Originally, blended learning referred to adding an online component to instructor-led training or classroom education. Now, blended learning refers to the use of more than one delivery method to provide and enhance training and support. Though designing blended learning poses unique challenges, this is one way to add continued support for people on their learning journey.
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 performance 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 you select.
Examples of Blended Learning Design
In workplace training, blended instruction can incorporate any strategies that improve on-the-job performance and satisfaction. For example, a blended approach could mean a webinar enhanced with forum discussions and outfitted with mobile support tools. Or it might involve a flipped virtual classroom and working with a mentor. It’s like fitting puzzle pieces together to achieve a holistic learning journey.
Ten Best Practices for Designing Blended Learning
Designing blended instruction is different than designing a course that uses only one medium. You will need a holistic mindset to ensure it all fits together in an effective way. In an effort to identify effective design strategies for this approach, I researched and synthesized the following ten best practices. Also check out Insights for Designing Blended Learning with Jennifer Hofmann.
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. Let the appropriateness of meeting the performance objectives take precedence in the design.
2. Design to meet organizational drivers.
Determine the purpose for using a blended approach. Is it to reach a wider audience or to meet the needs of varied learners? When you align to your organization’s goals, you are more likely to get internal support. This also allows you to tie training to organizational metrics, to better evaluate the success of a program.
3. Design for 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. Check out Insights for Designing Blended Learning (listen or read the transcript).
4. Consider learner preferences and context.
Take learner preferences into account during design and development. Survey the audience to discover the learning environments they prefer or find most convenient. For example, if audience members are isolated from their peers, they may prefer online discussions to self-paced courses.
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 fresh 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.
Although the variety of available learning technologies is exciting, don’t forget about the personalized options. Coaching, mentoring and shadowing experts can be an effective part of a blended learning program.
7. Enable collaborative learning.
Group learning through collaborative projects can be a powerful way to leverage the benefits of social interaction. This also has the potential to enhance learning by combining the group’s cognitive resources. Learn more about how collaboration can reduce cognitive load.
8. Ensure all components are equally valuable.
If you are biased toward technology-based learning or think that in-person learning is more effective, it’s important to develop an objective attitude toward all methods. Select the ones that best support the performance objectives and context. Treat them all as valuable components.
9. Evaluate the program with a pilot.
To evaluate a blended program, start small with a pilot or a prototype. Determine if learners can understand how it fits together and watch to see where people may stumble. Note which aspects are motivating and effective and which are frustrating. Implement a continuous improvement strategy.
10. Prepare the participants.
A blended strategy will be new to many employees. Provide an orientation and rationale for using this approach. You may need to introduce it at an organizational level, getting buy-in from upper management. Participants may enjoy the freedom and diversity in a blended program. Let them know about its benefits.
- Bonk, C. & Grahm, C. The Handbook of Blended Learning: Global Perspectives, Local Designs. Pfeiffer, 2005.
- Glazer, F. & Rehn, J. Blended Learning: Across the Disciplines, Across the Academy. Stylus Publishing, 2011.
- Kineo & The Oxford Group. Blended Learning Today, 2013.
- Oliver, M. , & Trigwell , K. Can “blended learning” be redeemed? E-Learning , 2 ( 1 ), 17 – 26, 2005.
- Schuhmann, R. & Skopek, T. Blurring the Lines: A Blended Learning Model in a Graduate Public Administration Program. The Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 10(2), 2009.
- Singh, H. Building Effective Blended Learning Programs. Educational Technology,
43 (6), 51-54, 2003.
Connie Malamed says
Thank you for your thoughtful comments and insights.
