Blended learning combines traditional face-to-face classroom teaching with online instruction. It’s a simple concept but becomes more complex when you consider that there is no one way to blend learning; online and face-to-face instruction can be combined into thousands of blended learning models. Depending on the theme of the course, this approach can take various forms. For example, a subject may be explained by a teacher in front of the students, while knowledge enhancement in the form of supporting topics and activities might be offered in the online environment. Courses can also be compartmentalized, with only certain aspects being presented by the teacher, and the rest of the content being treated as digitally accessible resource/reference material.
In many cases, blended learning may be the ideal choice because of the type of content. Learners can benefit from the guidance of a teacher or instructor who can determine the information that is most relevant and important. In this setting, learners can request additional explanations and interact with colleagues regarding specific topics. On the other hand, certain subjects are hard to comprehend solely through presentations, so including visual stimuli and application work is critical to more easily assimilating the information. Visual stimuli can vary. While a picture is worth a thousand words, the impact of an animation on the learner is much stronger than that of a static image. From this point of view, one of the great advantages of using eLearning solutions is that dynamic visual elements can be included, as opposed to the static elements included in traditional textbooks.
Given the accessibility of online resources today, it is natural to wonder whether they will eventually replace teachers altogether and shift learning towards an individual digital activity. Theoretically, the efficiency of blended learning is precisely due to the alternation of an instructor-led and individual study conducted through a digital application. The benefits of both approaches should be evident in the learner’s outcomes.
What Do Studies Say About Blended Learning?
Finding the best approach to learning is an ongoing process. Over the years, various comparative studies have been developed by scientists to identify the ideal teaching style with the lowest cost. One of these studies1 was conducted by Thomas J. Keefe, a professor of organizational behavior at the University of Indiana. Published in 2003, the study sought to determine the accuracy of previous research, which showed no significant difference in outcomes between blended learning and exclusively computer-based strategies. If true, replacing the former with the latter would save time and money, and efficiency would be improved. Keefe divided his students into two groups. The first group was taught in a traditional style, with some computer-based tasks included in the curriculum. The second group received instruction only by computer, with the lesson being conveyed through PowerPoint presentations. Both groups were tested afterward using the same methods. The initial study’s results were disproven, as in Keefe’s study there was an appreciable difference in outcomes between the two approaches. The group taught using a blended strategy had an overall result that was 8% higher than that of the group taught only by computer.
A 2004 study2 conducted by C.R. Poirier and R.S. Feldman proffered somewhat different results. This study looked at the results of two groups of students who combined technology with traditional learning methods to different degrees; that is, both groups were exposed to some form of blended learning. For one of the groups, teaching was largely done face to face, but students were required to participate in three online discussions and publish at least two comments on a site. The second group had a computer-based course where all the discussions took place online. The conversations between the students and the instructor took place twice a week. Poirier and Feldman found that the students who participated in the computer-based course achieved considerably better grades than the students who received face-to-face instruction. However, the results for the two groups were similar in the case of compositions or essays. Thus, the teaching method did not appear to affect in any way the learners’ capacity in terms of written expression.
Numerous other studies have been conducted to determine the most effective combination of learning methods. Though there are variations from study to study, most arrive at the conclusion that blended learning is a strategy that adapts to all audiences. Whether the student learns better alone or requires in-person guidance, this method improves outcomes and results in some cost savings, as compared to exclusively face-to-face instruction.
As the body of research expanded, the need to better describe some of the more common blended learning approaches became evident. This resulted in the development of blended learning models. In this article, we’ll describe the 3 most common models. You’ll see that blended learning is a very flexible concept, and that having a better grasp of the different models will help you identify or construct a model which best fits your corporate learning environment.
The “Flipped Model”
This is perhaps the most well-known version of blended learning. The flipped model reverses the traditional face-to-face structure of lecture in the classroom and potential homework after class. Learners are introduced to content online, prior to class, and the face-to-face component is introduced afterward to discuss the content, work through problems, and complete activities like group work, projects, or other exercises.
This model works best for topics that lend themselves to an application, group, and project work. The self-paced portion of the learning should include handy resources and content which remains easily available after the training event.
The “Face-to-Face Driver” Model
This is probably the most utilized blended learning model in the current corporate learning space. In this model, a significant amount of classroom time is replaced with online courses or activities. The model3 is centered around classroom instruction by teachers or Subject Matter Experts, with pre- and post-activities carried out online in a self-paced manner.
This model is better suited for diverse classes, with varying professional backgrounds and/or competencies. The online activities offer the opportunity for further study and various learning speeds, while the instructor-led sessions provide learners with a more traditional approach to learning.
The Online Driver Model, AKA The Flex Model or the Enriched Virtual Model
Online learning is the foundation of this model. Learners complete the course mostly online, with some required in-person activities like lectures, project work, or labs. A variation on this model could be a situation where the learners have access to the course material online, but the instructor provides face-to-face support on a flexible and adaptive as-needed basis, through activities like small-group instruction, group projects, and individual tutoring rather than scheduled lectures.
This model4 is extremely versatile and allows to meet the needs of a variety of formal and informal learning processes.
So, how can you choose the best model for your needs? The same design work and strategy should be employed for blended learning as for any other learning program:
- Identify the audience, goals, learning objectives.
- Identify appropriate content.
- Decide which of the 3 main models applies best. Do you have significant budget constraints? Perhaps the online driver model is best. Are you pressed for time and the content is application based? Try the flipped classroom.
- Choose the virtual pieces for the program (eLearning course, learning video, infographic, microlearning, reference-based modules, simulations, mobile learning, podcast).
- Choose the human interaction elements (project work, on-the-job assignment, ILT, VILT, etc.).
- Space out the learning. Whatever blended learning model you use, this is an essential component. Learning should be an ongoing event to improve retention and reinforce behavioral change.
Blended learning is no longer just the latest shiny object in the learning landscape. Solid scientific research has demonstrated time and again that it is a truly effective—and cost-saving—strategy. But as with any learning program, you must have a solid foundation. A careful analysis of your audience, learning objectives, and desired outcomes will help you determine which elements of the various blended learning models will best suit your corporate learning environment and ensure positive learning outcomes.