What is 'blended learning'?
The 'blend' in blended learning means that a learning programme is studied through a mix of conventional, face-to-face classroom sessions led by a trainer combined with online or computer-based learning activities. The online space where the course materials and activities are made available is known as a virtual learning environment. Online activities can be studied on an individual basis or several learners can come together to collaborate on online group activities. The degree of 'blend' depends on the individual course or on the needs of those who create, manage or study it; the more online study there is, the closer the course gets to a 'distance learning' format. A programme delivered via blended learning is also sometimes referred to as 'hybrid course'.
What happens during the online elements of blended learning?
There are many different mechanisms for delivering learning online and the methods chosen will depend on the material being studied, the learners on it and the desired learning outcomes. Typical online learning resources found on a virtual learning environment such as Moodle include:
- Video or audio recordings of input from trainers
- Online books or journals or company documents
- Links to relevant external websites
- Discussion forums and 'live chat' forums
- Collaborative resources such glossaries or 'Wikis' that all learners can contribute to
- Facilities to allow learners to upload completed work such as assignments and reports
- Online quizzes to assess ongoing progress
- Links to free, pre-prepared learning packages called 'Open Educational Resources' (OER)
- Learning objects prepared using software such as Articulate which combine several of the features above.
What are the advantages of blended learning?
Blended learning is particularly appropriate for adult learners undertaking professional development or updating their work-related skills. It also has many advantages for employers and the trainers who deliver courses using it.
For the learner the advantages are:
- Materials can be studied at a time and location which suits the individual allowing them to undertake flexible study which suits them, their family and their work patterns. This control over 'time, place, path, and pace' gives participants control and ownership of their learning
- As well as mastery of the main learning outcomes, learner ownership helps to develop important self-management skills and virtual learning environment use develops essential IT skills
- Blended learning allows work to be done at a flexible pace unlike a classroom session; learners can revisit and review material as many times as they wish
- A variety of activities makes the programmes more challenging and engaging providing a mix of group projects, small or large whole group instruction and one-on-one support as needed.
For the employer, the advantages are:
- Once a course is set up it can be re-used or updated easily for the next cohort of learners; this gives the potential for significant cost savings in the training budget
- Learners do not have to be taken out of the work environment to complete the course and can study 'at their desks' at a time that fits in with the business cycle of their organisation, another cost-saving feature
- Resources can be differentiated to be tailored for a range of ability or experience levels; more senior or experienced staff can be given additional resources, others can be provided with additional support
- Programmes can be tailored to fit the needs of the company allowing learners to work on group projects with realistic scenarios and targets – even learning using 'real' work tasks in a supported environment
- Tutors can provide employers with detailed reports of participation on and completion of course tasks.
To find out more about how a bespoke virtual learning environment or a tailored blended learning programme can help you to grow the skills base in your company contact Lynne Taylerson at firstname.lastname@example.org.