Blended Learning: Definition, Models, and Tools
The question of whether blended learning is effective concerns training professionals as much as those who wonder if blended scotch is good. As with scotch, the answer depends on the balance. So, what is blended learning, what do we blend, in what proportions, and why has it been drawing so much attention in the past 10 years?
What Is Blended Learning?
Blended learning is a learning approach that combines instructor-led brick-and-mortar classroom training and online learning activities.
Unlike full-fledged eLearning, the online portion of the training doesn’t replace face-to-face training with a teacher; teachers incorporate technology to enhance the learning experience and broaden understanding of certain topics. For example, they can share a link to a video and offer students to watch it at home, email their review to a teacher, and then discuss it in class.
Here are some more examples of how it works:
However, it would be a mistake to say that blended learning is just live training complemented with some additional online resources.
What Is the Difference Between Hybrid and Blended Learning?
Along with blended learning, there is hybrid learning. These two learning approaches are often mistakenly considered synonymous. Although they both signify a type of mixture, there is a significant difference between them.
In hybrid learning, a teacher or instructor delivers materials to learners, some of whom attend class in person, while others join the class virtually from home. In this case, the educator will teach remote and physically present students at the same time using tools like video conferencing hardware and software.
Blended learning, on the other hand, combines in-person teaching with online learning methods. So, learners can listen to a lecture in a classroom and then take an online quiz right there or at home.
Think of a hybrid car and a blender. A hybrid car combines two types of fuel, just as hybrid learning combines two types of learning environments. And a blender mixes whatever you put in it, and similarly, blended learning combines multiple types of learning content.
Benefits of Blended Learning
If you’re thinking about implementing blended learning, you’ll probably want to know whether it’s worth the trouble. So, take a look at some of the advantages of blended learning for learners (students or employees) and organizations (schools, universities, or companies):
- Safer learning environment
- Interactive learning process
- Learner autonomy
- Greater learner engagement
- Better comprehension
- Detailed analytics
Let’s take a closer look at each of them in turn.
Benefits of blended learning for learners
Safer learning environment
If there’s anything 2020 taught us, it’s that being in one place with a bunch of other people can have its complications. And seeing those people only on the screen is unbearable. The blended approach makes learning safer by reducing the number of hours learners spend together offline but still provides them with live communication.
Interactive learning process
Theoretical materials can be challenging (if not boring). It’s one thing when learners sit and listen to a speaker for a few hours. And it’s radically different when they learn that same information by clicking on buttons, participating in a dialogue simulation, taking a game-like course, and so on. Acquiring new knowledge can be fun, and blended learning provides lots of tools to make it so.
Being able to control and schedule an individual learning path is essential for learners — and especially adults. Learning isn’t the only (and hardly the most important) activity of students and employees. Work, family, hobbies, and friends — people’s lives are made up of many facets, and learning shouldn’t become an obstacle. In blended learning, learners can access courses 24/7 — whenever they want it and have the opportunity.
Benefits of blended learning for organizations
Greater learner engagement
No business or institution wants to force its employees or students to learn, because it won’t work. You need to engage learners in learning to make it effective. And, according to this study conducted in 2019, blended learning leads to greater learner engagement by providing different opportunities and using digital tools.
One of the most popular blended learning models, called the “flipped classroom,” results in better comprehension by having learners study all theoretical materials alone at their own pace and practice new knowledge and skills during in-person sessions.
How much time did it take a learner to finish a quiz? How many attempts did they make? Do they have any expiring tasks? Can you answer these questions with classroom learning? Probably, yes. But how much time will you spend collecting all this information on each and every employee or student? With blended learning, you won’t even spend a minute — a learning management system will do everything for you. Based on learner progress, you’ll be able to see how competent a learner is at specific topics, whether they are ready to move forward or need to revise some materials, and much more.
Disadvantages of Blended Learning
Now that you know the ‘why’ of blended learning, let’s also look at the ‘why not.’ Here are the cons of this learning approach:
- New skill set for teachers/instructors
- Higher cost
Let’s look at each of these aspects more closely.
New skill set for teachers/instructors
Blended learning requires particular digital competence, as instructors need to create online courses, assign them to students, monitor their progress, and much more. Some eLearning tools have a steep learning curve, and not all teachers might be willing to invest the time and trouble needed to master a new technological tool.
A new skill set also refers to the fact that digitally inexperienced teachers may give too much content to study just because they don’t have classroom time limits and think: “Well, it’s not that much. And learners are at home, so they have lots of spare time.” And this could lead to cognitive overload on the part of the learners.
The more eLearning content you create, the greater the risk of plagiarism. Instructors might do this by accident, such as if they find an image that highlights their idea and add it to their online course, whereas the image is protected by copyright. If this occurs, it’s the company or university that might get into trouble.
If you use eLearning, you pay for eLearning software. If you have classroom learning, you pay for light, gas, equipment, etc. And if you have blended learning, you pay for everything.
However, these disadvantages will not become an issue if you use these tips:
- Choose easy-to-use eLearning tools.
- Explain the peculiarities of the digital learning process to your teachers or instructors.
- Determine your learning needs, calculate your budget, and find the tools that satisfy both issues.
