By Owen Davis
In the not-so-olden days, education came in one form — a teacher and a classroom. Whether learners were in kindergarten or adults in work-related classes, learning had the same delivery method.
Times have changed. Today's workplace requires ongoing education from employees at every level. Yet workplace trends now make traditional learning environments almost impossible to successfully implement. Heightened productivity means less time to sit in classes. A mobile workforce and the rise of telecommuting make centralized classes counterproductive. Recent research shows that different people learn best in different ways. Put it all together and the prospect of continually training employees using the same old methods looks unlikely to succeed.
That's where "blended learning" comes in. Blended learning is the technique of teaching material through a variety of methods that reinforce each other and engage learners in different ways. Blended learning uses the power of the Internet and the self-service ease of online learning delivery while still utilizing the best features of classroom interaction and live instruction.
Blended learning is an essential new tool for companies that want to remain competitive in today's market. As traditional methods become less feasible due to cost, geography and time constraints, blended learning is emerging as the best option for successful workplace learning.
To make blended learning work for your company, you'll need to understand what it is and what challenges await when it is first implemented.
How Blended Learning Works
Blended learning recognizes that many employees learn best when they have some control over their learning schedule. At the same time, having a high-level schedule framework with assignments due on specified dates can help to hold learners accountable. Blended learning programs use Web seminars, conference calls, online collaborative distance learning programs and teleclasses to engage learners in a classroom-like environment where they can also encourage and challenge each other, forming relationships that can extend beyond the class environment. Blended learning may also involve interaction with a live facilitator through group conference calls and one-on-one phone or Web coaching to address individual needs.
Some blended learning environments may begin with a live class in a traditional classroom and then deliver the majority of the learning content through self-study workbooks or via the Internet. Students may reconvene for demonstrations, role playing or a final wrap-up. Other programs are entirely conducted via phone and e-mail but still maintain high-touch through a dynamic facilitator who spends live call time with participants as a group or as individuals.
The success of Internet marketing gurus such as Michael Port and Travis Greenlee can be traced directly to their proficiency in effectively creating blended learning environments that utilize multiple delivery methods. Group phone calls, an online classroom environment that facilitates sharing and interaction among participants, blogs, Web audio, brainstorming class and Web seminars combine with the use of workbooks, e-books, traditional textbooks, handouts and online quizzes to challenge and engage students.
A key success factor in blended learning environments is to create high quality interaction between the students and the instructor as well as among students. The best programs combine directed and self-paced study while also having an effective way to answer questions, provide assessment and collaborate with peers. If a test for certification is appropriate, this can also be added to the online component and participants can immediately print their own certificate upon successful completion.
Learners who have completed a blended learning program can be encouraged to continue participating and learning through access to white papers, knowledge bases and update sessions. "Alumni" can be encouraged to stay in touch, facilitating better peer collaboration and intra-group networking.