A cheap cocktail is worse than no cocktail. So it is with many blended learning courses. They try, but it's all very limp as the tendency is to include too many things, especially old ingredients, rather than working out a blend that is sound in terms of learning theory, resources and and costs. ‘Blended Learning’ is so often just ‘Blended Teaching’, a half-hearted attempt to retain a mixture of classroom and online. It’s Velcro learning,
slamming just a few of things together to satisfy a need to hold on to some of
the old and look as though you’ve embraced some of the new. A poor singer
doesn’t sound any better when in a duet.
This slicing and dicing of the ‘teaching’ process is not
what Blended Learning was meant to be. When it arose (in corporate learning),
it promised to lift learning out of its obvious predicament – the dull delivery
of overlong, flipchart-driven classroom courses. This never happened as few
took it seriously enough to do take learning theory seriously, consider a wide
range of options and do the necessary analysis to produce an optimal blend. The
reason for this failure is that L&D really doesn’t want to listen to what learning
theory has to tell us and the Blended Learning tag is often a useful way of consolidating
the past not the future.
The psychology of learning screams at us, telling us that
successful learning, retention and recall, that leads to good performance,
needs to be sensitive to a learner’s starting state, personal needs,
personalised learning, practice by doing, then spaced practice to consolidate
what is learnt in long-term memory. Blended learning also screams at us to take
this ‘learning’ theory seriously.
So here’s ten tests one can apply to distinguish a
from a Blended
1. Optimal blend of
First up. Have you really matched your blended learning
components to the type of learning experience you want to deliver, to maximise
the effectiveness of your blend? This is all about blended learning, so the channels
you choose and media mix you choose should be matched to the learning outcomes.
In practice, courses are still too dominated by overlong ‘presentations’, too
much ‘text’ and not enough active and experiential learning. Unless you’ve
really mapped your delivery channels to efficient learning outcomes, using an
evidence-based approach to selection, you’re delivering Blended teaching, not
2. Get rid of assumptions
An optimal blend is built from the bottom up, not just preserving some of what you've done before and something new. It may well be possible to eliminate F2F learning entirely. It may also be hte case that you can elminate all onine learning completely. Don;t start with assumptions about 'essential' components in a blend. That's not blended learning, that's the very thing that Blended learning was designed to avoid.
3. Pre-selection of
candidates & content
You can blend all you want but if you have unsuitable
candidates for the course, it will make a marginal difference. Batching
trainees through courses, without pre-qualification and pre-testing is still far
too common. And forget that hokey, Honey & Munford learning styles
questionnaire, where you pigeon-hole, then all subject all to the
one-size-fits-all course anyway. No pre-selection or pre-assessment, no blend.
In any group of learners, some will come with pre-requisite knowledge and
skills. There will be a distribution curve of some sort. Most trainers,
especially those parachuted in as suppliers, will know little or nothing about
the learners. Yet how often is a course sensitive to the different skill levels
of the learners – rarely. This builds in massive inefficiencies. Blended
learning means blending out these inefficiencies.
Is your course, essentially a one-size-fits-all experience?
As you proceed, does the system adapt to your personal needs or simply deliver
content in a largely linear fashion, so that your learning journey is on a bus
along a fairly well prescribed road? Is the experience really reacting to you as
a person (blended learning) or the agenda of the trainer or designer (blended
teaching)? Norman Lamont’s suggestion for Room 101 was 'Click Peter, Nancy and Ashraf to hear what they have to say. And no,
you can't move on until you've listened to Peter, Nancy and Ashraf.
something like this appears in your course, don’t dare call it blended
learning. There are opportunties now to introduce adaptivity and links out to content to satisfy individual's curiosity.
How many ‘blends’ start with really providing the opportunity
for learners to actually apply what they’ve learnt, in either a seriously
simulated or real environment? An airline pilot would be expected to be
trained, assessed, even certified using flight simulators, yet how many leaners
are expected to actually train in such a focussed, relevant and sophisticated
environment? The reason is that pilots go down with the plane. Similarly in the
military and to a degree medicine, simulations matter, as people can die. If a
blend doesn’t off real opportunities to learn by doing – it’s actually blended
teaching, not leaning.
6. Context and relevance
Most courses are sealed off from the actual workplace and real context in which people work. Does your blend, blend the learning experience with what people are expected to do in real life. How many references, examples and activities are linked ot the world of work? Are learners expected to try out their new found knowledge and skills? Are they asked to apply these to the world of work? If not then there may be a gaping hole in your blend.
Performance in the workplace is all about automaticity, the immediate recall of knowledge and/or skills that allow one to perform as expected. Yet how many blended courses actually assess for automaticity? Precious few. Multiple-choice questions don’t come even close, as the learner is simply selecting from a list, recognising a given answer, not actively recalling the answer. Quick and active recall is much harder to assess. Blended teaching tends to promote poor assessment. If you’re not assessing active recall and the application of knowledge and skills, that’s not a blend, it’s ignored actual performance.
Despite 130 years of research and science showing that the
forgetting curve, with rapid and permanent decay from memory, is consistent and
predictable, spaced-practice is consistently ignored and excluded from blended
designs. Why is this? Well, when the focus is on Blended Teaching, the mindset
is of delivery channels to learners (e-learning, classroom, resources, social
media etc.). Once the learner has exited the blended course, you’ve lost them.
Of course, you haven’t, as the technology, especially mobile, is an umbilical
cord to them and into the future. You can deliver spaced practice, so ask
yourself whether you really have a blend if spaced-practice is missing?
9. Performance assessment
Go for strong formative assessment, even summative assessment at the end of modules and courses but to be relevant, and align your efforts with the organisation, you must look for real business impact. This may mean measuring actual performance down the line, long after the forgetting curve has eaten away at your learning gains.
How often do you see costs mentioned in relation to an
optimal blend, and if they are, they are of such low quality as to be
meaningless. Have you really costed out your different blended components, not
just in terms of cost-benefit analysis (CBA), but cost-effectiveness analysis
(CEA). These are different.
The latter need alternatives that show greater
productivity relative to their costs, i.e., that are more cost-effective and
more efficient in the use of social resources, should be preferred for adoption
and implemented more intensively.
Here’s a thought experiment. Regard all ten of the above
as necessary conditions for being called a Blended Learning course. How many
would pass muster? Many courses I’ve seen in over 30 years in this business
don’t have a single one of the above. The majority have one or two at most. Note
that this is not an argument against Blended Learning. It’s an argument against
Blended Teaching masquerading as Blended Learning. It’s an argument for putting
‘learning’ at the centre of the process, not just reshuffling the deck of teaching