Have you ever wondered what the benefits and challenges of blended learning environments are?
As the world undergoes the lift of COVID restrictions, and face-to-face learning becomes possible again, the question on many people’s minds is: are we going to forget about online learning or is it here to stay?
No one will be surprised by the answer: With a global market estimated to be worth $325 billion by 2025 (as reported by McCue, 2019), the future of learning is online.
There is, however, another trend worth noticing:
Once described as “the single-greatest unrecognised trend in higher education” (Young, 2002), up to 82% of learners now point to blended learning as their preferred type of learning environment (as reported by InnerDrive, n.d.). And for a good reason – more than half of learners surveyed feel more motivated when using blended learning models (as reported by School Outfitters, n.d.).
What is blended learning?
Simply put, blended learning is a teaching method in which learners complete some of their tasks in person, and some of their tasks online.
The online component of blended learning can be further broken down into two distinct delivery methods. The first is synchronous delivery where all the learners are online at the same time, collaborating using video-conferencing or chat. The second is asynchronous delivery where learners complete their assignments and practise skills in their own time.
Blended learning vs hybrid learning
Blended learning is not to be confused with hybrid learning.
While with blended learning, all learners complete some of the activities in person and others online, in hybrid learning, instructors teach the class both in-person and remotely at the same time as some of the participants are present in the classroom, while others participate online (via video conferencing) (Steele, 2022).
Benefits of blended learning
Blended learning offers a wide range of benefits for both your learners and your organisation. Let’s take a look at some of them below.
Benefits for your learners
Supports human contact
Today, online education (especially in Further Education) is mainly practised in an atmosphere of remoteness, contemplation, and a lack of interaction. As a result, learners who spend most of their time online can start experiencing signs of social isolation, due to the lack of human contact. The feeling of social isolation may have a detrimental effect on the mental health of the learners, leading to anxiety, stress and negative thoughts.
With the reintroduction of in-person contact to the curriculum, blended learning is an effective way to fight back.
Enables social learning
Our human brain is wired in a way that makes it essential for us to learn behaviours and good practices from other people, via social interactions. Using blended learning, the instructional designer can incorporate face-to-face interactions and activities in otherwise purely online courses.
Due to its inherently personal nature, soft skills training is a great example of how blended learning can enhance an online training programme. You can start with a virtual introduction with online theory delivery. Then, to emphasise the social learning aspect, you can arrange face-to-face role-playing sessions with mentors or peers where you can observe learners’ progress.
Encourages learner autonomy
A major advantage blended learning holds over traditional (classroom) learning is that it increases learners’ motivation. Learners are in charge of their own learning experience – they determine their own time, place and pace of study.
Eliminates the Fear Factor
Another advantage of blended vs traditional learning is that a blended approach provides the learner with the time they need to consume the learning material at their own speed, taking the stress out of learning.
Learners can practise their skills and knowledge without being forced to a pace set by surrounding peers, which reduces their social anxiety levels.
Benefits for your organisation
Further education learners in particular, need flexibility when it comes to balancing studies, work and personal responsibilities. Blended learning programmes are a great way of meeting these requirements, and can make your courses more attractive to learners who are looking for such flexibility.
Access to better learning insights
A properly designed online learning environment will allow you to collect various data points that are usually harder to evaluate in an in-person classroom. Online, you have access to concrete data indicating things like:
- How well the learners understand your content
- How long they spend interacting with learning resources
- Which modules they find engaging and which they don’t
- At what point (if any) they drop out
Moving part of your learning programme online also makes it easier for you to assess its effectiveness and alter it to better fit your learners’ needs (as well as yours).
More efficient use of instructor time
Traditional classroom-based education requires instructors to spend a good portion of their time doing tasks unrelated to teaching, such as marking assignments, printing handouts, filling attendance registers, and so on. In blended environments, much of the learning happens individually online, and many assignments can be automatically marked, giving instructors more time to prepare lessons and respond to individual learner needs.
The wave of unpredictability that hit the education sector at the start of the COVID pandemic, meant traditional in-person teaching organisations had to quickly find ways of adapting. For the majority, that meant taking their courses online.
Adopting a blended approach is an effective way to both ensure continuity of learning and maintain the all-important human contact.
Challenges of blended learning
Developing an effective blended learning environment doesn’t come without its challenges. Below we’ll discuss some of these challenges and how to effectively tackle them.
