The Benefits of Blended Learning

Barry Kelly
May 23, 2018

When the world began embracing online self-paced courses, many organizations worked to move all of their learning online. Online learning began to be viewed as the holy grail of scale. While the numbers of self-paced online learning have steadily grown—it’s predicted that 50% of all classes will be delivered online by 2019—many learners choose a balance of blended learning options, both in-person and virtual experiences to better suit the way they learn.

There are many benefits to offering both of those synchronous options. Scheduled events that happen at a particular time force learners to make a strong commitment to learning, creating a compelling event and motivation to engage. They also offer the safety blanket of a moderator or instructor who is available to fill in the gaps, evaluate proficiency, and offer feedback. This inherent structure of events, workshops, and other live and in-person learning opportunities gives many learners a sense of comfort.

On the other side of the aisle, self-paced learning offers just as many benefits for both learners and training organizations. Learners are able to grow their knowledge anytime, anywhere, and on their own terms. This is the perfect option for busy and unpredictable schedules. For an organization that’s delivering learning, self-paced online learning can be a very scalable product offering.

Is blended learning more valuable?

If both options have their clear benefit, why not do both? Market data supports that you should. In a report by the U.S. Department of Education, they noted that “in recent experimental and quasi-experimental studies contrasting blends of online and face-to-face instruction with conventional face-to-face classes, blended instruction has been more effective.”

A blended approach to learning helps your business leverage both a la carte learning and curated learning paths simultaneously, providing benefits for the learner from each. Choice means that your customers can pull down whatever they want from the learning shelves when they need it.

A la carte blended learning options

A la carte offerings cater to learners who want to take a more free-form or personal approach to what they learn and in what sequence. The ultimate benefit for the learner is the choice and flexibility to suit their personal preferences. They can select from learning catalogs to design their own effective method of learning, switching between asynchronous and synchronous experiences as they progress, choosing the most appropriate medium as their learning evolves and time and availability permits.

For the learning organization, building a variety of flexible learning experiences offers a more scalable approach to product creation. With it, you’re able to appeal to different kinds of learners efficiently, with content, microlearning, and interactive learning for those who prefer self-paced experiences and different product offers for those who want to learn in person.

Building your product line in this way helps to ensure you don’t ignore an entire segment of your learning population. Some organization may choose to offer all-online, self-paced, take-it-or-leave-it learning and others may favor learners who must turn up to a specific place, date, and time with no other options. The greatest benefit comes from developing both, as your organization will be able to create more appeal, have a broader product catalog, and scale quickly and effectively.

Curated learning paths or programs of learning

Curating a specific set of learning around a topic area takes a different approach. Sometimes, it may make sense for learners to follow a defined learning pathway that offers multiple delivery modalities. For instance, they may start with pre-learning and reading, followed by a self-paced experience or an assessment, and then head to a conference or an in-person event. As follow up to the event, they do some reading, attend a virtual event, step through a self-paced exercise, and so on, until they receive a certificate and complete their learning path.

Learning paths offer a blended learning use case where you’ve carefully curated the logical and most beneficial steps for learners. They often will require the expertise of an instructional designer to build fluid learning that builds logically on itself through a variety of content types. The goal on the part of the organization is to remove the guesswork for learners, to recommend the best way to go about learning about a particular product or topic most effectively.

This will generally mean identifying the parts that can be done at home, the topics that are best learned in person, and the things learners will need to know before they attend an event or workshop. With curated learning paths, aim to deliver learning in a logical sequence that builds on itself.

Develop training content for the right medium

Context and subject matter are important in what you create for your customers, and you’ll want to utilize the right tools for the job. This is where contextual learning comes into play. For instance, subject areas around how to use a physical product can be difficult—if not impossible—to deliver fully online.
In product industries such as medical devices, engineering equipment, and other non-digital products, learners can only progress so far through reading and watching. There are of course certain lessons that can be delivered through pre-learning, but the bulk of contextual education for physical products requires in-person learning. Learners need to interact with the product to learn how to best utilize it to fill their need, and this is a great use case for blended learning.

For instance, your audience might engage in a learning pathway that offers foundational understanding through a series of articles, videos, and quizzes. Then, a workshop or other in-person demonstration helps them put all the pieces together, offering a chance to apply that new knowledge as they get hands-on with the real item. Understanding what you deliver in learning and the context learners will need to best cement their knowledge should always help inform the type of learning products that you make available across your entire learning line.

Keeping learners engaged through blended learning

In their 2018 report, “Blended Learning in Practice,” the eLearning Guild writes, “Blended learning is the framework that connects instructional technologies and techniques together, providing a solution that meets the needs of modern learners and a business climate that’s increasingly mobile, global, and reliant on social collaborative technologies.”

Blended programs have become the best way to keep learners engaged and deliver a variety of interactions types that keep things interesting. With different learning styles, some people absorb information differently when they can read or watch, think more deeply, stew over it versus sitting a room for a day to watch presentations. Blending both in your product offerings helps ensure a diversity of the overall learning experience to make learning beneficial for all involved.

Make sure your learners have a positive experiences and stay engaged. As their knowledge grows and their skills get stronger, they’ll associate their success with your organization. When you retain them as customers longer, they become a better educated user base—and that influences your bottom line.
Which makes blended learning good business for everyone.

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