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Blended learning

Blended learning

Table of Contents

    Online learning is very popular these days. Spurred on by the lockdown measures to combat Covid-19, learners flocked to Zoom and other online learning platforms.

    There are clear benefits to teaching online, but traditional classrooms also offer many benefits as well. 

    Enter—blended learning. A way to take the best of both worlds that unlocks new benefits of its own. 

    In this guide, you’ll discover:

    • What blended learning is
    • The four benefits it offers organizations 
    • The seven types of blended learning 
    • Common best practices when designing a blended learning program

    Now, let’s get right into it!


    What is blended learning?

    Blended learning is the combination of traditional in-person classroom instruction with online training. 

    Also called hybrid learning, it takes the best of online and in-person learning to provide a learning environment that can engage most students. 

    Blended learning can be synchronous, where online learning takes place alongside traditional coursework. 

    Alternatively, it can be asynchronous, where the online materials are separate from the in-person learning process. 

    While forms of blended learning have been a hot trend in education for the last decade or so, it was the halting of in-person instruction during Covid that kicked it into high gear.

    During this time, companies and schools alike experimented with various forms of e-learning. 

    Attitudes toward this type of learning are shifting. One survey found that 43% of high-school students in the US prefer a blended learning environment.

    Whatever blended learning model you choose (more on that in the next sections), it offers some hard-to-ignore benefits. 

    It’s cheaper, more flexible, allows for higher engagement, and gives learners more autonomy to learn at their own pace.

    In the next section, we’ll drill down deeper into each of the benefits of blended learning.


    Four benefits of blended learning to consider

    In the interest of time, we’re focusing on the four main benefits. However, these are just the tip of the iceberg. Blended learning has a wide array of benefits for businesses and learners alike. 

    Learners have easier (and on-demand) access to learning materials. Instructors can use more than one pedagogical approach, and L&D teams can easily track learning goals and progress.


    Benefit #1: Lower costs

    Let’s all remember the ABCs of management—always be cost-cutting. 

    At first, traditional in-person learning might actually seem cheaper. After all, there are costs associated with e-learning technology and LMS platforms. 

    But these actually pale in comparison to the cost of a purely in-person learning program. 

    Flying employees to an in-person seminar is much more expensive than having them hop onto a webinar. 

    Instructors and experts need to travel too. If your learning program includes guest speakers, then it’s much more cost-effective to deliver the lecture over the internet. 

    Not to mention that you can record these online lectures and reuse them over and over again.


    Benefit #2: Flexibility

    Flexibility is one of the key reasons why blended learning is so effective. 

    Blended learning can make it easier to use more than one learning tool. With modern e-learning software, it’s easy to implement quizzes, group exercises, and much more. 

    This allows any learning experience to be tailor-made to hit the desired learning outcome and engage learners by matching their learning styles.

    With the blended learning approach, course designers can feel out which parts of the material are better for the online portion and which to leave for in-person instruction.

    Flexibility in blended learning also lets trainees manage their workloads better. Since portions of the training course are online, learners can access them at a time that suits them. 

    This frees up work hours for actual work.


    Benefit #3: Higher engagement

    One of the most essential insights from contemporary learning science and pedagogy is the importance of learner engagement. 

    A study from the Journal of e-learning and Higher Education found that blended learning increases student engagement. 

    Students especially liked the learning activities offered by Learning Management Systems (LMSs), such as Docebo, finding them  “interesting and interactive.”

    Blended learning can increase engagement because it provides more opportunities for student participation by using digital enrichment tools. 

    Not everybody is comfortable participating in face-to-face training. So, instructors may see more engagement from some learners in the online portion of the training.


    Benefit #4: Autonomy

    Face-to-face learning does have its benefits, but autonomy isn’t one of them. 

    After all, students must devote a significant amount of their time to attending in-person classes with fixed times and locations.

    On the other hand, asynchronous learning, a part of blended learning, offers a lot of autonomy.

