0320_blendedlearning_Sarah M Stewart

Why Blended Learning Is Really Just Blended Training

Blended learning is a hot phrase in the training world, and it usually refers to a mixing of traditional face-to-face classroom facilitation with computer-based modules — usually self-paced online training. Proponents of blended learning point to several benefits of the approach, including:

1. Blended learning extends training beyond a single “event.”

2. Blended learning allows trainees to absorb training on their own time, leaving valuable classroom time for more skill-building activities.

3. Blended learning saves money by reducing the travel and work-stoppage costs of classroom training.

There’s merit in many of these points. But there are also some holes in that logic that can’t be ignored:

1. The blended learning model doesn’t exactly extend training beyond an event — it simply extends the event. There’s an important difference there.

2. The blended learning model allows for some lessons to be delivered online instead of in a classroom lecture. But whether any of that information is actually absorbed is another question.

3. Done right, a blended learning program can reduce can produce cost savings. But that has nothing to do with learning and performance effectiveness, only money.

It’s Blended Training, Not Blended Learning

Blended learning has really emerged as a buzzword in the last decade. In 2003, the American Society for Training and Development identified blended learning as one of its Top 10 trends to emerge in the knowledge-delivery industry.

And that’s precisely why I’ve never been a fan of blended learning — it’s really not about learning at all.

Look again at what the ASTD describes the industry as: the “knowledge-delivery”industry. There’s a big difference between knowledge delivery and learning. Amazon can deliver a book to my house, but I still have to read it to learn anything.

Webster’s defines learning as the “act or experience of one that learns; knowledge of skill acquired by instruction or study; modification of a behavioral tendency by experience.”

What part of that definition do you think describes how the majority of workplace learning takes place? Without question, it’s the “modification of a behavioral tendency by experience.” (Practice!)

How People Really Learn

Most real workplace learning takes place within people’s work, on the job. It happens through informal sharing, observation, and coaching from peers. It’s learning by actually performing.

Let’s return to the definition for another question: In which section of the definition do you think the work of trainers resides? I believe most of the work of trainers falls in the middle section, “knowledge of skill acquired by instruction or study.”

Most of what trainers do involves transferring knowledge and explaining its potential applications on the job. Explaining something isn’t the same as doing it. And doing it — performing it — is how people really learn.

So in reality, what we’re talking about when we describe blended learning is just how us transferring the responsibility of “delivering content” from a person to a computer. Again, this isn’t a learning strategy; it’s a training strategy.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

If learning professionals can start focusing more on improving people’s performance than on simply “delivering content,” we can create a true “blended” learning model — one that gets away from the “knowledge-delivery” industry.

Online and Classroom Isn’t Enough

Most blended learning models today consist of classroom training and self-paced online courses, which are made up of information on a screen, occasional quizzes, and sometimes some student-to-student (or student-to-instructor) interactions.

As I said earlier, that’s a training delivery strategy. But that’s hardly the only way people learn to do their job.

People learn from one another, from job aids, Internet searches, blogs, webcasts, and countless other places. The challenge for most trainers is that these resources aren’t “approved,” and can’t be tracked and reported on by an LMS.

Approved sources and tracking learning activity are training concerns, not performance concerns. If we really want to enable workers to succeed, we need to focus more on what will really help the most. It’s usually not a course, and it’s usually not a knowledge-delivery system.

We need to start seeing at our role as one of performance support, connecting workers with the resources they need at the time that they need them. Ironically, once we start doing that, we’ll have built a true blended learning model.

David Kelly is the director of training at Carver Federal Savings Bank and ember of the ASTD National Advisors for Chapters. He is also the author of the blog Misadventures in Learning, where he discusses the future of the learning field and curates the backchannel of learning conferences.

For more Daily Mindflash articles on Learning and Development, click here.

Image used under Creative Commons by Flickr user Sarah M Stewart.



  1. “it usually refers to a mixing of traditional face-to-face classroom facilitation with computer-based modules ”

    I think this quote is too narrow, blended learning can be any combination of face-to-face and online activities, which can also be adapted to meet the needs of learners both individually and collectively. In this way, it allows for a far more flexible approach than either classroom or online learning alone.
    A problem I’ve encountered is that the face-to-face element is often used at the start as an introductory session only. After which the learner is left to their own to pursue online learning. How much better would it be if the face-to-face could also be utilised by the learners midway or even on-demand!

    • I completely agree that blended programs ‘should’ include all sorts of touchpoints. Most of what I’ve seen implemented though is simply self-paced online training and face-to-face workshops.

  2. David
    Agree with some of your comments disagree wih others
    the whole term e learning is an arrogant misnomer anyway – as you probably will agree
    combined with measures and assessment of work related competence and change then a true Blended approach can meaure and deliver “learning and change”. It depends how thorough the process is and how many facets there are to the components
    Our approach reflects this….. used internationaly…. your not just stringing training and delivery styles together you are combining these with support, communication, evidence and assessment measurement – really “joining things up”.
    It can be done
    Pete Bennett
    MD LRI

    • It absolutely can be done, and I credit any org that is doing so for their efforts. More commonly though, I see simple blended training being implemented and labelled as blended learning. Hopefully the post (and comments like yours) will open a few eyes that were previously closed to the idea.

  3. Blended learning, is great. Though the only difference is that instead of traditional books and paper pads, students can easily make use of the Internet for resources and information and references as well, provided that there are already references and resources given to them.

    e learning courses

  4. uksuperiorpapers

    This is great! We were just discussing this with the new Sierra College Faculty last week in New Faculty Academy!

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