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As soon as you become involved in online training or education, you’re likely to encounter the term “blended learning.” The term does mean different things to different people. One of the broadest definitions comes from the World Bank Institute:
Blended learning: A learning approach that includes the use of appropriate combinations of information technologies–videoconferencing, audioconferencing, Internet, CD-ROM, and other media, combined with appropriate learning technologies, on-site facilitated activities, and strong learner support systems.
In its e-learning handbook, the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) defines blending learning as “the use of two or more distinct methods of training.” ASTD says that this includes combinations such as blending:
- classroom instruction with on-line instruction
- on-line instruction with access to a coach or faculty member
- simulations with structured courses
- on-the-job training with brown bag informal sessions
- managerial coaching with e-learning activities
These definitions make it clear that with its many possible variations blended learning provides a powerful and flexible means for reaching and engaging learners. Educators and trainers know from experience that some students learn best by listening to a lecture, some by reading a textbook, some by viewing video, others by hands-on experiences and so on, and so on.
Educator Elliott Masie has argued “that we are, as a species, blended learners.” Masie adds: “Good instructors have always combined great storytelling (an audio process), with print and whiteboard words and graphics (a reading process), with takeaway tools or even homework.”
Trying to plan a training program that supports varied modes of learning can prove challenging. Traditional classroom-based learning may meet the needs of many auditory and visual learners but it can be difficult to facilitate training that enables students to “learn by doing.”
The benefits of adding online learning
Blended learning with online components allows the introduction of narrative learning through interactive exercises, games, and simulations. Online learning has proven to be an inexpensive and effective tool to create an environment that enables learners to think through real-world scenarios and solve problems; it can encourage participants to really “learn by doing.”
Further, online learning offers opportunities for extending face-to-face instruction through discussion boards, video chats, or virtual chat. It can encourage greater learner participation as well. Many instructors have found students who are silent in the classroom become active contributors when engaged in online discussions.
A growing number of schools, corporations, and training organizations are turning to blended learning options. They see blended learning as offering the best of both worlds—the personal touch of face-to-face instruction with the convenience, cost-effectiveness, and variety of online learning. And they recognize that this combination of learning methods can greatly benefit learners.
Research and writing: Caitlin Powers