    Students can take part in the digital learning portion and access class materials any time they choose and from any location (as long as there’s Wi-Fi). 

    This is especially important for adult learners. A sense of autonomy and control over the learning experience is essential for achieving better learning outcomes.

    In a corporate setting, this autonomy also reduces lost productivity from attending training. 

    Keep reading to discover the seven basic types of blended learning you should consider for your next learning program.


    Seven types of blended learning you should know

    Blended learning is a broad concept, and there are many ways to implement it. Different combinations of in-person learning and digital learning can help you hit different desired teaching outcomes.

    Not sure how to structure your learning experiences? We’ve rounded up  the seven most common types of blended learning to give you inspiration.


    Type: #1: Face-to-face

    This type is the closest to a traditional classroom experience. Learners still primarily learn from a single teacher who delivers lectures. 

    But instead of it taking place physically, it’s online. Students log into a webinar or a meeting session on a video conferencing or virtual classroom platform. 

    This type of blended learning is well-suited for organizations that need to transition quickly to digital learning. You can always supplement the training sessions with additional learning strategies, such as online quizzes and interactions.

    Choosing a good learning management system is paramount to successfully delivering this type of learning.


    Type: #2: Flex

    Another popular way to carry out blended learning is with the “flex” model. Yep, you’ve guessed it, flex comes from flexibility. 

    With this teaching method, the learners set the pace and determine the learning path themselves. Because of this, it is also sometimes called personalized learning.

    Online resources, usually offered through LMS platforms, are central to self-paced learning. The bulk of the course material is online, in the shape of online courses, presentations, digital job aids, and videos.

    Instructors are mostly present in advisory and support roles. They are available when the learners need them. Most of the top LMSs offer chat functions, so learners can communicate with instructors directly on the platform.


    Type: #3: Rotation

    With the rotation model, learners rotate from one learning activity (or “station”) to another, with one or more of them typically being online. 

    A teacher can direct the station rotation in a structured manner or students can direct it. 

    Two main types of rotation are:

    • Lab rotation: Online learning takes place in a computer lab to give more flexibility while making use of existing resources.
    • Individual rotation: Tailored rotations between activities to individual students. 

    As for the activities that are being rotated, they can take many forms including flipped classroom models.


    Type: #4: Gamification

    Gamification is a hot trend in learning, and blended learning programs can take advantage of it too.

    This learning model borrows elements from video games such as levels, experience points, ranks, unlockable avatar customization, Xbox-style achievements, and others.

    These elements grab learners’ attention and motivate them by stimulating healthy competition and creating a sense of achievement. 

    Gamification can be an excellent tool to boost learner engagement. 

    You can easily integrate game elements into blended learning programs using an LMS. Simply assign learners badges and points for successfully completing training modules. If you want to kick it up a notch, you can create leaderboards in your LMS and award prizes to the winners.


    Type: #5: Self-blend

    Self-blend is all about supplemental material. It’s the extras that let particularly motivated and interested learners dig deeper into the course materials on their own.

    This can take the form of webinars, white papers, blogs, video tutorials, ebooks, podcasts, etc. 

    The idea here is to enable those who wish to learn more to do so. Some learners like to browse additional resources and feel engaged and challenged when they get the chance to do it.

    LMSs gather learning materials together in one easily accessible location. This makes them a great tool for facilitating self-directed learning. Instructors can create a resource hub within the LMS to share additional training resources with learners.


    Type: #6: Online driver

    Taking place entirely online, this blended learning type allows the learners to self-direct their learning path. 

    Instructors are present, but there is no face-to-face instruction. Instead, learners can interact with them through chat, email, or message boards.

    Typically, this type of learning takes place through an LMS for course organizers to be able to track and monitor progress. 

    The online driver is among the most flexible types of blended learning but does have the disadvantage of lacking the benefits of in-person instruction.


    Type: #7: Flipped

    Here the traditional classroom methodology is flipped, resulting in the name.

    Instead of learners receiving theoretical knowledge in person from a teacher, they receive shared course materials ahead of time.

