Blended learning presents a unique opportunity to improve the way you train. The term refers to using both online and traditional educational methods.
On one end of the spectrum, you have traditional in-person classroom training where students go to the same location with a teacher. Everyone must be there, which can be difficult for long-distance learners or those with busy schedules.
On the other end of the spectrum is pure online learning. This is done entirely on the web and often features self-paced courses where a trainer or teacher does not have to be present. This can work well but may present challenges for learners who need more direction or interaction from an instructor.
Blended learning falls in between. It can be used in varying degrees, sometimes with more of the online aspect and sometimes with more of the traditional in-person approach. It offers a well-rounded experience that presents many beneficial opportunities for the learner and the organization teaching them.
The U.S. Navy Discovers That Blended Learning Works Better
The concept behind blended learning isn’t a new one, but it is catching on in a big way. The United States Navy recognized the benefits of this training approach over a decade ago. Back in 2003, the military was searching for better ways to train their junior officers. They wanted to improve efficiency and lower costs.
Instead of the blended approach, the Navy decided to lean heavily on self-guided methods. A series of 21 CDs containing computer courses were produced and put into use. Learners would work through these CDs without any of the months’ worth of classroom training or hands-on simulations that were previously required.
It sounded good in theory but turned out to be a disaster. Poor training was blamed for a series of deadly ship collisions. The Navy announced that it would invest $500 million to return to more traditional training methods in 2017. It was a testament to the importance of having both technology and hands-on, in-person training. It also confirms the benefits and necessity of a blended learning approach.
The Benefits of Blended Learning
Switching your training methods sounds like a daunting task, but one that may be well worth it in the long run. You could open your educational or training program to a number of opportunities that will give learners a better experience. A study was conducted by Project Tomorrow, a non-profit group committed to preparing students for a successful future. They found that 59% of teachers reported more student engagement when using blended learning.
The International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) reported on the financial savings associated with blended learning. Their report revealed that it costs approximately $2,382 less per student compared to traditional in-person classes. What else can a blended learning approach do for your training program?
- Breaks Down Geographic Barriers – Scheduling in-person classes can be challenging. This is especially true for organizations that train around the world or in multiple regions. By incorporating online learning, businesses and schools can make classes accessible to more students without the cost of running physical classrooms in multiple locations. The cost can be nearly eliminated by offering all courses in the form of a live webinar.
- Minimizes Time Spent Away from Jobs – A strong workforce is one that is always ready to learn and adapt. Ongoing training is a necessary part of many industries. However, it takes time to administer training or refresher courses. A blended approach allows businesses to minimize the amount of time employees spend away from their jobs without sacrificing the quality of the learning experience.
- Facilitates Collaboration and Team Work – Many LMS platforms facilitate collaboration through forums, live chats, built-in messaging, and groups. This creates an inviting environment where learners and educators can come together to share ideas, answer questions, and build on each other’s knowledge. Studies have found that 60% of students feel it is important to have out-of-classroom communication. Online learning allows participants to leave messages or have conversations anytime, even when class isn’t in session.
- Lowers the Cost of Printed Materials – The cost of printed materials alone can be expensive in a traditional classroom. eLearning platform Finalsite reported that 200,500 assignments were submitted digitally through their LMS in 2013. That works out to a lot of pages that didn’t have to be printed.
- Makes Learning Resources Easier to Distribute – Incorporating an online element into your training program makes it much easier to distribute learning resources. Most allow users to instantly send documents or links to resources with a click or two. The time savings is enormous considering how long it would take to distribute those same resources by hand.
- Provides Benefits of In-Person and Online Training – Blended learning has something for everyone. Your organization will get the benefits of both while streamlining the learning process. Rather than focus on one or the other, you can choose which elements work best in your program and put them to work.
- Allows for Better Structure and Cohesion – Structure is essential to success. When learners feel directionless, they tend to lose motivation and miss opportunities. An LMS comes with built-in structure using learning paths and similar tools. Trainers can create a curriculum that guides learners through each phase of training. Some platforms also provide recommendations to help trainees branch off into new areas based on their skill set, job goals, or interests.
- Trainers Can Optimize Their Time – Trainer time is valuable. A blended learning approach allows for optimization, so you get more out of your trainers. Ed tech helps with back-end tasks like adding courses, connecting with learners, and issuing certificates. Many platforms can take tasks that would have required an hour or more to complete and reduce them to minutes or less. In some cases, all time spent on an activity may be eliminated using automation.
- Accurate Data Tracking with an LMS – Data tracking allows businesses and schools to monitor performance and locate areas that need improvement. Many modern LMS platforms come with built-in analytics. All data is automatically recorded and stored. It can be accessed through reports that are easy to filter. Instantly look for specific stats or certain criteria without gathering spreadsheets or handwritten records.
- Curriculum Can Utilize Multiple Tools – Blended learning lets you harness the power of in-person techniques as well as technology. That means you can present information in different ways. Trainers can share documents, images, audio files, videos, and more. Some LMS platforms also offer advanced features like virtual simulations and interactive videos.
Tips for Maximizing Your Blended Learning Program
There is no one-size-fits-all method when it comes to blended learning. The key is providing the resources and tools that allow students to be as successful as possible. What can you do to maximize the return on your investment into a blended learning program?
- Know Your Students – You should have a solid understanding of your target audience. This includes knowing what motivates them, their strengths, and what they care about. Developing these personas can help you choose the best training tools for your program.
- Set Goals and Objectives – Learners need to know what they are working toward. Set goals and objectives and incorporate them into your learning paths. These can be goals for individual learners as well as team or company-wide goals.
- Choose the Learning Environment – Some material is better explained in person, and some can be taught through a self-paced class. Carefully choose the learning environment based on the complexity of the material you are covering.
- Monitor Training and Improve – There is always room for improvement. Monitor data to identify strengths and weaknesses in your training program. This information should be used to come up with ways to improve your courses and methods so you can set learners up for the best chance at success.
- Turn Leaders into Advocates – The leaders, managers, and supervisors in your organization may have to sign off on a blended learning program. Even after doing so, some may get cold feet when they realize that employees must be taken away from their job roles for training. Make sure your organization’s leaders are aware of the long-term benefits. Turn them into advocates for blended learning. Cooperation and support starting at the highest levels will help the program go farther.
- Use Recent Ed Tech – You may have some old training videos, CDs, or other aged resources. You don’t have to discard them, but make sure you upgrade if needed. The most recent courses will have up-to-date information, so employees aren’t wasting their time on material that is no longer accurate or relevant. Newer LMS platforms also tend to offer more time and money-saving features.
Blended learning is a proven method that works for many organizations. The U.S. Department of Education released a case study that found blended learning programs improved outcomes more effectively than online or classroom training alone. Blended learning with an LMS can offer the best of both worlds for you and your students or trainees.