It's not often that anyone researches blended learning. After all, blending is not remotely sexy, even though it now seems to be the strategy of choice for most employers around the world. Well, a month or two ago, e-learning developer Kineo and global training providers The Oxford Group helped us all out by gathering information to show how blended learning is being used, what benefits are being obtained and what problems are being experienced.
Blended Learning: Current Use, Challenges and Best Practices summarises the responses from more than a hundred different organisations. The bottom line appears to be that 'blended learning is well-established but not necessarily well blended’.
How well established? Well, 86% of respondents were blending frequently or sometimes, with an average of 4.8 different ingredients per blend. Of these, 54% are reporting improvements in business performance and 38% believe that blending leads to more effective learning than simply using a single ingredient. Not dazzling benefits, but encouraging, considering blends are still quite primitive.
Respondents highlighted the danger of having a team of designers working in their silos on each different learning element. One imagines that the most likely manifestation of this problem is face-to-face people in one corner and e-learning in the other. There is no way that we will achieve better designs for learning until the responsibility is integrated under a single designer who understands not just face-to-face learning or e-learning but the whole range of possibilities, including all other forms of collaborative activities and learning content. Go to the face-to-face and e-learning silos and you will get - surprise, surprise - unimaginative blends of face-to-face and e-learning. This will achieve some efficiencies, but completely underplays the potential of blended learning to cross over from the formal, to all types of social and experiential learning.
To be fair, the respondents to the survey have picked up on the problem, recognising that you 'can't assume that good face-to-face trainers or e-learning designers will have the skills to design and map a truly blended solution'. Some 57% admitted that 'they have no or only few people in the organisation with the appropriate skills.' As someone who spends much of their time trying to fill this gap, I am encouraged to see that this need is at long last being recognised.
The report also reports on the winners and losers in terms of blended learning ingredients. Some 25% are reducing the face-to-face element, whether classroom or one-to-one coaching. This is an understandable efficiency saving, although care needs to be taken not to deny a face-to-face experience on those occasions in which it really delivers results.
We will see more emphasis placed on learning resources (44%), webinars (38%) and self-paced e-learning (36%), all of which should yield benefits in terms of efficiencies, as long as they are implemented with skill and care. I personally would like to see a greater emphasis on collaborative online learning using simply tools such as forums, wikis and blogs. For longer programmes, this can supply the glue which holds the programme together.
So, thanks to Kineo and the Oxford Group for shedding some light on what is happening out there. Blended learning is now practically ubiquitous; now we need to see L&D departments organised to reflect this fact, and capability building programmes to ensure that all participants get the big picture.