What Is Blended Learning?
2020 was a shake-up (to say the least) for workplaces and especially education. Remote work and online learning became the new normal, and blended learning became a key method of adaptation for both educational institutions and organizations and companies needing to engage in employee training.
While we’re not out of the pandemic public health crisis yet, much progress has been made and a lot of activity is going back to, if not pre-pandemic normal, “business as usual.” However, some of the changes to education and workplaces will be here to stay. Though many traditional schools, school districts, and universities are moving to re-establish face-to-face learning, it’s also clear that e-learning methods will become part of a new educational paradigm.
Online learning, with video as a major component, will continue to ramp up in the immediate future for potential reasons of safety as well as supplementing face-to-face education, improving outcomes, and instituting cost-effective instructional methods. If you’re new to the idea of blended learning, check the sections below and we’ll get you up to speed.
- What is Blended Learning?
- Who Should Adopt Blended Learning and Why?
- Pros & Cons of Blended Learning
- Blended Learning Models
- Starting Steps for Blended Learning
- Best Practices
- The Blended Learning Model in Businesses and Organizations
- Final Thoughts—the Future of Blended Learning
What is Blended Learning?
Blended learning is also sometimes known as mixed-mode learning, or hybrid learning/hybrid classroom. In short, blended learning combines in-person learning with varied aspects of online learning. It’s also a broad descriptor with significant variations from course to course—there is no set list of boxes to check that make a class “blended learning,” rather it’s the combination of face-to-face instruction and digital learning techniques or devices. On a class-by-class basis, blended learning can skew in favor of either the in-person or digital direction.
One of the closest to universal definitions of blended learning (as opposed to “online learning, but with occasional in-person meetings” or “tech-rich instruction”) is that blended learning usually errs in favor of giving the learners more personalization and more control over how they approach the course materials. (Note that this freedom also places more responsibility on the student to complete assignments, engage course material, display curiosity, and generally steer their own experience, but we’ll cover that more as we go.)
Three main guidelines for what constitutes blended learning could be expressed as:
- Online learning is a significant component of the course, and students can exercise control over how, when, and where they choose to work.
In a traditional learning paradigm, everyone in a class would do the same work, at the same pace, and usually in the same location.
- Digital devices support this flexibility and allow the opportunity for personalization.
Using online learning techniques and digital devices to support traditionally paced, in-person teaching is “tech-rich instruction,” not blended learning.
- The “classroom” fundamentally shifts instruction to provide an integrated experience.
In other words, it’s not just a digitally enhanced classroom, and while some in-person instruction is an option, it is not automatically considered the “superior option” for the learning experience.
For a deep dive into the specifics of how to define blended learning, as well as research and use cases, you can also take a look here.
Who Should Adopt Blended Learning and Why?
Educational institutions from primary/secondary education to universities and professional schools have increasingly adopted blended learning techniques as a part of their toolkit over the past decade and expanded their use greatly during 2020-21. Partly due to the recent disruption, corporate and organizational learning have also started to catch up with the trend. So, in short, any learning environment can potentially benefit from instituting blended learning techniques, however, different types of organizations will be looking for different outcomes, from formal education to simply professional training.
There are several major advantages to introducing a blended learning strategy:
Customized and Optimized
All types of learners and learning styles can be accommodated in a blended environment, in a way that feels individualized. In a course that neither has the hard limitations of a classroom or an online-only environment, students can find the technique that works best for them, whether a more “traditional” classroom-style lecture, a less structured and more online approach or a mixture of the two.
New Trends: Data and Feedback
Due to being a combination of online and offline techniques, instructors are quickly able to incorporate leading advancements and trends in the learning space without completely overhauling course instruction and curriculum. Additionally, if an LMS (Learning Management System) is integrated into the courses, its data reporting can be used for deeper insight into student engagement and success. Feedback and virtual spaces also allow students to discuss courses and practice skills, so they’re learning actively and demonstrate superior retention.
While there is an inevitable investment in technical infrastructure required, past a certain point blended learning can prove more cost-effective than face-to-face class training. Blended learning options can cut down on commuting expenses for teachers and students alike and have wider positive effects on overall expense. (Less physical infrastructure may be required, materials created for online learning can be re-used, etc.)
In organizations other than educational institutions (businesses, etc.), with the technology in place blended learning has a lower price tag than full-time traditional learning. Travel costs can be lessened, instructor time can be optimized, and overhead reduced.
Interactive experiences drive engagement, reinforcing in-person instruction through online practice that includes a variety of different media content. As learners must make decisions about which type of content and learning style they engage in, they’re more invested in the overall experience as they chart their own course. The course community as a whole also keeps individuals engaged. Additionally, the community feedback keeps instructors advised and informed about students’ progress and identifies areas that need improvement.
