The history of blended learning

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

One of the earliest examples of distance 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 distance 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 taking it to where the learner is, instead.

Fast forward to the next century and many universities have moved to embrace true Blended Learning; Stanford and the Open University in particular. They have worked to combine distance learning, classroom learning, and one-to-one tutorials, and even created TV programmes to allow students to gain qualifications without having to attend university full time.

Despite some of the heavy content, the TV programmes were entertaining with the ‘geeky’ professors delivering lectures sporting long hair and flared trousers. These 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.

The benefits to this were huge, as it made gaining a degree (or higher) much more accessible, allowing many more people who wished to learn the opportunity to do so; people who either didn’t have the time or money to go to university full time. It also allowed people to study while they also worked or brought up their children.

If you are curious to see what these looked like, here is a YouTube link.

This type of qualification still exists and has evolved into a slightly different direction to create 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; filmed lectures, readings and problem sets, MOOCs also provide interactive courses including user forums to support community interactions among students, professors and teaching aides.

MOOCs are a more recent development in distance education, 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, as it allows access to everyone and many academics and universities offer them for free. They are relatively short, often only lasting a few weeks, but they are a wonderful way to learn from peers and experts at a higher educational level, without going down the formal education route. They don’t offer a specific qualification, though 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 to complete on the tech side of the business, such as coding, or learning more about their products and services. This is also rolled out to their internal employees.

In most organisations, over the last 20 years, Blended Learning has meant a mix of Face to Face (F2F) workshops bolstered by eLearning.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.

Completing eLearning modules between sessions in a longer programme can help to keep the learning alive and in front of mind.

Finally, 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.

This is reliant on the eLearning modules being of high quality, engaging and useful to the learner. There are many organisations that provide excellent eLearning approaches available online.

Coming back to the present times and how much Blended Learning has evolved already, we can see just how varied and creative it allows us to be. There are so many other forms of learning we can blend into the learning mix, whilst of course, always keeping our purpose in mind and the learning transfer as the goal.

What are the Components of a Blended Learning Programme?

Components that can be used in 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 – Components of Blended Learning.

As highlighted in that blog, 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 will be 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.

With avatars becoming old hat and hi-tech holograms starting to take off, who knows how long it will be before we are running our own holographic training programmes!

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