Blended Learning Definition

Hey everyone,

I'm wondering what the community thinks about a definition of Blended Learning (BL)...

Most common definition: Blended learning is an education program (formal or informal) that combines online digital media with traditional classroom methods requiring the physical presence of both teacher and student, with some element of student control over time, place, path, or pace.

I have a few issues with this definition:

  • I don't think BL is "an education program". I think it's a methodology.
  • I think describing it as a combination of "online digital media" eliminates print as a learning media. Does it have to be digital? Does reading a print article before coming to a training not serve the same purpose as watching a video?
  • I'm struggling with the idea of "requiring the physical presence of both teacher and student". If I pair a asynchronous e-learning course with a synchronous webinar where a facilitator walks a small group of learners through what they learned and how it can be applied in the daily work, is that not blended? Can't we accomplish many of the things that happen in a "traditional classroom" in a synchronous online space? If so, is it a little outdated to mandate that there has to be physical presence?

I work in professional development. My adult learners come to a training and spend anywhere between 2 hours to 2 days and then they go back to their job. I understand that is a very different context than the K-12 space and how they use BL. Here is a slightly revised definition I'm working on:

Revised definition: Blended learning is a methodology that combines a variety of learning media (e.g. face-to-face, online, print, social) and learning environments (e.g. instructor-led, group work, peer-to-peer, individual work), with some degree of student control over time, place, path, or pace.

  • I've changed "online digital media" to "learning media" to incorporate print as a viable form of communication.
  • I changed "traditional classroom methods" to  "learning environments". I feel like it's not our job to teach people but instead to create an environment in which they can learn. 
  • I added "a variety of..." to the beginning of the definition to clarify that it has there has to be at least two elements in each one of these categories (learning media & learning environment) for the course to be considered blended. If a variety of both are being used, and there is some element of learner control, then the course can be considered blended.

If you've made it this far, you're as obsessed with BL as I am. Congrats! I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks,

Mike

11 Replies
Mike Meyer

The other popular definition I run into is...

Blended Learning is a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online learning with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace, at least in part supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home, and the modalities along each student’s learning path within a course or subject are connected to provide an integrated learning experience.

The only real difference here is the "at least in part through online learning" section. This definition would mean a course that has offline pre-training activities (read an article, keep a journal of your daily tasks for a week leading up to the training, interview one of your colleagues, etc.) that prepare a learner to come to a training and jump into activities would not be considered blended.

Does it have to be online?

Thanks,

Mike

Sarah Müller
Mike Myers

Hey everyone,

I'm wondering what the community thinks about a definition of Blended Learning (BL)...

Most common definition: Blended learning is an education program (formal or informal) that combines online digital media with traditional classroom methods requiring the physical presence of both teacher and student, with some element of student control over time, place, path, or pace.

I have a few issues with this definition:

  • I don't think BL is "an education program". I think it's a methodology.
  • I think describing it as a combination of "online digital media" eliminates print as a learning media. Does it have to be digital? Does reading a print article before coming to a training not serve the same purpose as watching a video?
  • I'm struggling with the idea of "requiring the physical presence of both teacher and student". If I pair a asynchronous e-learning course with a synchronous webinar where a facilitator walks a small group of learners through what they learned and how it can be applied in the daily work, is that not blended? Can't we accomplish many of the things that happen in a "traditional classroom" in a synchronous online space? If so, is it a little outdated to mandate that there has to be physical presence?

I work in professional development. My adult learners come to a training and spend anywhere between 2 hours to 2 days and then they go back to their job. I understand that is a very different context than the K-12 space and how they use BL. Here is a slightly revised definition I'm working on:

Revised definition: Blended learning is a methodology that combines a variety of learning media (e.g. face-to-face, online, print, social) and learning environments (e.g. instructor-led, group work, peer-to-peer, individual work), with some degree of student control over time, place, path, or pace.

  • I've changed "online digital media" to "learning media" to incorporate print as a viable form of communication.
  • I changed "traditional classroom methods" to  "learning environments". I feel like it's not our job to teach people but instead to create an environment in which they can learn. 
  • I added "a variety of..." to the beginning of the definition to clarify that it has there has to be at least two elements in each one of these categories (learning media & learning environment) for the course to be considered blended. If a variety of both are being used, and there is some element of learner control, then the course can be considered blended.