Blended learning, particularly with strong e-learning components, can be potentially global in its reach, serving diverse individuals at different levels of understanding and expertise. E-learning aspects are able to manage aspects of language interpretation and travel that would otherwise be a barrier. As we’ve noted previously, students are also able to take the lead in their experience and choose how and when to interact with course material—for instance being able to accelerate through a familiar course topic, or to be able to review sections and material multiple times in areas they need more study.
Pros & Cons of Blended Learning
It’s important to evaluate the application of blended learning for your own organization, and while there are many advantages, it’s not without drawbacks.
Here are some of the pros and cons as we see them:
Convenience and flexibility: Learners are afforded convenience and flexibility through the ability to do course work and/or attend classes remotely as well as set their own pace as they progress through the course material.
Comprehensive understanding: Studies have shown that self-directed learning frequently results in a higher level of comprehension and mastery of a topic. Similarly, high engagement is also linked to better student outcomes. Blended learning empowers the student in both these areas, allowing them to direct a significant portion of their experience and focus on areas of high interest. At the same time, if a student gets stuck while working on their own, the instructor and fellow students are there to help them overcome barriers and get back on track.
Supports social and collaborative learning: Rather than more passive modes of online learning (for instance watching online lectures, or even working through online exercises, which have no capability for student feedback) blended learning stresses an interactive aspect with both instructors and coursemates. Physical presence and collective/collaborative learning are necessary components of the experience. This can be particularly beneficial in workplace environments, as we’ll explain further in a later section.
Heavy reliance on technology and/or LMS: Learning with a strong online and/or digital component requires that your tools (i.e., computers, software, and networks/network connections) are reliable, up-to-date, and reasonably accessible and user friendly. Generally, a blended learning program should include some element of tech support.
Self-paced learning can be difficult to monitor, and will require assessment: In video learning programs, for instance, students may either fail to watch the videos or binge-watch in a way that might be bad for pacing and course comprehension. Good quality blended learning would provide options for instructor monitoring and assessment such as adding checkpoints or verification of online participation, and clear analytics for student success.
Courses may not be optimized for online: One of the hard lessons learned in 2020 is that simply putting what was previously an in-person class online does not guarantee the same outcomes. An effort will be required by both institutions/organizations and instructors to get the course material in shape to engage students, or they’ll be faced with a “lean-back” experience where the learner’s attention is easily lost.
Transition time is possible: Per the above point, barring an emergency, it’s ill-advised to abruptly switch gears to a blended learning strategy. Having the proper tech infrastructure in place, building in learning goals, and being able to assess what is and isn’t working with your content is best treated as a gradual process, or at least one that should be oriented to achieving milestones. A sudden shock to the system might do more harm than good.
Blended Learning Models
There are several models of blended learning, and as this is a fairly new field, new innovations are still arriving. However, we’ve identified five primary models already in wide use that can create a basis for understanding the balancing act between in-person and remote learning:
This is a style of blended learning where students do most of their learning and preparation at home, and their time in a traditional classroom environment is spent doing applied problem solving and other exercises supervised by an instructor. Home learning has a heavy online component and can include various aspects such as watching lectures, doing reading, performing research, and joining online discussions. It’s referred to as “flipped” because activities usually associated with “homework” are done in the classroom, and more passive learning is done at home.
“Rotation” style courses see students going from one learning activity to a different learning activity (see also “class rotation” below). Sessions are either led by an instructor or self-directed online learning. In this case, learners spend part of their day or course time in a computer lab working through the curriculum online at their own pace. For the other part of the course time, they are in a traditional classroom with an instructor to reinforce what they learned in the lab section and ask questions.
This type of blended learning is more likely to involve a strong on-site presence and is also known as station rotation. The class is broken up into smaller groups who rotate at intervals between learning stations, with the instructor monitoring and directing the entire class. The learning stations can feature activities that are oriented to face-to-face teaching, computer or online activity, or guided practice.
Flex learning is frequently defined as “a course in which online learning is the backbone but may direct students to offline activities.” An example would be smaller breakout rooms organized around a central computer learning lab. Students would work on computers in this central lab. However, a teacher or instructor might take individuals or groups of students out of the lab for seminars, direct instruction, or one-on-ones.
Also referred to as “micro-schools,” these sometimes formed on an ad hoc basis during Covid lockdowns. Learning pods are a type of blended learning that relies on virtual instruction delivered by the main teacher or instructor who is assisted by in-person facilitators. The arrangement can take varied forms, but in primary/secondary education, learning pods may also fulfill basic needs that emerge when schools abruptly shift to remote learning (as in 2020), including providing adult supervision for young students or wifi access for the underprivileged.
Starting Steps for Blended Learning
If you’re just entering into the online or blended learning space, the best thing you can do is get oriented and read some articles to get up to speed (like this one). A solid understanding of what boxes online learning needs to tick for your organization is essential, and as we pointed out above, another key factor will be to have an adequate tech infrastructure in place.
