Blended learning is the term used to describe the instructional method that involves both face-to-face classroom style instruction as well as the use of online methods. It is also called hybrid learning or mixed-mode learning. A blended curriculum could include:
- a range of instructional methods, from traditional lecture and guided practice to problem-based learning and other approaches, such as games, case studies, simulations, and discussion groups;
- various delivery methods, in or out of the physical classroom, such as videos, eBooks, synchronous virtual classroom, and asynchronous (self-paced or self-guided) eLearning; and/or
- a mixture of moderation and facilitation methods, including instructor-led, peer-to-peer, collaboration, and so on.
For organizations that have not already incorporated eLearning into their enterprise learning strategy, it makes sense to start the transition by shifting a small part of the traditional classroom training online and creating a blended curriculum. Blended learning can provide many benefits to the organization, to L&D managers, and to employees.
- It can integrate seamlessly with the organization’s business objectives, bridging employee skill and knowledge gaps by supplementing existing training practices with additional resources.
- It can address the problem of limited classroom space and offer learning opportunities to employees who have otherwise not had opportunities for professional growth and development.
- Online courses that deliver basic content on a subject make better use of the valuable time of both the instructor and the employees; afterward, a subject matter expert, facilitator, or instructor in a classroom setting can help employees develop a more in-depth understanding of the subject.
- Blended learning enables L&D team members to get familiar with eLearning and to adapt their course development techniques to the online context. It also provides them with opportunities for innovation in instruction.
- A more dynamic method of knowledge transfer that includes a combination of online, face-to-face, and collaborative learning does a better job of engaging employees.
How to get started
There are many ways to blend courses and curricula. To a certain extent, the best way to start will depend on the course itself, the target audience, time available, and expected learning outcomes. However, assuming that you have an existing training calendar and program, you can supplement it with blended learning options in the following ways.
Put introductory courses online: Develop basic or introductory content on a subject into online modules. For example, if new employees have to go through orientation or onboarding, they can first complete online courses that give an overview of the organization and all the essential aspects that do not really need to use the resource of an HR manager. Then, the face–to-face interaction provides more value-added knowledge and an opportunity to clarify doubts or questions that employees might have as a result of the online course content.
Create pre-classroom content: Case studies or problems give employees situations to think about before coming to a classroom session. The classroom interaction can then focus on possible ways to resolve the problem. For example, the case study could be about the customer objectives for a sales person, and employees can discuss their ideas as to how to achieve them. During the classroom interaction, not only will participants get to know the ideas held by the subject matter expert or instructor, but will also get to know the ideas held by peers. Peer-to-peer learning can make the learning value much higher.
Set up a collaborative platform: We know that classroom interaction can limit knowledge gain. Sometimes, the gain is just theoretical. When employees put the theory into practice they may face hurdles or roadblocks and they may or may not have someone to help them. Having a virtual space in which to engage and interact with each other will help them share their experiences, offer suggestions, and learn from each other. The instructor or other experts could then be moderators, facilitators, or even active participants in the group.
Post assessments online: Another simple way to start blended learning is by following up the classroom training with online assessments. We can test the understanding and outcome of the classroom training with summative online assessments that can be in simple multiple-choice format or in a more sophisticated gamification format.
Digital job-aids: Today’s employees are used to accessing information instantly when needed using their mobile devices or tablets. Hosting job aids in the form of videos, podcasts, and eBooks online makes them available to employees as needed. It is important to make these resources accessible via multiple devices and to tag them effectively for easy and quick access.
In summary, the design of blended learning options must make them part of an integrated training curriculum with a planned workflow structure. It means aligning every online resource, be it an eLearning module, eBook, video, podcast, or an assessment to a particular course and classroom curriculum and integrating them as single units with a planned workflow. When you do this, employees who have registered for a course have a clear understanding that they take an online course before attending a classroom session, and then follow it up with an online assessment. They also know what online resources to tap when they need help during the course of their jobs. If done this way, you are much more likely to get better learning outcomes.