What is blended learning?
Well, it depends on who you ask. For example, someone might say it’s a mix of pedagogical approaches, while someone else might say it’s a mix of theory and practice.
Most of us, though, say that blended learning is a mix of modes of delivery.
And these days, there are certainly plenty to choose from!
In this age of technological nirvana, I think it’s important to recognise the two different faces of blended learning:
1. The alternative face, and
2. The complementary face.
Without an appreciation of this distinction, you are liable to lose yourself in the redundant notion of “blended learning for blended learning’s sake”.
You owe it to you learners, your employer, and yourself, to be much more efficient than that.
The alternative face
The alternative face of blended learning treats each mode of delivery as a stand-alone resource, independent of the others.
The example cited by LMS salesmen around the globe is that of a course that is either classroom-based or delivered as an online module. The learner is expected to either attend the class or complete the module, not both.
Similarly, consider a face-to-face session that is streamed live for those who can’t attend in person. Again, the learner is expected to either turn up or watch it online, not both.
The complementary face
In terms of instructional design, the complementary face is more sophisticated than the alternative face.
This approach treats each mode of delivery as a connected resource, dependent on the others.
Consider the following examples:
Providing an online module as a primer to a face-to-face session
Playing a video clip in class to illustrate a real-life scenario
Combining a wiki for self-directed exploration with a discussion forum to enable question asking
Demonstrating the steps in a user manual with screen sharing
or a POV camera
Applying the knowledge of an OH&S policy in a virtual world
Customising a lecture on-the-fly with Twitterfall
Scaffolding an augmented reality tour with a podcast
In all of these examples, the different modes of delivery complement one another. The learner is expected to engage with all of them to gain the full learning experience.
Now I’m not suggesting that one of the faces of blended learning is better than the other. That depends on the circumstances.
In the corporate sector – where staff are located in offices around the world, work from home, are ill, on holidays, or just can’t get away from their desk right now – the alternative face of blended learning makes perfect sense. It means your people don’t have to miss out on learning opportunities.
But that’s not to say that the complementary approach isn’t useful in such cases, either. If a classroom-based session is complemented with a blog for reflection and discussion, why not complement its vodcasted alternative with the blog too?
My point is: When designing a blended learning solution, clarify your objectives. Ask yourself, “What am I really trying to do?”, then adopt the right approach (or both) to match.