However, if you’re a little further from the online learning starting line and have a better idea of what is going to work for your organization/institution, educators, and learners, (and what technical capacity you have) then you should start planning out your curriculum and blended learning program and deciding which pieces work better online and which would function better as instructor-led sessions. From there your path is finding the best solution to host online learning. Ideally, it should blend seamlessly (no pun intended?) with in-person sessions and integrate well with any existing video learning environment and/or LMS you have in place.
We won’t beat around the bush that we think Kaltura’s Video Cloud Platform for Education is an outstanding choice for a solution: It’s purpose-built for learning and communication and collaboration between students and instructors. Our system supports remote teaching and learning via virtual classrooms, in-person and online lecture capture, and video-on-demand media management that’s fully controllable and customizable. Click through the link for more details on our education platform and video platform, and how they can help you get ahead of the curve when instituting online learning and particularly a blended learning or hybrid classroom approach.
Making the most of combined at-home and in-class effort does require effort, not just in investing in technology solutions, but particularly from instructors and learners. Generally speaking, blended learning works best for learners/students who are independent and engaged—and instructors and organizations can follow a few best practices to get the learners in that headspace. For one, make sure to clearly convey why the course benefits from combining independent and class-based learning.
The reasons that make a blended learning delivery method ideal for your course may vary, including the inability of some students to physically attend (for reasons of public emergency or any other reason!), providing more flexibility for learners in a work environment (we’ll cover that further down), or because the specific class subject lends itself to individualized research or hands-on practice. But make sure you let the students in on how the format is central to the course, and that it’s intended to empower them to make their own decisions about how to progress through the learning material. At the end of the day, this is about student success and learning retention!
Secondly, the reach of blended learning courses is not the only thing that can be diverse: incorporating as wide a range of learning activities as possible in your course will drive engagement for all learning types as there will be a little of something for everyone. Some people, for instance, prefer to learn by reading, others by absorbing video or in-person lectures, and still others by hands-on activities. Online quizzes, on- or offline group discussions, and even games are ways to reach out and engage your students.
Finally, leverage the power of media and the most powerful learning tool in human history: the internet. Online modules can be paired with in-class presentations, and online research can be a significant supplement to the presented material. Prompts can be given to students to discover facts and answers to questions through their own research, and then return with them to an in-person class for group discussion.
The Blended Learning Model in Businesses and Organizations
As we mentioned above, while schools and educational institutions have been taking steps toward blended learning techniques for some time (only to have those practices solidify and become more widespread during 2020’s health crisis) corporate learning is just now catching up to the model.
Learning engagement in the workplace can also be a bit different than the “teacher, students, class” scenario outside work. In “education” as it’s normally understood, the explicit relationship is that students are either required to be there to learn necessary skills (as in primary/secondary to post-secondary education) or have specifically opted into a course of instruction, possibly at the exclusion of other full-time activity (like colleges or trade schools). However in a workplace, the focus of employees is more specifically their job functions, and requiring additional training or learning might be seen as an added burden that can eat into their job productivity. Nonetheless, an engaged learner is an effective learner. It’s a difficult needle to thread, but the good news is blended learning can put the process more on your employee’s terms, which will both boost morale as well as provide better trained and more productive staff.
The good news for bringing training, professional development or other learning activity into your organization is that successfully implemented blended learning allows more flexibility for your employee learners. It avoids the “one size fits all” approach, makes it possible to integrate learning into their working lives, and allows them to engage with a variety of different materials. Furthermore, training or other necessary learning activity need not feel like a time-drain on day-to-day work; courses can instead combine or alternate online and self-directed activity with the in-person sessions. With “hybrid classroom” models in education, for instance, physical attendance is frequently optional. Students can attend any class in person or by virtual means so long as they clearly notify the instructor of their preference. There’s no reason this couldn’t also be implemented in a workplace environment.
Additionally, choice and freedom in how learning is approached can build workplace morale by signaling trust in your employees to successfully steer their own course. It also fosters improved relationships between employees through collaborative-style learning, which is greatly supported by online learning formats. Finally, in a corporate or organizational setting, blended learning is appealing to younger generations who have already (as sections of this article would indicate) become comfortable with digital learning formats.
Final Thoughts—the Future of Blended Learning
Some studies have shown that blended learning methods can be more effective than a standard, face-to-face lesson in a traditional classroom. Allowing students to engage on their own can be more effective than an instructor spending hours explaining concepts on blackboards or overheads. Blended learning techniques aren’t flawless (not yet, anyway) and require a solid, existing technical infrastructure for online learning as well as a certain amount of buy-in from teachers and students. However, they can potentially improve efficiency with time, overhead, and outcomes. Additionally, the added flexibility for learners to tackle a curriculum outside of a designated classroom space and at their own pace on their own time is a definite innovation on traditional teaching. Look for blended learning to both continue adding new techniques and iterations as well as expand in popularity in the immediate future.
Leverage the best platform for your blended learning program. Try Kaltura Virtual Classroom for free, today!