Blended Learning Models
The most difficult thing about launching blended learning is that the technique is extremely flexible. The variety of strategies, tools, and the need to balance everything will likely make even experienced learning professionals feel overwhelmed and confused.
We would like to highlight six principal blended learning models here:
1. Face-to-face driver model
This model is the closest to traditional classroom training. This approach usually means that not everyone in the class will take additional online training, as it mainly targets the individual needs of those learners who are struggling or would like to go above and beyond.
2. Online driver model
This model is the opposite of brick-and-mortar studying, as it relies entirely on a digital delivery of the training. It combines both synchronous training (live webinars, peer-to-peer training sessions, etc.) and asynchronous training (self-paced study of ecourses). With the online driver model, there’s usually no need for live face-to-face meetings, but they can be arranged if necessary.
3. Rotation model
This model involves breaking a group of learners into smaller units to perform different types of tasks at different stages in turns. Some activities are online and some are realized in person. This allows learners with different types of learning styles to get the maximum benefit from the training.
4. Flipped classroom
The motto of this model is “online learning, offline application.” With a flipped classroom, lectures and practical homework elements are reversed. Learners study new content at home before the class, and in-class time is devoted to active learning and applying the newly learned skills. This can be accomplished in the form of discussions, case studies, or project work. The instructor’s task is to guide the learners by answering questions and supporting them in the application of course concepts.
5. Flex model
The Flex model allows learners to have control over their learning. Students or employees can move from one activity to another according to their needs. Activities can be both online and offline. Teachers or instructors are always on-site to instruct and help learners if necessary.
6. Individual rotation model
Here, learners also move from one station to another, but it is the teacher (or instructor) or a special algorithm that sets an individual path. Students or employees don’t need to visit all the stations — only the ones that are on their schedule.
How to Launch Blended Learning in 5 Steps
Let’s say you’ve decided that blended learning matches your learning needs. What should you do next? Follow this step-by-step guide to launching blended learning in your organization:
Step 1: Set blended learning goals
Determine what goals and objectives you expect to achieve with blended learning. For example, you might want learners to become more involved and independent in their education. Or you might wish to provide more collaborative opportunities for students or employees to develop their social skills.
Step 2: Choose a blended learning model
Based on the goals you set, select the blended learning model that fits best. You can use more than one model, but be prepared to maintain all of them further on. Note that different models might require various tools and classroom designs.
Step 3: Get the right tools to create and deliver content
To launch the online part of blended learning, you’ll need special software. Every business and university has its specific needs, but two tools will be necessary for any of them: an authoring tool to create online content and a learning management system to deliver it and track learner progress. Let’s take a closer look at these:
Given the flexible and customizable nature of blended learning, the authoring tool should enable you to create and update eLearning materials quickly. If you don’t have any experience in instructional design and want to create learning materials hassle free, try iSpring Suite. It works as a PowerPoint add-in, so the interface is probably familiar and you can start creating content right away, with no special training.
With iSpring Suite you’ll be able to:
- Create engaging slide-based online courses
- Build interactive quizzes and tests with 14 types of question
- Record and edit video tutorials
- Create dialogue simulations
- Enhance theoretical materials with ready-made interactions
Here’s what a course made with iSpring looks like:
Get a 30-day iSpring Suite free trial and start creating online courses for your blended learning projects right away.
Learning management system (LMS)
Learning management systems (LMSs) are used to host training materials, deliver them to learners, and generate reports that help you to see if training is successful. Some LMSs can only provide learners with assigned ecourses (so-called asynchronous learning); other solutions allow conducting live online training sessions. Besides, there are some LMSs that enable you to plan and monitor offline session attendance. Such multifunctional LMSs are a perfect fit for blended learning.
If you’re new to eLearning, check out the main features that an LMS for blended learning should have:
- Access to learning materials via any device
- Smooth integration with an authoring tool
- Convenient learner enrollment
- Both synchronous and asynchronous learning options
- Learner communication
- Detailed analytics on learner progress
iSpring Learn LMS is an example of a platform that corresponds to the criteria mentioned above. This platform offers all the features needed to launch and manage blended learning, and it’s fairly simple to use. It takes just a couple of clicks to create your learning portal, upload training content, and add learners. Get a 30-day iSpring Learn free trial to check its capabilities and features yourself.
Step 4: Redesign your learning environment
Depending on the blended learning model you choose, you might need to redesign your classroom. Besides, make sure that the overall classroom design will motivate students to engage in learning and keep them positive.
Step 5: Launch blended learning and be patient
Let your learners in — you’re ready! Now, your task is to organize and maintain the learning process. And be patient. It will take at least a few weeks for blended learning to show some results.
When we talk about digitalization, some of the first examples that may come to mind are Amazon or Uber, where online technology changed the market. At the same time, these online services are strongly tied to the user’s offline experience. So is blended learning; it requires you to find a delicate balance between classroom training and eLearning.
Corporate training has come a long way from apprentice workshops to corporate universities. And so has academic learning. Still, there’s no way to know for sure, a priori, whether offline learning, online learning, or blended learning will be most effective in your case. Effective training is and has always been learner-centric; whatever strategy you choose, you can’t go wrong by putting your learners above everything else and then optimizing the rest as you go.