A Quick Primer on Blended Learning

If the term “blended learning” sounds familiar, that’s because it’s been around for decades. And while the mechanics of executing a blended learning approach may have changed a bit over the years, the basic idea remains the same: using more than one method to deliver training and support to learners.

Blended learning always sounds to me like we’re making a smoothie: instructor-led training or e-learning is the base ingredient, like yogurt or water. Then we add the nutritious morsels, like e-learning, webinars, and mentoring—just like the fruits and veggies we’d add to create a tasty and filling smoothie.

Initially, the blended learning smoothie tasted a little bland: the only two ingredients were self-study and instructor-led training. But as technology advanced, so did the recipe, morphing to integrate various online learning methods into instructor-led classroom environments. With learners untethered from their desks, and better science behind how people learn, blended learning has continued to evolve, broadening its different flavor offerings, if you will, of instruction.

As any smoothie chef will tell you, before you start blending ingredients, it’s a good idea to understand the recipe. That’s where this article comes in! We’ll explore the evolution of blended learning and how technology has changed the recipe over the years. And why, after all these years, blended learning is still a big deal.

Where did blended learning come from?

As with most big ideas, the origin of blended learning varies depending on the source. Some folks cite correspondence courses from the 1940s and 1950s as the nexus of the concept. This type of “distance education” blended independent study activities with mailed correspondence between student and instructor. Others say blended learning didn’t really come into its own until the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, when televised courses and desktop computers invaded academic institutions and the workplace. These advances allowed for more remote training of workers, so not everyone had to be face-to-face with an instructor.

One thing most everyone can agree on is that the concept of blended learning really took off with the advent of the internet in the 1990s and early 2000s. The web gave training orgs a variety of new options for reaching and interacting with learners using a blend of instructor-led training, e-learning, mentoring or coaching, mobile performance support, webinars, and social learning platforms—just to name a few methods.

Regardless of the precise origin of the term, all of these advances in technology and in our thinking have led us to blended learning as a widely adopted strategy for engaging learners and supporting their performance in the classroom and in the workplace.

Why blended learning?

History shows that blended learning has continuously changed to incorporate many different methods for delivering instruction. And, like any good recipe, there are lots of different ways to adapt it to suit your tastes. The methods you use can vary widely depending on your project, the desired learning outcomes, budget, timeframes, audience location, and access to technology.

You might be wondering, right about now: why would someone choose a potentially more complex blended learning approach over a one-note solution that’s more streamlined—like instructor-led classroom training? Here are four big reasons:

  1. Adults tend to prefer having more interactive, self-directed opportunities to learn, develop, and apply their skills.
  2. Blending technologies and delivery methods can help you better reach and support remote learners.
  3. Designers and learners alike aren’t stuck with just one path to meeting training objectives.
  4. A blended strategy helps drive and support a continuous learning culture in your organization.

All of these reasons add up to learners who are happier and more satisfied, and feel better equipped to perform their jobs.

Are you and your org exploring blended learning?

There’s a lot more to understand about blended learning—we’ve only just started the conversation! In future articles, we’ll explore blended learning in more depth, including blended learning recipes you might want to try and some important considerations to keep in mind as you’re developing a blended learning strategy.

Already taking a blended approach to learning in your organization? We’d love to hear from you! Share your tips and lessons learned with a comment, below. And follow us on Twitter and check back on E-Learning Heroes regularly for more helpful advice on everything related to e-learning.

Dave Ferguson