What is Blended Learning, and Why is it Important?

Most trainers and teachers have heard of blended learning. Perhaps you yourself have tried to incorporate it into your training programs. Still, the term has been used so much that it frequently gets misused. Once one understands what blended learning really is, it becomes a lot easier to see its benefits, and to recognize vendors that are actually offering true value, as opposed to a buzzword.

According to Wikipedia:

“Blended learning is a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through delivery of content and instruction via digital and online media with some element of student control over time, place, path, or pace.”

The idea is that computer-mediated instruction is added to, or combined with, more personal face-to-face instruction. This allows learners to have more control over the learning situation, choosing the time and/or place (for example, home versus office or training center); their path (what they learn); and their pace (the rate at which they absorb content).

In a corporate setting, blended learning has several benefits:

  1. It provides a more personalized training experience. Not every employee knows the same things or has the same questions, which often makes standardized classroom experiences a poor fit for all involved. Adding technology solutions, like an online wiki or content library, allows learners to access just the information they need. Online courses also allow employees the option to choose their own path through topic areas. Although face-to-face instruction and employee-shadowing are still good for getting timely feedback, technology is making strides in this area as well. The net result is a training experience where each learner can focus on the skills and information they themselves need, without having to sit through unnecessary lectures or wade through piles of irrelevant information.
  2. It reduces training costs. Many blended-learning solutions are less costly than on-site or face-to-face training programs. Furthermore, employees can take training courses at home in their spare time, leaving them to be more focused and productive during the workweek. Finally, digital formats allow courses to be updated and expanded with little cost outside of content development.
  3. It offers 24/7 access to training. With most digital assets, all that is needed is a connection to the internet, meaning that time and location limitations are a thing of the past. Learners no longer have to wait for a scheduled training to address their concerns and questions, as the online training resources are always available to help.
  4. Modern Learning Management Systems can track employee use and skill development.
    With the right tools, tracking data on employee use and eventual development is much easier. Today’s solutions can track which employees accessed which assets and courses, when they did so, how much they watched or read, whether they completed a course, and more. Assessment can be done digitally as well. After using the system for a time, employees will have a track record that can be used to inform development and promotion decisions.

All of these are nice benefits, to be sure, but the question remains: What kinds of blended-learning solutions are actually worthwhile? Put another way, how can one tell the real, useful blended-learning solutions from other products simply stamped with that term?

Here are 5 things to look for:

  1. Accessibility. Access to key content should be 24/7 and not require special media or a special player (although a username and password is reasonable). Learners should be able to get what they need easily, no matter where they are.
  2. Learner options. Throwing your classroom training session videos on the web does not make your training a blended solution. Learners should be able to pick and choose the content they want to consume, to some degree. This can be done by providing multiple courses, which themselves are broken down into topic areas.
  3. Pacing and timing. Learners should be able to start, stop, and review/rewind their content to suit them. Same with online evaluation. Training should be timed so that it can fit into employees’ schedules without much worry.
  4. Tracking. As we’ve seen, tracking is one of the main benefits of true blended learning. Be sure that anything you use has the ability to track the right things consistently over time.
  5. Engaging content. Content management systems (by themselves) are not blended learning, nor are tools for online assessments or social learning sites. True blended-learning solutions use different media to deliver needed content. The focus is on content first, technology second.

Few blended solutions come as a complete ready-made package. Instead, they arise out of an approach to training that values what traditional learning digital tools can bring to the table. Combining the best of both worlds is what brings maximum results.

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