If you've made it this far, you're as obsessed with BL as I am. Congrats! I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks,

Mike

Hi Mike, 

I think the mention of "traditional classroom methods" covers your issue with the term "digital media". It is a blending of online material and offline material and methods. I do agree that the definition isn't worded overly well and that methodology is certainly the better word to use than program. 

I find your revised definition to be quite good. 

As for the second definition that is mentioned, I do think the online component is essential to the definition of blended learning. It's part and parcel to the methodology and what gives students more control over accessing content and structuring their own learning. 

Mike Meyer

Hey Sarah,

Thanks for reading through and commenting! I see your point about "traditional classroom methods" addressing my issue with the term "digital media". I feel like I might be reaching a bit here... but I'm stuck on the idea that offering part of a course via an online component is not the only way to create a personalized learning experience that gives the learner some control.

If you use the flipped classroom model to cover course content outside of the training room and then work on practiced application during the training session, but you deliver the course content via print or some other form of offline media, that wouldn't be consider blended learning? What would you call it?

Robert Fuller

Some things can be learned by watching, some by reading, some by doing - most by a combination of the three. Where/how these experiences take place (classroom, field, communications device) isn't (for me) the wheel upon which "blending" turns...or perhaps --  thinking about it -- these facets are *all* a part of "blending". Classroom lecture, hands-on field training, textual reference, digital media...whatever it takes to spark that EUREKA! moment in the mind of another.

I think people, institutions, and product developers need to worry less about marketing buzzwords, and more about the end result -- helping another person learn something.

Mike Meyer

I totally agree with you Robert, however, I'm in a situation where defining the term is an important step towards educating my client. Since the term is relatively new, and opinions online seem to vary, I feel like the definition can and should match the context. In my case, getting people to complete online activities can be very challenging, so strictly defining it as face-to-face and online is limiting and not realistic (which seems to be the most common definition).

My definition, like your opinion, puts less importance on the specific elements that go into a blend and more on the comprehensive package of learning experiences that are designed to give adult learners the control they need to make the process meaningful.

Definition: Blended learning is a methodology that combines a variety of medium (e.g. face-to-face, online, print, virtual, etc.) and learning methods (e.g. instructor-led, group work, peer-to-peer, individual work, etc.), with some degree of student control over time, place, path, or pace.

Chris Undery

The definition I've used for a few years seems similar to a few on here and is based on work done by Clive Shepherd (link below) that concentrates on using the right blend of instructional strategies, social contexts (self study, 1-1, group or community), communication methods (synchronous / asynchronous) and learning methods to create effective solutions.

The media (f2f, online, offline) to deliver the blend is more to do with how efficient the learning is rather than how effective. Well, at least so long as you are using the right media for the learning methods and strategies etc identifitied. An example would be if you have identified that a particular need would benefit from a small group synchronously discussing something but chose an asynchornous platform such as a COP in something like Yammer then you have messed up the communication method and social context. Face to face, live online or just a conference call on the phone would work for that element of the blend).

To me, the important bit is to ensure you take a blended approach - I've come up with learning solutions that don't have much of a physical blend but there were very good reasons for that based on the same blended approach that might come up with lots of elements for something else.

http://1qp5z72jnz0k3ijzbw39u0hp.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/More-than-a-jukebox-1_5.pdf

I like the above approach as I've found it useful in influencing the business when they come saying something like 'we want a 2 day course' It also has the business goal and learners at the heart of it as an approach.

Barry Sampson

Hey Chris, thanks for sharing the 'jukebox' here. I'm one of Clive's co-founders at More Than Blended (>BL) and it probably won't surprise you that we have a very opinionated definition of what blended learning is.

For us, blended learning is about identifying the most effective learning methods and then finding the most efficient delivery medium. In our approach, nothing is in or out of scope - we do not mandate that there must be a classroom element or a digital element.

As you mention, it is critical to our approach that you have clearly defined business goals. That is then reviewed against the 'three Ls' - Learning, Learners and Logistics. The Learning defines what we want people to do (and the minimal amount they need to know in order to do it), the Learners considers the audience's prior experience, knowledge, skills, hopes, fears etc. These two inform the learning method. Logistics is where we consider the constraints and opportunities (time, budget, location, audience numbers) and that is what informs the delivery media.  

We have some case studies that you might find interesting - http://morethanblended.com/collection/

Thanks

Barry