Blended Learning Best Practices

Blended learning refers to adding an online component to instructor-led training or classroom education. But now that technology offers so many varied options, a blended approach has evolved to mean the use of more than one delivery method to provide and enhance training and support. 

Learners in the workplace

Workplace conditions and learning opportunities may be on offer, but without an understanding of the learners themselves, workplace learning cannot be successful. As with learning in any context, there needs to be an appreciation of people's learning backgrounds - for example, their age, literacy and numeracy levels, as well as the characteristics of any social group they belong to. 

Workplace learning should be linked to the organization's or business unit's goals and drivers. There should be explicit alignment between program objectives and business objectives. The goal is relevance. Learning should also be linked to the enterprise's workforce development plans to ensure that they are suitably skilled and able employees in both the short and longer term. In a increasingly competitive labor market, enterprises will need to ensure that they have developed learning that focuses in on the identification, development and retention of talent. 

Enterprises can make the mistake of allowing qualifications and government funding to drive their learning. The enterprise should always start with its drivers and its performance expectations - the specific skills, attributes and behaviours required. Once it has identified its requirements then it can map them to national qualifications. From an enterprise perspective, it should be acknowledged that there may not be a need to deliver full qualifications but rather specific skill sets. Investment in Enterprise Capability Work-Focused Action Learning. 

Workplace learning can be effective, you just need to implement a few critical steps. Getting the right staff is not enough, to be productive and cost effective.  Investing in workplace learning using best practices provides a significant return on investment. \

Advantages OF blended learning

Some of the advantages of using an effective blended strategy include:

  • Designers and learners are not limited to one medium or delivery channel to meet the learning objectives
  • It promotes a continuous learning approach which is more effective at creating change and deep learning
  • It provides more opportunities for social learning, collaboration, increased participation and informal strategies.
  • using both synchronous and asynchronous approaches can provide more opportunities for learners to cultivate skills and apply them
  • There is the potential for faster development and reduced costs depending on the approaches that are selected
  • Technology-enabled delivery can reach a geographically dispersed audience.

Ten best practices

Designing for blended instruction is going to be different than designing for a stand-alone course. In an effort to identify effective design strategies for this approach, here are the best practices.

  1. Design to meet learning outcomes, not to use specific technologies. Choose approaches that will fulfill the learning outcomes rather than focusing on a specific technology. The appropriateness of meeting the learning objectives should take precedence in the design.
  2. Design to meet organizational drivers. Know the underlying purpose of using a blended approach. Is it to reach a wider audience or to meet the needs of varied learners? Whatever the organizational drivers are, be sure to also meet those goals.
  3. Design the synergy. Determine how the components of a blended strategy will fit together as a whole. Link the learning experiences from each component of the blend to each other so they work to reinforce and augment each other. Think in terms of weaving a tapestry. 
  4. Consider learner preferences and use cases. Take learner preferences into account during design and development. Survey the audience to discover the learning environments they prefer. For example, if audience members are isolated from their peers, such as a widely dispersed sales force, they may wish to partake in an online learning community. 
  5. Design from scratch rather than redesign an existing course or curriculum.  In the Handbook of Blended Learning, authors Bonk and Graham recommend taking a free start with your blended design. A blended approach needs a new perspective. If you re-work an existing course, you are already constrained by the previous approach.
  6. Consider the full range of options.  Learning designers have more options now than ever before. There are numerous online technologies and apps. One thing to remember is the on-the-job options, such as coaching, mentoring and shadowing experts.
  7. Find ways to make social and emotional connections. Provide ways to build community, when this is appropriate for the audience and content. Make interaction and engagement part of the blended approach. Social learning is powerful. 
  8. Ensure the asynchronous components are considered as valuable as the live components. Although this may be obvious to eLearning professionals, those who are coming from an instructor-led background  could have a bias toward thinking that classroom training is more important than other approaches. Value all the components that are part of your blend.
  9. Evaluate the program with a pilot.  To evaluate a blended program, start with a pilot version. See if learners can understand how it works and watch to see where people may stumble. Note which aspects are motivating and which are frustrating. Implement a continuous improvement strategy. 
  10. Prepare the learners. Because a blended strategy will be new to many employees, it is important to provide an orientation and rationale for using this approach  You may need to introduce it an an organization level, getting buy-in from upper management.

5 tips for successful blended learning

  1. Plan it out - hardly any successful endeavour starts without a plan. Define key stakeholders as well as roles and responsibilities for the entire initiative. 
  2. Set Phase Gates - Set incremental objectives (goals) and give those dates for completion. This will help you understand if your project is on-track, and what needs to change.
  3. Involve Multiple Stakeholders - Don't just rely on the implementation team, involve people from every stakeholder group (the learners, the instructors and so forth)  
  4. Create Clear Goals - Clearly identify the goals of the entire course, the online portion of the course as well as the live instruction components. Help learners understand the value of the blended approach within the context of the entire course. 
  5. Use Contemporary Tools - The system that you use for the online portion of your course will have a direct impact on its effectiveness. Make sure that it is a modern system.