    This means students study shared training materials and presentations online in their own time.

    During in-person class time, the focus is on active learning through group work, case studies, debates, and discussions.

    Let’s face it, manually sending learners all of the training materials is time-consuming and not the best use of the instructor’s time. That’s where an LMS can save the day. 

    Instructors simply upload all the course materials once, and learners have easy access to them at any time, anywhere. This frees up time for instructors to focus on the instructor-led part of the training. 

    In the next part of our guide, we’ll go over the four best practices for an effective blended learning program.


    Best practices for an effective blended learning program

    Despite the plethora of training modalities to choose from, blended learning is the training approach of choice for many organizations. 

    And it’s hardly surprising considering the benefits it offers. 

    This section will cover the four best practices to keep in mind while designing your blended learning program.


    Best Practice #1: Plan desired outcomes

    As with any learning experience, it all boils down to the learning outcomes you want to achieve. What do you want to achieve with your blended learning progam?

    When you put learning objectives into focus, it will be easier to have a road map. 

    A common mistake is designing around technology for the online portion.

    Instead, select the tech platforms based on how well they fit into your objectives. 

    Is this your first blended training program? You’ll probably want to skip the super-advanced LMS and opt for a user-friendly one instead.

    Think about the types of learning activities your blended learning program will include. Then, select an LMS, authoring tool, and other platforms based on how well they meet your training needs. 

    A clear road map of the goals you want your blended training program to accomplish will help you choose the best tools and training modalities to get the job done.

    It will also stop you from getting bogged down with unimportant details (or fancy features) that don’t align with your objectives.


    Best Practice #2: Collaborative learning

    One of the best things about blended learning methods is that it enables easy collaboration and social learning.

    Group learning through collaborative activities is a great way to leverage all the benefits of social interaction.

    Not only does collaborative learning help make training more engaging, but it can also enhance the process by combining the participants’ cognitive resources. 

    This is especially useful for courses or training programs that cover extremely complex subjects.

    By dividing some of the work into a group, you can reduce the cognitive load on each individual. Yet they will still learn the material effectively through interaction. Learner retention tends to be better too.

    Digital learning tools encourage and empower learners to collaborate. After all, doing group projects is easier when students can organize online instead of meeting up face to face.


    Best Practice #3: Test drive the program

    One of the basic principles of learning experience design is iteration and prototyping. 

    The learning modality used doesn’t alter this. Blended, traditional, or fully online, you need to test any learning program.

    To evaluate your program, start with a pilot or prototype version where you offer the course to a small group. How would they rate the overall blended learning experience? Where did they need more support?

    This will let you gather actionable feedback from learners that you can then use to iterate your learning experience. 

    It’s a good way to test all your assumptions about your learners’ preferences. You might discover, for instance, that they prefer online panel discussions more than self-directed learning.

    Whatever feedback you get will be invaluable to eventually hit the desired learning outcomes.


    Best Practice #4: Consider all options

    These days, there are many options to create a blended learning course. Will your course be primarily online driven with instructors serving as support? 

    Or, will you go for the self-drive option where the digital learning portion is all about giving extra material to those who are especially motivated?

    Consider also why you want to use the blended learning approach. Is it to reach a bigger group or to offer a more varied learning experience?

    These considerations will then guide the learning resources you include, how you structure your blended learning program, and which tools you use to achieve it.


    Now over to you

    Blended learning is a great way to design engaging and cost-effective learning experiences. Combining the social aspect of instructor-led training with the flexibility of e-learning, blended learning gives learners and instructors the best of both worlds.

    The beauty of blended learning is that you can personalize the program to align with your organization’s objectives, resources, and learning culture. There’s room to experiment with blended learning strategies until you find the right balance.

    You can start off small with just an LMS and build on your program over time, adding in digital training materials such as online courses, quizzes, and role-plays. 

    The first step is to choose the right learning management system to tie every aspect of your learning program together. 

    If you want to learn more about LMSs, visit our glossary.