The Endless Possibilities of Blended Learning
Continuous technological and digital developments and pedagogical insights bring exciting opportunities to introduce new learning methods at work. In this article, we’ll explore the many benefits of blended learning: a combination of online and face-to-face training activities. If applied properly, it allows employees to develop in-depth knowledge and new skills, unleashing their full potential and reaching their learning goals in an effective and engaging way. We’ll also take a look at the flipped classroom, and other blended learning models. The method is very accessible and can save a lot of time and costs, making it an excellent option for many companies.
- What is blended learning?
- What is the difference between hybrid and blended learning?
- Examples of blended learning
- Blended learning benefits
- Advantages of blended learning
- Disadvantages of blended learning
- Blended learning models
- Blended learning effectiveness
- Blended learning solution for employee training
- Blended learning best practices
1. What is blended learning?
Blended learning has been around for a while in the corporate learning space, but it seems that in a post-pandemic world, a growing number of L&D leaders and HR departments are choosing this method as one of the preferred routes to educate and upskill their people. So the question is, what’s the meaning of blended learning exactly? We believe this definition of blended learning covers it well:
We see blended learning as a learning practice that combines and integrates face-to-face classroom activities with remote, digital and online training methods. In other words, it’s a training strategy in which different forms of learning are blended, allowing them to come together in a single learning path.
Jelle Tromp, Chief Learning Officer at Lepaya
First, let’s dive a bit deeper into the different elements of our blended learning definition. Now, remote learning in itself is nothing new. We’ll probably all remember 2020 as the year this type of learning exploded, while it had already been in the making for about three centuries. In fact, it can be traced back to a 1728 advertisement in the Boston Gazette where a man called Caleb Phillips offered to “weekly sent lessons in the new method of shorthand to people in the country desirous to learn this art.” In the 19th century, with the rise of the modern postal service in the United States, commercial correspondence courses started to flourish. In 1852, one of the most popular ones was the ‘Pitman Shorthand Training Program.’ Self-taught secretaries who enrolled in this program would mail their work to an institute on the other side of the country and were granted a ‘certificate of expertise’ after successfully completing the course.
At the beginning of the 20th century, postal mail lost its status to radio as the most important method of long-distance communication. Schools and universities picked up on this. Some radio shows allowed teachers to talk directly to students at home, and by 1923 several radio stations in the US were owned by educational institutions. Not much later, a number of open universities used TV to broadcast their courses. In the 1980s, students who followed a TV course could even call instructors by phone to get their questions answered in real-time, on air.
E-learning? Also not that new. The first internet-based training institute opened its doors in 1993 in Colorado. It offered Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programs. And with the meteoric rise of the internet in the early 2000s, e-learning became an outright hype in the Western world, often combined with traditional lessons in the classroom. However, teachers and students soon became disillusioned because this form of blended learning was misapplied at the time. Instead of didactically adapting educational material to the medium of the internet and personalizing the information, existing resources and methods were simply copied and put online under the guise of e-learning. People simply didn’t have the skills and tools yet to explore the possibilities of a Learning Management System (LMS), and besides, development costs were still very high back then.
Today, blended learning strategies are rapidly gaining popularity. For years, traditional and linear learning methods were perceived as dull, reactive, and quite unimaginative. During Covid-19, it turned out that moving from the physical classroom to a 100% online learning environment wasn’t that successful either. People simply missed the connection with their trainers and peers – if only to have a motivational chat during the coffee break or to do assessments together. Studies also showed that people had trouble remaining focused during online classes and would only keep their concentration for about an hour.
Thanks to blended learning, learners are much more engaged because of the interactivity that comes with the various elements of the method (like games and role play), the variety of the learning material, and the real-life connection with trainers and fellow students. It provides, according to experts, the best of both worlds in the educational space: combining successful online and in-person methodologies.
2. What is the difference between hybrid and blended learning?
The term blended learning often goes hand in hand with hybrid learning. They even get confused sometimes. So what’s the difference between blended and hybrid learning?