Finding the right blend
There is no “one-size-fits-all” proportion here. The amount of face-to-face VS online delivery depends strictly on the specifics of your training programme.
Generally speaking, there are 6 principal blended learning models:
- Face-to-face driver model – Closest to traditional classroom/on-job education. Here, all learners take the same class in person and only struggling or high-achieving learners have extra lessons online.
- Rotation model – Parts of your class/cohort take turns to perform the same online or face-to-face task. This model gives learners the chance to prepare in their own time.
- Flipped classroom – Learners receive lectures and relevant material online, consume them in their own time and only use in-class time to demonstrate what they’ve learnt and receive feedback.
- Flex model – Think virtual university for people with a busy lifestyle. Learners decide when they move from one activity to another. Activities can be both online and offline.
- Individual rotation model – Here, learners move from one activity to another based on an individual plan set by an instructor or an algorithm.
- Online driver model – The opposite of the face-to-face driver model. The activities take place online (synchronously or asynchronously), but in-person sessions can be arranged if need be.
Requires new competencies from content creators and teachers
A successful blended learning environment requires more than just taking your traditional classroom teaching and moving it online. Turning lectures into PowerPoints and presenting them over Zoom won’t get the same results as in-person delivery!
Blended learning requires instructional design skills to produce online-native content, and tutors need training for new competencies to monitor and assess learner progress and effectiveness of online training.
Content creators should also not overlook the fact that blended learning needs to fit the work-life balance of remote learners – so the amount of content should be appropriately considered.
If that sounds a bit overwhelming, don’t worry – we have prepared a step-by-step detailed manual to guide you through the creation of an effective online training programme. You can find Part 1 of the series here.
Using the right technological solution
Be aware of “webinar fatigue,” or the overly extensive use of video conferencing that leads to mental exhaustion.
To make your blended learning programme effective and engaging, you need to turn to digital tools that are fit for your purpose. Sometimes that means relying on a combination of different tools, but not too many as to cause confusion amongst your learners.
Communities is a platform designed to accommodate all your training needs. You can use it to create a network for your trainees, connect them with their tutors, allow them to exchange ideas, opinions and resources, deliver webinars, facilitate training courses, monitor progress and assess results.
The risks of plagiarism
When using online resources (such as videos, images, logos or other intellectual property) to create a virtual learning programme, content creators need to be conscious of the copyright status of every single one of those materials – whether they are copyrighted, public domain or fair use. Establishing this can be time-consuming and slow the course creation process.
To avoid these issues, you can rely on external course creation services like those provided by Learnium.
Let’s sum it all up…
A carefully created blended learning environment can bring together the best of both worlds: human contact and social learning opportunities that come with face-to-face learning and the flexibility and effectiveness of remote learning.
A blended learning model is generally more time- and cost-effective than traditional learning and also allows the continuity of the learning process despite potential disruptions.
However, it does come with its challenges. Most importantly, the course needs to be carefully designed, in order to unlock all the benefits of blended learning.
Thank you for reading and until next time!
- Colman, H., 2021. How did covid-19 change the Education Industry Forever?. Observatory. Available at: <https://observatory.tec.mx/edu-bits-2/how-did-covid-19-change-the-education-industry-forever> [Accessed 1 April 2022].
- InnerDrive, n.d. Is technology here to stay in education? InnerDrive. Available at: <https://blog.innerdrive.co.uk/is-technology-here-to-stay> [Accessed 1 April 2022].
- McCue, T.J., 2019. E learning climbing to $325 billion by 2025 UF canvas absorb Schoology Moodle. Forbes. Available at: <https://www.forbes.com/sites/tjmccue/2018/07/31/e-learning-climbing-to-325-billion-by-2025-uf-canvas-absorb-schoology-moodle/?sh=21af1ca63b39> [Accessed 1 April 2022].
- School Outfitters, n.d. Research shows blended learning can boost motivation and productivity. School Outfitters. Available at: <https://www.schooloutfitters.com/blog/research-shows-blended-learning-can-boost-motivation-and-productivity> [Accessed 1 April 2022].
- Steele, C., 2022. Hybrid vs. blended learning: The difference and why it matters. Leading Learning. Available at: <https://www.leadinglearning.com/hybrid-vs-blended-learning/> [Accessed 1 April 2022].
- Young, J., 2002. “Hybrid” teaching seeks to end the divide between traditional and online instruction. Chronicle of Higher Education, 48(28), A33.