As more and more institutions and corporations are moving some of their learning initiatives online, instructors have been confronted with the challenge of managing this new normal in education. Though the concept and practice of blended learning has been around for years in L&D and higher education, most educators have now been pushed into implementing this type of learning at an accelerated pace due to the global pandemic. But in the rapid transition, many are still confused as to what blended learning actually entails and how to effectively apply it in their learning programs. To help clarify the concept, here’s our handy guide on the ins and outs of blended learning.
So, what is blended learning?
Simply put, blended learning is the combination of classroom and digital education, but it’s actually more complicated when getting into the specifics. This ambiguity over what blended learning entails is actually a credit to the progress that has been made on this educational model, as there are now so many different ways of successfully implementing blended learning that it has become more diverse than expected. What is key to a great blended learning experience is that the online side is not just a learning tool, but rather as an opportunity to transform and deepen the learning outcomes.
Some educators hit a wall with the idea that the online aspect must transform and deepen the learning experience. Historically, this step in the process happens when learners actively engage in person or put theories into practice in the real world. How can you create that in an online environment? We believe that blending learning occurs at the point where teaching and technology develop a symbiotic relationship, depending upon and informing one another. Blended learning also successfully occurs when it becomes more inclusive to diverse learning styles, allowing some students who may have struggled in a traditional classroom setting, to excel in the digital sphere. By considering all of these factors, the classroom experience is molded by the digital, and the digital is molded by the classroom.
What are some common types of blended learning?
Here are a couple of examples to get you thinking about the massive potential this teaching change possesses.
Example one: Distance learning
Let’s think of certain universities who offer eLearning, distance learning, online learning, or part-time study from home programmes. Whatever terminology they use to describe this learning, it’s often the case that there will be a minimal amount of physical participation, such as occasionally coming in for a couple of days at poignant parts of the year. These universities know that the students benefit massively from their limited physical contact, and so they must work hard to make best use of the time they have together. This is an example of the self-blend model of blended learning.
Example two: Simulation games
In a more corporate setting now, businesses may host workshops, talks, and education programmes to introduce new ideas, future projects, or necessary skills training to their workforce. With all of that theory being disseminated, the employees must then be given a chance to apply it, and that’s where simulation games for corporate training come in. Generally working in teams to achieve a desired outcome, the simulation games test key skills and provide vast amounts of actionable feedback and data. That feedback then informs the next round of theoretical training, looking to capitalise on the gaps or common mistakes. This also plays nicely into the rotational model of blended learning.
What are some examples of blended learning tools?
Let’s think more about the actual technology and programmes that make blended learning possible.
- Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts– These video conferencing tools are useful for children working on a group project at school, just as much as they are invaluable to a team of professionals learning how to use a new piece of software in the workplace. First people learn, then they discuss as a group in a digital way, and then they try to apply what they’ve learned.
- Blackboard, Moodle – Learning management systems like these allow students access to a variety of resources such as videos of lectures and accompanying presentations, assignment progress tracking, communication features with classmates and teachers, and suggested reading. Combining this digital resource centre with the classroom gives a greater deal of information, but doesn’t become blended learning until the digital resources affect or work in a cohesive relationship with future classroom learning.
It’s worth noting that educators, trainers, or whomever is leading the teaching can opt for a ‘flipping’ method, whereby they switch between classroom and online instruction in order for the course to continue to be interesting and not fall into another stale pattern. By mixing platforms and integrating them in different ways, students are kept on their toes and the levels of engagement tend to increase.
What makes a learning experience ‘blended’ rather than simply technology-rich?
Blended learning is:
- A model where students combine classroom learning with the flexibility of online learning, gaining some autonomy over their digital learning
- A learning process that leverages the power of digital technology and allows for the personalisation of education
- When a classroom shifts solely from didactic learning into an integrated model that offers more opportunity to more students
Blended learning is not:
- Students doing the exact same work they would be doing in class, but in a digital way (such as simply using microsoft word instead of handwriting)
- Using digital devices as support tools (such as using search engines in class)
How do you implement blended learning?
Here are 3 methods we’ve identified for educators who want to introduce blended learning to their classes, or training programs.
- Make learning accessible– Use tools that are simple enough for everyone and advanced enough to transform the learning experience. Ensure that these tools can be used from home or even on holiday, and that they offer a range of information, games, activities, resources, quizzes, and more.
- Personalize where possible – No two students are the same, every educator knows that, but when faced with a class of 30 people, tailoring the education is a challenge. Fortunately, this is where blended learning thrives, as the online component empowers students to study at their own pace, reinforce what they’ve learned, and try other learning styles like gamification.
- Trial and error different blended learning models – If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. The good news is that the versatility of blended learning means educators can keep mixing and matching tools and models (flexed, flipped, rotation, etc) to find what works for their students. Keep adapting to find the maximum benefit and optimal blend.
Discover how to make your blended learning programs a success
We’ve been helping instructors implement exciting and impactful learning experiences through business simulations in face-to-face, blended and distance learning environments for years. Request a demo to see how you can implement a business simulation in your blended learning programs today.