Designing Blended Learning Is Easier Than You Think

Written by Bill Cushard | Apr 2, 2013 2:27:30 AM

Everyone is talking about blended learning, but that does not mean everyone is doing it. At the 2011 ASTD Techknowledge Conference, Allison Rossett presented results of a study that showed that most learning professionals say that the use of e-learning is important but that very few are actually implementing it. This statement makes me wonder why. My guess is that people make things more complicated than they are. 

This is certainly the case with blended learning. The thought of combining multiple learning modalities, synchronous, and asynchronous learning methods could make one's head spin. But when it comes right down to it, blended learning can be quite simple.

To show you how simple it can be, I will begin this post with a basic definition of blending learning. Then I will talk about a few things to consider when designing a blended learning program. Finally, I will end with an example of a real-life blended learning program that I recently designed.

What is Blended Learning?

Simply put, blended learning combines live, face-to-face training with self-paced on-line training. That is a simple definition, but it does not go far enough. What about mobile learning, performance support, and enterprise social networks? What about conference calls, team meetings, and daily stand-ups? When it comes to blended learning, the possibilities are limited only by the imagination of the learning designer. In essence, blended learning is nothing more than combining different learning methods into one cohesive learning program.

And the best part about blending learning is that it can be used as a technique for improving learning effectiveness and to make your learning programs more accessible to even the busiest people.

But before you dive into designing a blended learning program, you should consider a few things.

Three Things to Consider

Start Simple: The best way to get started in blending learning is to start simple. As you have already gathered, a designer can combine 3, 4, or 5 (or more) learning methods into a blended learning program. I suggest starting with two. Start with a self-paced learning module that explains a new concept. Then follow that up with a live classroom (or virtual classroom) session during which examples and applications can be discussed among the group.

Logical Link Between Modes: The more learning methods you use in a blending learning program, the more logical the link should appear between the different methods. Your learners should be able to look at your program description and easily see how it all fits together.

Clear Instructions and Great Communications: No matter how logical your blended learning program appears, you will need to develop clear communications so there is no ambiguity about how your audience will attend and complete your program.

Now that we know what blending learning is and what to consider when designing a blending learning program, let's look an example of how one program was designed.

A Blended Learning Approach to Management Development

The CEO had just come from attending a team meeting run by one of the line managers in his company. He said to me, "These meetings are a 'train wreck,' and I want managers to run better meetings. Can you make that happen?"

What to do?

At first, I did not know how I was going to solve this problem, but I did know that conducting a formal training class was the last thing that would work in this case. I did not want to remove people from the context of their work to teach them how to change how they work. I wanted to bring the learning to the work instead.

After analyzing the problem, we came up with a three part blended learning program for managers that looked something like this:

Part 1 - Introductory Meeting: To kick off the training, 30-minute meetings were scheduled with groups of managers to explain three things: 1) the purpose of the training; 2) why this group was invited to attending; and 3) to share the expectations of the CEO. Some managers attended in person, and some attended through a virtual classroom. The meeting set the context for the training, so that all managers knew what to expect. In an effort to model the effective meeting method, the session was facilitated using the techniques and agenda template that was taught in the blended program. The managers were not told this at the time.

Part 2 - The e-Lecture: In the second phase of the training, managers completed a self-paced e-learning course that walked them through the effective meeting techniques and showed them how to use the meeting agenda template to organize their meetings. The self-paced course outlined an assignment that required each manager to host a team meeting on their own using the techniques from the class and to be prepare to discuss how it went during part three of the training.

Part 3 - The (Almost) Real World: In the third and final phase of the blended learning program, managers attended a live session (or by virtual classroom) in which they discussed how their real meetings went. This session was facilitated by a trainer and the managers were encouraged to share their successes and failures. The meeting lasted one hour.

One of the benefits of this particular blended learning program was that it brought the learning to the work, by having managers try what they learned on the job and bring back their stories to the group, so managers could learn from each other.

Master the Art of the e-Lecture

The example above is certainly not the only way a blended learning program could be designed. For one, discussions could be held on an enterprise social network, like Yammer, instead of in a classroom. There are limitless ways in which blended learning can be designed.

If you don't know where to start, here's a tip: Take everything you have that is a lecture and use Mindflash to create a self-paced e-learning course to cover that content. For everything else, host discussions by phone, in class (virtual or otherwise), or on an enterprise social network. Start there, and blended learning could be the next big thing you deliver in your organization.

How have you used blended learning? Share your examples in the comments below.

Bill Cushard, authorblogger, and learning experience (LX) designer, is a human performance technologist (HPT) with extensive, in-the-trenches experience building learning organizations in start-up and hyper-growth organizations like E*TRADE, the Knowland Group, and Allonhill. You can follow him on Twitter or on Google+.