What is Blended Learning? Definition, Benefits, Models
An ongoing debate in education and training is whether eLearning or face-to-face learning is the better form of instruction. And there is actually no simple answer. Because neither mode will be superior for every situation, learner and context.
So instead of asking ourselves whether eLearning or face-to-face learning is better, we should be asking ourselves how we can combine the best of both worlds. And this is where blended learning comes into play.
In this article, we cover what blended learning is, the benefits of this mode of instruction, and the main blended learning models. So let’s dive in so you can learn all the basics and start availing of blended learning.
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What is blended learning?
Blended learning is an approach to training and education that combines face-to-face, classroom-based learning with distance learning, or eLearning. The education researchers, D. Randy Garrison and Heather Kanuka, define blended learning as: ‘At its simplest, blended learning is the thoughtful integration of classroom face-to-face learning experiences with online learning experiences’.
It is sometimes also referred to as hybrid learning, mixed-mode learning or technology-enhanced learning. And while blended learning has become widely used in recent decades, it is not a novel form of learning. Technology-enhanced learning actually began in the 1960s, with the term blended learning coming into use as early as the 1990s.
Unlike with traditional learning, blended learning often includes more self-paced instruction. This means that some elements are asynchronous, and learners can complete their eLearning tasks during times when it is most suitable for them. Blended learning has been shown to be effective for a wide range of different types of learning, and is used in schools, higher education and corporate L&D.
Benefits of blended learning
The reason that blended learning has become so common in both education and corporate learning is that there are various benefits of using blended learning models. These will become increasingly important in your career as a learning designer. Below we dive into four of the main benefits of blended learning.
One of the main benefits of blended learning is that it is an engaging approach to instruction. This is because blended learning approaches put more power in the learners’ hands while also fostering meaningful learning experiences that provide opportunities for connection.
Because some blended learning approaches provide students the opportunity for self-paced learning and personalised learning paths, they enable learners to make their learning more personally meaningful. This may be one reason that contributes to 77% of academic leaders reporting that learning outcomes for online education are the same or superior to face-to-face instruction.
Effective for skill-based programmes
Many of today’s most sought-after skills are digital or computer-based. So it makes sense to learn these skills in an environment that is similar to the environment in which learners would use them. For this reason, blended learning can be a highly effective approach for skills-based learning programmes.
Digital skills, such as coding, graphic design, digital product management or data science all require practical training using the actual tools and programmes. And since the programmes are computer based, it wouldn’t make sense to learn these skills in a classroom. Rather, they are best learned through doing.
Easier to control the dynamics
For instructors, one benefit of blended learning is that they have an increased ability to control the dynamics of the course or training. Unlike in a traditional classroom, instructors can create more personalised learning paths for students based on individual learner needs.
Another aspect of blended learning that enables instructors to better control the dynamics is by having increased opportunities to track learner engagement and progress. This means that training or course facilitators can immediately recognise if any learners are struggling and more quickly intervene.
Flexible for learners
Unlike traditional learning that involves attending a class at a particular time, and often having little input on the instruction, blended learning gives learners more autonomy. This can also be particularly beneficial for parents, carers and working professionals who require flexibility to complete modules around their other responsibilities.
Oftentimes with blended learning, learners also have the ability to complete tasks at their own pace. This means that they can spend more time engaging in certain topics or modules that interest them or that they are struggling with. This leads to a more self-directed and personalised learning experience – which can be highly engaging.
Blended learning models
Now that you’re familiarised with the benefits of blended learning, we’ll dive into four of the most common blended learning models below.
A La Carte Model
The A La Carte Model is a blended learning approach that enables learners to take an additional elective course of their choice alongside face-to-face instruction. For example, a secondary school student may have a full schedule of mandatory face-to-face classes but decide that they want to take a class not offered in their school. They could then take this class online in addition to the mandatory face-to-face curriculum.
The defining aspect of the A La Carte Model is that the primary instruction is instructor-led and face-to-face, and the online component is considered supplementary. For example, a corporate training programme may have employees attend a three-day instructor-led course on-site. However, the course would also include online pre- and post-training, and perhaps also online tasks to reinforce what was learned in the course.
With the Flex Model, the instruction is primarily done online, and there are supplementary components that are completed face-to-face. These supplementary components could be group projects, group work or individual interactions with the instructor.
One example of how the Flex Model could be used in corporate training is by supplementing an online course with group discussions. The course participants could meet biweekly to discuss the online course, deepen the knowledge of the learning material and gain benefits of social learning.
The Rotation Model is a blended learning approach that uses various modalities, such as eLearning, classroom instruction and group work. One of the main differences between the Flex Model and the Rotation Model is that the Flex Model follows a flexible schedule. In contrast, the Rotation Model follows a fixed rotation between the different modalities. There are four sub-models within the Rotation Model, which are described below:
With the Station Rotation model, the learning stations are not personalised. Rather, all students move through each of the stations. For example, for a higher education class, students may have homework online, attend lectures in person and do assessments in-person. Since there is no flexibility to divert from this schedule, this is an example of Station Rotation.
Lab Rotation is a blended learning model that applies primarily to schools. It involves the instruction taking place in a computer lab as well as a traditional classroom. For example, learners may receive instruction from their teacher on a particular topic and then deepen their knowledge through the use of a computer game or activity in the lab.
With Individual Rotation, learners have the ability to personalise their learning experiences. While learners all go through the same online instruction, they have the option to tailor their in-person learning. For example, they could choose to attend seminars, group discussions, or workshops based on their interests.
The Flipped Classroom Model refers to an approach in which the material is learned prior to students attending classes. For example, as opposed to learners viewing lectures or presentations in the classroom, they would learn the material and concepts beforehand. By ‘flipping’ the classroom, this enables the class time to be spent discussing concepts, elaborating on the material, answering questions and addressing any problems that learners are having.
Enriched Virtual Model
The Enriched Virtual Model is similar to the Flex Model in that most of the learning is completed online and is self-paced. However, the difference with the Enriched Virtual Model is that the supplementary face-to-face components are mandatory and an embedded element of the course.
For example, if an Enriched Virtual Model was used for higher education, students could have an online course but be required to take assessments in-person. Because the assessments are required and on a fixed schedule, this would be considered an Enriched Virtual Model approach.
Final thoughts on blended learning in Digital Learning Experiences
With blended learning, digital learning professionals can reap the benefits of both eLearning and classroom instruction. Although creating a blended course may take some additional coordination on the part of the instructor, many find that the benefits for both learners and instructors are well worth it.
However, since learning modalities are never one-size-fits-all, it’s important to explore what approach is best for you and your learners. This way, you can deliver an effective and engaging learning experience every time.
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