- Blended learning environments enrich students’ educational experiences by using different learning strategies in a sequential way. In-person interaction is combined with a variety of online, digital lessons. The learning model is split between an actual classroom and a virtual classroom. It’s and-and.
- Blended learning uses the best digital tools and online materials to support the content of teachers and classes, but at the same time, students are also encouraged to explore and follow their own path, for instance with different modules on their computer or mobile device. The teacher’s role is to bring those lessons to life and give them meaning and context.
- Like blended learning, hybrid learning involves both a physical and an online learning environment. However, in a hybrid learning model, it takes place simultaneously. Students attend classes either online or offline, and the trainer gives the training, course, or class during a synchronous meeting.
- Hybrid learning is not so much about technology but about finding the right mix of different learning opportunities, whether it is offline or online. The key is that the information is shared effectively, which can vary per person or company.
3. Examples of blended learning
Blended learning in corporate training consists of more than just classroom training by an instructor and e-learning modules. Just think about the many forms of learning we can access today: webinars, white papers, YouTube videos, one-to-one coaching sessions, social learning, gamification, apps, quizzes: anything employees gain knowledge from can be woven into a blended learning solution at work. The possibilities and tools for blended learning are endless.
A famous example of blended learning is flipping the classroom, also known as the flipped classroom. This method aims to create the most active learning environment possible. Students prepare the lesson in their own time (for instance, by taking an e-learning module covering theory or reading a whitepaper), allowing them to focus on hands-on assignments during class, like solving a problem or doing a case together. In a flipped classroom, the learning experience is fun and interactive, leading to better results as students are much more engaged and can apply what they have learned directly.
Flipping the classroom starts with recognizing that listening to a teacher going through a dozen PowerPoint slides to explain a complicated piece of theoretical content is not how most people learn effectively. Flipping the classroom starts before even entering the actual classroom.
Employees should get the opportunity to review the theory beforehand, packaged in fun, engaging, and effective ways: short bite-sized pieces and a mix of video, text, audio, games and quizzes. With such a variety, employees can choose which types of bites fit their learning profile best.
Peter Kuperus, Founder & Managing Director Lepaya
4. Blended learning benefits
The blended approach to learning has many benefits. According to L&D experts, it’s the perfect way to provide customized education for students. Why? Because when a large variety of work formats and tools are used, students have much more opportunities to process the material at their own pace before applying it in the classroom or during a training session. They also have more options to pick from. Just because one person finds online training an enjoyable way of learning doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the case for another, who might prefer to do the self-study by reading a textbook.
Blended learning research also shows that it results in a more profound knowledge of the material. The flipped classroom approach requires students to actively participate during in-person class sessions to practise the theory they studied at home or develop new skills. By doing and experiencing, the information simply ‘sticks’ much better.
5. Advantages of blended learning
The blended learning system has a lot of perks over conventional, in-class education or pure online training:
Blended learning increases engagement, both in schools and universities as in a corporate learning environment. Students can learn face-to-face from trainers and peers, and if they need to work on a new concept or practice, they can access all sorts of useful digital material to help them. The variety and accessibility of this learning method is a great driver for engagement – not to mention the fun aspect.
In a blended learning model, employees can look over online or digital class material at their own pace and when it fits their schedule. They can enjoy easy access to all relevant information at the click of a button and go through the modules again and again, as many times as they like. This flexibility is highly valued, especially by adult learners. It gives them a sense of autonomy over their own learning process. Usually, people find this freedom highly motivating.
Saving time and money
Blended learning can save L&D departments a lot of time and costs. Multinationals, for example, often invite all employees to come to one location when organizing training sessions for their international staff. Just imagine how heavily this weighs on travel expenses! Also, renting a large seminar room for a training session and organizing large-scale events can be very expensive. Blended learning significantly minimizes those operational costs.
In a face-to-face training session, it can be difficult for the instructor to determine whether everyone is on the same page. Some people absorb the material quickly, while others struggle. With an online blended learning platform and a Learning Management Systems (LMS) in place, it’s easy to offer different learning materials: videos, e-books, presentations, quizzes, etc. These tools often contain built-in analytics that can be used to track individual progress, engagement, and attendance. With these data, it’s easy to analyze trends, make improvements where necessary, and help students do even better. Learning becomes more predictable, accurate, and measurable in a blended scenario.
