Why I’m Married to Blended Learning

I fell in love with blended learning in grad school. Allison Rossett and Rebecca Frazee’s white paper for the AMA back in 2006 expanded my understanding of what blended learning could be. It became the foundation for how I practice my craft as an instructional technologist and designer.

Blended learning is more than just a combination of online and face to face instruction. A blend can combine synchronous and asynchronous technologies.

Learners can experience a class at any time with on-demand classes in a Learning Management System. These old-school CBTs are a staple of compliance training and onboarding for a good reason. They sidestep the hassle of scheduling multiple people to get together in the same place at the same time. They free up a trainer from delivering the same lecture again and again. But they’re limited in what they can achieve. A recorded lecture or narrated powerpoint presentation with a quiz falls well short of the magic that can happen between live people engaged in dialogue with one another.

Synchronous blends can include people in the same room, on the same conference call, or all logged on to a webinar. If learners need feedback and flexibility, include a synchronous event in your blend.

Blends can also be formal and informal. Learning takes place every day on the job. Not just in the ways we track. Consider blending in coaching. What about a lunch and learn? Would a just-in-time tool like a cheat sheet help learners get the job done?

I propose a blended strategy that combines online and face to face instruction, synchronous and asynchronous learning, and formal and informal training programs for one simple reason — Engagement.

Learning is typically an invisible process, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t physical changes that happen as we learn. As we learn new information and skills the axons and dendrites in our brains connect with one another. A myelin sheath forms around those connections. The better we know the material, the thicker that sheath becomes.

When I say Engagement, I’m not necessarily talking about edge-of-your-seat thrills. That’s tough to do with limited budgets and time and we all have a lot to do. I’m talking about engaging that axon and dendrite to strengthen that connection.

You wouldn’t expect to get back in shape by going for one jog. Why expect a one-day training session to give you the skills you need for your job? Skills take practice. Build that neural connection over time. Blend together different learning activities to develop those skills.

eLearning developers are often miscast as mere deliverers of information. Our real job is to give learners a chance to practice the skills they need to get better at the work they do when they’re not taking training.

I’m married to the idea of blended learning, because I’m committed to engaging learners in a wide variety of ways. I hope my message rings true with you. This kind of engagement is hopefully a lasting and permanent change. Isn’t this what we hope for with our learners? Avoid a strategy that treats training like a one night stand. Commit instead to a lifetime of blending learning strategies for results.