How do you create a perfect blend of the various learning components?

The learning landscape is not constant, shifting the learning focus on learners, learning, skills, goals and attitude. A decade ago, there was a tug of war for the online and the traditional learning. The tussle continues even to this day with the learning modalities of both online and traditional learning overlapping in terms of treatment, elements, and components. However, the learning pundits and the instructional designers constantly innovate to create a perfect blend of the best of various learning modalities. The intent is to create an experiential, and engaging learning environment. The impetus is the Dale’s Cone of Learning, with the underlying principle of replicating the practical, hands-on experience to enable the learners to remember best what they do.

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Introduction

In a world, not so long ago, blended learning was the norm. Before education moved to the confines of a traditional classroom, training was imparted through experiential learning and lessons had ‘show me’ and ‘let me’ ways of training. Many of these addressed psychomotor domains like hunting, archery, rock climbing, and even cooking. The Indian Gurukul system used various forms of learning, including cognitive, like reading the scriptures to more physical forms, like practising martial arts, weaponry, handicraft, economics and administration.

All current military training depends on a blend of learning, such as classrooms, simulators and field practice etc.

In Harry Potter movies, Severus Snape’s classroom has a perfect mix of very traditional teacher-pupil relationship, coupled with experiential learning, where Snape is in complete control of the student’s behaviour, presenting an opportunity for the young wizards to mix ingredients and create potions.

Today, technology has revolutionized the world in more ways than imagined, and has definitely impacted education too. It has opened many doors and has offered many fantastic options to blend the learning approaches and create a comprehensive learning experience.

Learning Components

There is an ever-growing list of learning components that can be variously combined to create a solution suitable for addressing the defined learning objectives. Some of the components that can be blended into an effective learning curriculum are:

·         Classroom Training ·         Interactive Web-based Training
·         Self-paced Training ·         Email communication
·         Print-based workbooks ·         On-line job aids
·         Virtual classroom ·         On-demand learning & Collaboration (i.e. NetMeeting – Centra – etc.)
·         Video presentations ·         Interactive Computer-based Training (CD-ROM)
·         Distance Learning ·         On-line mentoring
·         On-the-job-training ·         Chat-rooms
·         In-person mentoring ·         Web-based community
·         Knowledge Management System

Blended Learning Models

So, how would you select the right fit for your learning? Would you use a strategy or stay flexible on the strategies when designing a curriculum?

A well-thought out strategy and design guarantees better outcome. There are some blended learning models that offer approaches to address multiple learning needs.  They are – the Rotation model, the Flex model, the Self-Blend model and Enriched Virtual model.

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Rotation Model

As the name suggests, the rotation model is about rotating around different modalities of learning, with at least one section administered online. There is a fixed schedule or predefined activities, designed for the learners, either through an algorithm or by a trainer. The activities could range from group discussion to individual online learning, with everything in between.

The design could primarily be a traditional brick-and-mortar learning with an online component that provides the opportunity to research and/or to complete assignments and homework. Depending on the blend of traditional and online activities in the course, this model has subsets like station rotation, lab rotation, flipped learning, and individual rotation.

Flex Model

Blended model has had the classroom as its base  of digital components providing the much needed experiential learning, giving the flexibility to the learners to choose their own schedules in case of asynchronous learning or locations in synchronous learning. You can learn more about these by clicking on the Hyperlinks.

In flex model, online learning is the main modality of learning. The trainer may be available for a face-to-face support, or through online forums, chats, onsite mall-group instruction, group projects, and individual tutoring, depending on the individual requirements. Study material is primarily delivered online.

Although teachers are in the room to provide on-site support as needed, learning is primarily self-guided, as students independently learn and practice new concepts in a digital environment.

Self-Blend Model

In the self-blend model, a learner takes extra courses, beyond the offered curriculum. The learner may attend a traditional classroom. In addition, they can also opt to supplement their learning through online courses offered remotely. Self-blend model is suitable for highly-motivated learners.

Enriched Virtual Model

This is a blend of online and brick-and-mortar classroom sessions. Each modality forms a complete session, required for a complete learning. The components are mutually exclusive, yet interdependent, none replacing the other. A learner has to attend both the components as neither is optional. A face-to-face session with the trainer is a part of the planned schedule, as are the online sections.

Advantages of Blended Learning

Nowadays, the norm is to use different forms of training with  a spectrum of audience. Learning is not confined to the four walls of schools, universities, or professional institutes. It is also the most important HR function of any organisation of repute.

However, with the increasing use of technology in learning, deciding the right tool and correct instructional approach has become a major challenge, requiring the expertise of the professionals.

Hence, knowing our options and analysing the correct solutions to any learning needs help in creating cost-effective, goal-oriented, and skill-enhancing courses.

  • Blended learning offers the best of multiple modalities, giving the flexibility to create personalised learning experiences.
  • Blended learning can offer a 24/7 online access to training resources, thereby, removing the time and location limitations.
  • Tracking learning, and performance can become convenient, especially when using online assessments. Use of xAPI in course development makes it especially easy to track every activity contributing to learning.
  • One of the main advantages of blended learning is the cost effectiveness, improving the feasibility and return on investment (ROI) of training. Blended learning can be instrumental in slicing into a chunk of expenses associated with travelling, logistics, and trainer fees.
  • Standardisation is a core issue of any learning and instructional designers make it one of their prime objectives to standardise all courses across various platforms. Blended learning components make it possible to achieve this through its online, and virtual learning segments.

Best Practices

  • Focus on the expected learning outcomes first and plan the technologies later. A training need analysis exercise is not only essential, but mandatory. Depending on the required outcomes, it is significant to suggest and convince the client to consider an appropriate alternative,
  • Focus on organisational goals and key performance drivers. Design for the key performance drivers.
  • Make it simple and easy. The learning experience should be easily transmutable into actions and should transfer to the job.
  • Make it engaging. Design sufficient activities, course interactions and assessments for motivation and performance evaluation.
  • Monitor progress and learning effectiveness of the blended learning solution.
  • Add the collaborative element into your blended learning design. Create various forum and project groups to create team synergy. Communicate the collaborative opportunities in the course design.
  • Run a pilot and test the learning solution. Use the peer groups that can give honest feedback. Alternatively, create a control group to test the effects.

Conclusion

With the advances in technology, there is no limit to the number of creative ways for designing effectual learning. There are more ways to juggle modalities and create a learning experience that is ever lasting and useful to the learner.

Life gives a blend of learning opportunities and it makes sense to replicate it and create a blended solution for a comprehensive experience in formal learning.

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By Sarika Nanda

Sarika is a blogger, a writer, instructional designer and corporate trainer. She is a seasoned professional in the eLearning space, consults for various global organizations. She likes sharing and discussing best practices for improving learner engagement and learning outcomes at workplaces.

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