Something for everyone
Not every employee is comfortable with the idea of training that only takes place in a physical classroom. They might be shy in a group or feel insecure when asked to present a case. Others may find online learning platforms complicated and are just not that tech-savvy. Blended learning offers employees the perfect approach; with different ways of learning, everyone can benefit from the opportunities they’re offered to learn and grow.
In large groups, face-to-face training on its own is not always the most effective way to communicate. For example, there might not be enough time to answer all questions or to cover all aspects of the training module in class. With blended learning, learners can interact with their instructor and team members through the digital platform, app, and other communication tools.
A highly valued benefit of blended learning, both by students, trainers, and L&D, is the possibility to collaborate with peers and share feedback during various kinds of sessions.
6. Disadvantages of blended learning
Of course, learning models or methods can also have downsides. So let’s look at it from another perspective and find out if there are any disadvantages of blended learning.
People need basic technical knowledge
When it comes to online classes, digital tools, and working on different devices, you need to have a basic knowledge of technology. If students and teachers lack that, a reliable technical support team must be on board to help out. Sometimes, a short introduction or additional training on new techniques does the trick. Otherwise, instead of helping, the new training system may become frustrating for both trainers and staff.
It can be demanding to set up the internal structure needed to implement blended learning, especially if people have been used to a traditional approach for a long time. Switching to a new method that combines face-to-face and online training takes some effort, adaptation, and practice. It takes time to find the right balance, as with every change. Also, finding the right resources and budget might be challenging.
More workload for trainers
Introducing a new learning approach may overburden trainers – especially in the beginning. They may have to revamp an entire course to make it suitable for the new blended learning approach. Moreover, understanding how a new system works and how to make the best use of it inevitably needs a time investment of trainers.
Wrong use of the online platform
If trainers misinterpret the purpose of an online learning platform, they may start using it as a place to dump loads of educational material they don’t use in class. This density of the material can be disruptive and even demotivating for employees following training.
Not every student has the same level of commitment
In the flipped classroom model, students must do a form of self-study before class. Everyone who’s ever been in school knows that some people come to class having dutifully prepared, and others just casually stroll in, oblivious to the fact they were supposed to do something beforehand. This means the teacher has to waste valuable time by getting everyone up to speed.
7. Blended learning models
Since blended learning is an umbrella term for a mix of different learning methods, there is no single manual available. However, there are various models within blended learning that educators and L&D departments worldwide have been experimenting with:
Blended learning rotation model
This popular blended learning model rotates on a structured schedule, with face-to-face teaching and self-paced online learning alternating. It means that although there is a clear structure, there’s also room for flexibility. This model looks at students’ learning needs and the available resources of the school or organization. Within the rotation model, there are three sub-categories:
- Flipped classroom: in this rotation model, students do their (online) research or study different modules before class. During class, there is enough time for discussions, asking questions, practicing, and personal development under the guidance of a teacher or mentor
- Station rotation: during the training session, students rotate between different learning methods (stations) according to a fixed schedule. It usually involves three stations you can go through in any order: an ‘online learning’ station, the ‘personal instructions’ station, and the ‘group projects’ station. For example, a student completes an assignment online, then asks individual questions to their teacher, and finally participates in a group assignment. Learners are usually grouped by learning styles, skills, or needs
- Lab rotation: students rotate between a computer lab or dedicated space where they do their online learning and then move to a physical classroom to participate in offline activities. Just like the station rotation model, students can easily be grouped according to their skills level or based on the stage of the training they’re at
Flex model of blended learning
In this method, students are provided with the learning material online but have the option to get support from a teacher in the classroom when they need it. The latter usually takes place in a small group setting. When applied in a corporate environment, employees can choose which method to follow for optimal learning outcomes.