NANCY GAONA says
I enjoyed reading your post. As an educator for the past eight years, this year my educational approach on how I teach has been turned upside down inside out. This year, my school district introduced and began implementing the blended model approach. Every student in my classroom has his or her own chrome book. As a fourth grade teacher this is exciting but a huge change from the traditional classroom setting. The key ideas that resonated with me from your post are how blending learning, in an educational setting in my case, can change the student’s learning experience. I like how you wrote that blended learning could provide a whole new “delivery channel to meet the learning objectives.” This is true, at this time I’m preparing to learn how to flip my classroom so I have more time during class to meet with more students in small groups in order to provide exactly what they need. I’m using Google Classroom to promote discussion board forum style of collaborating with their classmates. Google Classroom also allows me to provide specific feedback on various assignments while providing students to learning at their own pace. Another key idea that resonated with me is how you stated that the focus shouldn’t be about the technology but about the learning objective and how technology can either support or enhance the learning objectives. I have to remind myself that technology isn’t the answers to every educational problem, but it is tool to use to provide effective teaching and learning. Finally, the last part I’m currently learning and being challenged with is how does blended learning look like? I like how you said that blended learning should be done by scratch instead of taking somebody else’s blended learning model. This to me has been the hardest part. Respectfully, my colleagues have different viewpoints about how blended learning looks like in the classroom. Every idea is different. I don’t know who is right or close to understanding the foundations of blended learning. I’m realizing after reading your post that blended learning will look different in my classroom compared to my colleagues depending on my students needs.
Connie Malamed says
Interesting! I haven’t watched the video yet, but I always think of “user friendly” as relating to the user interface and the user experience, not the content. Could it be that?
Nicholas Hobar says
Thanks for the information and leads. One of the experts in mathematics and science teaching and learning, Jim Stigler, had an interesting perspective about online learning related to what we know about “deep” learning supported by research. Thought you might be interested:
I’m struggling with a similar issue insofar as how the comment by elearning users — “it’s not user-friendly” — might really be code for the “struggle” element in quality learning that he talks about. What do you think?
Connie Malamed says
Please don’t misunderstand me. Yes, I think there are good studies. There are hundreds of them and I only reviewed around 10-15. But because research can be flawed, I think it’s best to look at many studies together. And they don’t all focus on the specific aspect you were asking about — meeting learning objectives. For example, they may focus on learner evaluations, meeting organizational needs, appropriate models, literature reviews, survey results, etc.
Generally, there is a lot more research in the K-12 and higher ed arena, particularly regarding adding technology to the classroom. Personally, I am more interested in workplace training that uses a variety of different delivery systems to meet the LOs. So, to a certain extent, we have to extrapolate. I personally didn’t see three studies that stood out as the best, but if you do more extensive research, you may find them! That wasn’t my goal.
I think the authors of the Handbook of Blended Learning, Bonk and Graham, did a good job of capturing some of the main issues and concepts in using Blended Learning in the workplace, though they do cover academia too. Also, I would suggest the book, Blended Learning, Research Perspectives Volume 2. It incorporates many studies and although the focus is on education, you can get a sense of things. Alison Rossett has done some writing in this field too.
I would suggest looking for articles that have literature reviews and from there looking up the specific studies of interest.
Here are two to get you started. I was only able to access the second one:
1. Helms, S. Blended/hybrid courses: A review of the literature and recommendations for instructional designers and educators. Interactive Learning Environments, Vol 22(6), Nov, 2014. pp. 804-810.
2. Gerbic, P. Teaching using a blended approach – what does the literature tell us? Educational Media International. Vol. 48, No. 3, September 2011, 221–234
I hope this helps!
Nicholas Hobar says
So, there are no standout studies that come to mind for blended learning? That’s not a good sign.
Also, who are the foremost experts in this field? For example, in music we had Frank Sinatra, in basketball we had Michael Jordan, in Art, we had Picasso etc. Who are they for Blended Learning. Sure want to talk to them.
Connie Malamed says
I’m sorry, I did not specifically look for that information. You can see my references at the end of the article. Some of the research I saw was a bit older and some was associated with Higher Ed and K-12. You might check out The Handbook of Blended Learning to see what studies are reviewed in there. And Google Scholar too. Let us know what you find.
Nicholas Hobar says
Connie, Can you identify the top three quantitative studies within the past five years about the demonstration of learning objectives as a result of blended learning ?