The two faces of blended learning

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!

Two Venetian masks

Two faces

In this age of technological nirvana, I think it’s important to recognise the two different faces of blended learning:

  1. The alternative face.
  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.
  • 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.

Be two-faced

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.

4 thoughts on “The two faces of blended learning

  1. Hello Ryan,

    When I was a life insurance agent, I was told that all I needed to know was about five different policies and to sell them; I didn’t need to know “everything.” This means, if I knew term insurance, sell that. If I understood how universal life policies worked, then sell that. Actually, it’s good to know someting about all the products that are sold, but it is in the ‘understanding’ of a particular product that will cause the agent to “push” one thing or another on a customer.

    As a grad student in instructional technology, I often feel sort of confused with the various terms that are used and the methods of delivery to facilitate blended learning. I guess it is safe to say that I am still looking for those “five poliicies” that I can understand and master. I agree with the complementary face; it’s all interconnected. For me, you’ve really nailed it on the head with the question you posed, “What am I really trying to do?” I ask that question of myself each and every day.

    Joseph W. Humes

  2. I know what you mean, Joseph. I think we’re all in danger of suffering information overload these days. I like the idea of understanding or mastering a few things (be they pedagogies, technologies, or whatever) before exploring what else is out there.

    Thanks for your comment!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.