Best Practices in Blended Learning

Originally, blended learning referred to adding an online component to instructor-led training or classroom education. But now that technology offers so many varied options, a combined approach has evolved to mean using more than one delivery method to share and improve training and support. This is the way of the future.

Advantages of blended learning
Some of the advantages of using an effective combined strategy include:
- Designers and students are not limited to a delivery medium or channel to meet learning objectives.
- Promotes a continuous learning approach that is most effective in creating change and meaningful learning.
- Provides more opportunities for social learning, collaboration, greater participation and informal strategies.
- The use of synchronous and asynchronous approaches can offer more opportunities for students to cultivate skills and apply them.
- There is the potential for faster development and reduced costs, depending on the selected approaches.
- Delivery with technology can reach a geographically dispersed audience.

Examples

In workplace training, combined instruction can incorporate any strategies that improve performance and job satisfaction. For example, a combined approach could mean an enhanced webinar with forum discussions and equipped with mobile support tools. Or it can involve an inverted virtual classroom and work with a mentor.

 Ten best practices

Designing for combined instructions will be different than designing for a standalone course, see ten best practices below.

 1. Design to meet learning outcomes, not to use specific technologies.

Choose approaches that satisfy learning outcomes, rather than focusing on a specific technology. The adequacy of meeting the learning objectives must take precedence in the design.

 2. Design to meet organizational drivers.

Know the underlying purpose of using a combined approach. Is it to reach a wider audience or to meet the needs of varied students? Whatever the organization's motivators, make sure you also achieve those goals.

3. Design for synergy.

Determine how the components of a combined strategy will fit together as a whole. Link the learning experiences of each component of the merge together so that they work to reinforce and extend each other. Think in terms of weaving a tapestry.

4. Consider student preferences and use cases.

Take into account student preferences during design and development. Research the audience to discover the learning environments they prefer. For example, if audience members are isolated from their peers, such as a widely dispersed sales force, they may want to participate in an online learning community.

5. Design from scratch instead of redesigning an existing course or curriculum.

A combined approach needs a new perspective. If you rework an existing course, you are already limited by the previous approach.

6. Consider the full range of options.

Learning designers have more options now than ever before. There are numerous technologies and applications online. One thing to remember are the options at work, such as coaching, mentoring and specialists.

7. Find ways to make social and emotional connections.

Provide ways to create community, when appropriate for the audience and the content. Make interaction and engagement part of the combined approach. Social learning is powerful.

8. Ensure that asynchronous components are considered as valuable as active components.

While this may be obvious to eLearning professionals, those who come from instructor-led training may have a tendency to think that classroom training is more important than other approaches. Value all the components that are part of your mix.

9. Evaluate the program with a pilot.

To evaluate a combined program, start with a pilot version. See if students can understand how it works and watch to see where people can trip. Observe which aspects are motivating and which are frustrating. Implement a continuous improvement strategy.

10. Prepare students.

As a combined strategy will be new to many employees, it is important to provide guidance and justification for using this approach. You may need to present it at the organizational level, gaining adherence from top management.