A la carte model of blended learning
As the name suggests, with this model, people have the freedom to decide individually which courses they want to take online and which they prefer to follow during face-to-face training. It’s particularly popular in corporate training, as employees have the flexibility to follow an online module during for instance their commute to work if that fits their agenda better. They can also decide to add supplemental modules to the course according to their interests, needs, and personal development plan.
Enriched virtual model of blended learning
With this model, employees follow a schedule provided by trainers who give both virtual and face-to-face training. Sometimes they have to participate in on-site training, but for the most part, they can study the material and engage in exercises virtually.
8. Blended learning effectiveness
Comparative studies show that a blended learning model produces better results than a fully offline or fully online set-up. As it requires employees to learn through different styles and have a proactive approach while studying, it increases student engagement, motivation, and learning efficiency. It also allows trainers to manage their training courses more efficiently, especially when dealing with larger groups. In the traditional classroom, teachers often spend a lot of time preparing hand-outs, grading assignments, and checking attendance, engagement, and progress data. Thanks to the use of technology, many administrative tasks are automated.
Plus, with easy access to data, teachers can evaluate the effectiveness of their courses much quicker and can tweak their lessons and methods on the go. Feedback from employees is another crucial factor for assessing the effectiveness of the system deployed and seeing how it can be improved.
9. Blended learning solution for employee training
When it comes to corporate learning, organizations must realize that every employee has their individual learning preferences, skills level and needs. Accommodating that during employee training makes learning more efficient and enjoyable. That’s why at Lepaya, our entire approach to employee training is based on blended learning methods. We combine (virtual) short classroom sessions with online learning and engaging content via our app. The app explains the frameworks, sends nudges and provides the opportunity to set personal goals in an accessible way.
Instead of focusing on one type of learning format, companies can create an ideal mix that suits their people and learning objectives best with a blended learning program.
However, with the blended learning model, it’s essential that every participant is committed. It can be the role of HR or L&D to make sure that employees understand and believe in this way of learning, and that everyone is motivated to participate on an equal level.Reach out
The blended learning solution comes with many other pros for companies:
- They can reduce costs and address budget constraints in education funding
- They can accommodate an increased number of learners in and outside the classroom
- They can promote self-reliance and life-long learning amongst their employees
- They can remain competitive in providing 21st-century, digital learning environments
- They can respond to the personal needs and learning objectives of adult learners
10. Blended learning best practices
Companies that are thinking about introducing blended learning to the workspace, can follow a number of best practices to make it a success.
Focus on improving learning outcomes
Since there are several approaches you can take with blended learning, you should always choose the one that helps to improve the personal learning outcomes of your employees and fits your company best. The whole point of blended learning is to allow organizations to tailor learning so that their employees are trained in the best possible way.
Measure the impact
Knowing how a learning model affects business operations, in general, is crucial. Introducing blended learning – and thus improving the corporate learning system – should contribute to increased productivity and performance of various departments
Secure the balance
Make sure to maintain the balance between online and offline learning. The idea is that blended learning helps organizations get the best results. However, it should not be used to avoid the responsibility of providing effective, ongoing training, for example, by relying entirely on online platforms to conduct staff training.
Create a shared vision
Everybody is different. Employees may or may not be familiar with blended learning. When something is new, some people may find it difficult to take it seriously or are unable to understand its purpose and benefits. Therefore, employees must share the company’s vision and be on the same page. Appropriate training and face-to-face sessions can help to explain the blended learning approach, emphasizing its benefits. The key is to personalize the experience for them so they see the relevance as they gradually learn and grow.
Continuous personal development of employees is more important than ever to cope with the changing world of work. That is why it is essential to offer training and development to fit today’s way of working. The blended learning model is a truly valuable and effective approach to learning, as it combines elements of online education, digital tools, and in-person classroom activities. The power lies in complementing different learning methods to each other and catering to personal user preferences and needs.
To maximize training results for our clients, Lepaya uses the blended learning model as we believe it pushes the needle forward in the corporate learning space. If you want to know more about Lepaya and our Power Skills trainings, be sure to get in touch!Reach out
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