Editor’s note: This article on designing blended learning was originally published in February 2015 and has been updated to reflect current practices.
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 diversity 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 prototyped version. 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 learners.
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.