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blended learning: The ultimate guide

Everything you need to know about designing and facilitating effective blended learning programs—from best practices to platform selection.

What is blended learning?

Blended learning is a hybrid learning approach that combines traditional classroom learning with eLearning.

It gives the learning program participants the freedom and flexibility to customize and pace their learning experience in a way that supports their unique needs and learning objectives.

Blended learning programs typically consist of three components: 1) in-person classroom activities, 2) online learning materials, and 3) structured study time with peer interaction.

While blended learning is equally suitable for higher education and corporate learning, in this guide we’ll focus on exploring blended learning in the context of employee training, professional coaching, and other adult learning programs.

The benefits of blended learning for facilitators

Let's start by looking at some of the key reasons why many consultants, trainers, and other learning professionals are moving from more traditional learning programs towards a hybrid approach.

Extended reach

Simply put, blended learning allows you to reach more people at once. Because you’ll be able to facilitate a large proportion of your learning programs online, it’ll be easier to increase the number of programs that you’re running simultaneously.

The ability to track and improve engagement

While classroom sessions provide a great opportunity to observe the participants’ activity, it doesn’t normally tell the whole story. For example, shyer individuals may prefer participating in discussions on a digital platform rather than in a classroom full of people. And by combining online and offline learning, you’ll be able to track and improve engagement throughout the program — not just in class.

Radically better impact

Perhaps the most important benefit of blended learning compared to traditional and online-only programs is that it tends to yield better results in terms of participant satisfaction and thus impact.

Cost-effectiveness

Since blended learning allows you to reuse a lot of existing materials and saves you some of the time and money you would otherwise have to spend on travel, it typically is a cost-effective alternative to traditional learning programs.

The benefits of blended learning for participants

While blended learning makes facilitators' work easier in many ways, let's not forget about the real benefactors of the approach, i.e. the participants. Here are some of the advantages of blended learning from the participants' perspective.

Collaborative learning

According to Bandura’s social learning theory, people learn from one another by observing, imitating, and modeling behaviors. And since blended learning doesn’t limit the participants’ collaboration to a classroom, it gives more room for social learning than any traditional methods.

Round-the-clock access to learning resources

Whether your learning program consists of early birds or those who prefer burning the midnight oil, you don’t have to worry. Since the learning community and all the materials are available to the participants around the clock, they can freely choose to contribute when they have the time and the energy.

Increased opportunities for applied learning

Theory is one thing, but being able to apply theory to a real-life situation is a whole different story. By scheduling enough time in between classroom sessions, you can encourage the participants to learn by doing. And since they can see their own progress first-hand, they’re much more likely to adopt these new behaviors in their day-to-day work.

Personalization

Because you’ll spend less time fighting for individual’s attention in the classroom, you’ll have more opportunities to personalize assignments and tasks for each participant. 

Support for different learning styles

Not everyone learns the same way. And that’s okay. With a carefully designed blended learning program, you’ll be able to support a host of different learning styles and preferences.

Increased participant satisfaction

As concluded above, blended learning typically increases participant satisfaction. Instead of memorizing materials and listening passively, your participants now have ample opportunities for discussions and group work, which participants tend to prefer.

The facilitator's role in blended learning

  1. Developing online and offline course content based on participant needs and wishes
  2. Facilitating and encouraging communication between the participants both face-to-face and online
  3. Supporting individual participants with personalized assignments and feedback
  4. Assessing and grading assignments

Adult learning principles

1. Involve the participants early

Since adult learners typically have a good understanding of what they want to or need to learn to better succeed in their jobs, it may also be wise to involve them in the planning of your upcoming learning program. Give them a call or send them a simple survey, but make sure that they feel heard from the get-go.

2. Encourage autonomy

Unlike children, adults have a fairly fixed sense of self, which means that they require a high level of autonomy. Without autonomy, they might lose interest in your learning program fast. By involving the participants in the design of the program and communicating openly about their progress, you’ll maximize your chances for success.

