend time with them, asking live Q&A and learning directly from their experience.
A forum is a fantastic tool that learners can use to check in with each other, ask questions, share references and learning and just generally keep the conversation and learnings going throughout a programme. There is always the option to involve your experts in this too.
There are several apps available that can maximise this experience for learners; WhatsApp, Facebook, Yammer or even a platform like Discord. Often, even once the programme has ended, these channels often stay open.
Sometimes there is the option of giving your Blended Learning programme an accolade at the end. Ranging from a small achievement such as mastering a piece of software like Excel, all the way up to an apprenticeship scheme, university model or distance learning through the Open University. If you are unsure, there are many certifications that can be found online to give you some inspiration.
For many, when they think of Blended Learning, they think of F2F programme supported by eLearning modules, and until recently this is what it was. eLearning can still play a helpful role in a Blended Learning programme as learners can use these modules to make progress in their own time at their own pace. This may, for example, make up some of the content consumed before a flipped workshop.
It is important however, like other methods on this list, that they are curated carefully, ensuring that they are relevant and aligned with the rest of the content. There are some great, creative, modern eLearning companies who are making great eLearning modules that have good impact.
This block takes many forms. Learners can be allocated a coach to work with throughout the entire programme, or it could be that the overall programme has some coaching session built in. It doesn’t have to be F2F either; telephone/virtual coaching is becoming increasingly popular due to the instant availability and accessibility of it.
It doesn’t always have to be a qualified professional either; peer coaching and reverse skill coaching are also quickly gaining popularity and still produce good results.
Talks on Google and Ted Talks are well known now, but a bit of digging on YouTube can throw up a host of useful talks and videos that your learners could benefit from.
Video is a popular and effective way of consuming content. According to a report by “Towards Maturity”, managers are doing most of their own learning on the way to and from work, which is why podcasts and video are an effective way of learning.
According to Ofcom, podcast listening is on the rise. For one, it is a convenient way to consume content whilst multitasking. Driving, running, walking the dog, cooking or commuting; listening to a podcast is fast becoming people’s go to.
In a Blended Learning programme, podcast listening could be curated to include pre-recorded content such as Ted Radio Hour or HBR Ideacast. You could even create your own internal podcast with interviews with internal experts or even advice and guidance on how to succeed in the programme.
There is a catch with offering reading as block to Blended Learning. Time. Everyone is so busy nowadays; time is in such demand that it can feel like a luxury to take time out to read an entire book. Many people enjoy reading for pleasure to unwind but may find that reading a business book puts a huge demand on their free time.
An interesting article was put together by Andrew Merle on the top 50 business books and just how long it can take to read them.
Supporting a Blended Learning programme with recommended reading is great if it is carefully curated. Is it necessary to read the whole book or will a specific chapter suffice? The same goes for articles. If it is a popular business book, is the information available in another format, such as a Ted Talk, podcast, or video?
If you do have a recommended reading as part of your programme, ensure that it is given time for discussion and use; people will feel resentful if they have given over valuable time to do reading that is then never referenced to.
The ongoing nature of Blended Learning programmes lends itself to learners being able to apply their learning in real situations throughout. This can then be debriefed, coached and built upon as part of the learning programme itself.
In a manager development programme, learners could be tasked with coaching a team member, or analysing the P&L report. For a graduate programme, learners might be asked to apply their learning in presentation skills by sharing a relevant presentation in a team meeting.
This can have a huge influence on learning transfers in any learning programme, blended or otherwise. Mary Broad and John Newstrom’s seminal 1991 publication “Transfer of Training” reported that “active engagement and participation in the development process by the line manager was essential is positive impact was to result. And managers need to do much more than simple provide support from the side-lines.”
Rather than just relying on managers taking an interest, discussing and supporting their team member through the programme, we can support managers by providing them with learner updates, key messages and high-level content covered. We can give them manager guides of what to do and when, and work with them to agree the expectations of the role that the manager will take throughout.
A Blended Learning programme can provide a varied choice of building blocks that can create a fulfilling and stable learning transfer. As long as we avoid the temptation to go crazy with the pick’n’mix and keep our objective firmly in mind, there is a wonderfully diverse spread of option available.
Provided the content is well curated, and everything remains relevant and applicable to your learners, there is no reason why Blended Learning can’t work for you. Take the time to construct and always remember; the objective and outcome is key.