3. Tap into past experiences

As Malcolm Knowles’ famous Andragogy theory from the 70’s suggests, past experiences play a huge role in adult learning. While children are a blank canvas and relatively open to learning new things, adults have already acquired a fair amount of knowledge, which allows them to layer new information on top of things they already know. 

4. Help the participants find their purpose

In the adult learning world, adopting new knowledge and skills is often voluntary. And to maintain interest in the learning program, participation has to be intrinsically motivated. As a facilitator, it’s a good idea to encourage the participants to find their own “why”.

5. Facilitate peer-to-peer collaboration

With ample experience and professional skills up their sleeves, adult learners have a lot to give to each other. That’s why one of your most important roles as a facilitator is to encourage the participants to share their experiences with the rest of the group.

6. Welcome mistakes

Although it may seem counterintuitive, mistakes are a great way to learn. That’s why adult learners should be encouraged to explore the subject matter freely and apply new learnings in a controlled setting, where potential mistakes won’t hurt the business.

How to design an effective learning program

1. Co-design with the participants

Before starting a new learning program, it’s a good idea to check in with your participants and ask them about their professional learning goals. This helps you lock down the outline and supplement the original program with insights from the learners themselves.

2. Plan for peer-to-peer interaction

In addition to the content of the program, you’ll also want to plan the interactions and learning formats that will take place throughout the course. When you’re doing this, pay special attention to the balance of individual and group activities to make sure that different participant needs will be met.

3. Emphasize active learning

According to the 70/20/10 model of learning and development, only about 10% of learning happens in a controlled classroom setting. The remaining 70% and 20% happen during challenging assignments and developmental relationships, respectively. Keep that in mind when you're planning the program, and your chances of succeeding will increase considerably.

4. Choose the technologies you need

Only after you’ve designed the content and format of the course, it’s time to consider which platforms or tools you’ll need to host it. And to help you find the right platform(s) for you, we listed a bunch of questions below that will hopefully help you make up your mind.

How to choose a blended learning platform?

While the main criticism related to blended learning is that it requires advanced technology to work, we would advise you to start simple. Just think about the requirements of your program, and go from there. To help you get started, we put together a list of questions that might help you find the right platform.

Purpose

What’s the main purpose of the platform? Will you use it as a material bank, a collaborative platform, or both?

Level of collaboration

Do you want the platform to support peer-to-peer collaboration and discussions? Or is a one-sided material bank enough for you?

Context of use

Do you want a platform that you can use both in and out of a classroom setting? Or will you only use the platform in between face-to-face sessions?

Number of participants

How many people will be participating in the learning program? Is the group large or small?

Program duration

How long is your learning program intended to last? Is it over in a few weeks, or are we talking months or even a year?

Number of programs

Are you running multiple learning programs at once? Or will you repeat the same program after this one is finished?

Introducing Howspace for blended learning

Howspace is a learning experience platform perfectly suited for supporting blended learning programs. Here are some of the things our customers love about the platform.

  • Collaborative
    Unlike to traditional content management systems and file sharing software, Howspace encourages collaboration between participants. With Howspace, the learning community is always at their fingertips.
  • Easy to adopt, easy to use
    Even if your participants aren’t exactly digital natives, they’ll intuitively know how to use Howspace. And once they’re in, they’re in for good. No user names or passwords needed.
  • Contextual & noiseless
    As a facilitator, you’ll be able to send direct links to specific pages within your shared workspace. This contextual environment helps you keep track of multiple programs at once, while for the participants it offers a noiseless environment that helps them focus on their own learning path.
  • Customizable
    No two learning programs are exactly the same. That’s why you can easily customize your workspaces to fit the needs of the group. And should you ever want to replicate a previous group’s outline, you’re welcome to do that too.
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How can blended learning professionals benefit from digital facilitation?

Digital facilitation democratizes learning initiatives, since the rule of the loudest no longer applies. Download the guide to find out how 5 organizational development and learning professionals use digital facilitation.

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