Blended Learning : What’s in a name

The term “Blended Learning” is regularly tossed around, but, do we really understand what it means?  There are many opinions but here is my take.

Higher education institutions may have a different view of blended learning, but as this blog is largely provided for learning and development professionals within corporate learning functions, I’ll follow from  that perspective.For me it’s not just  about mixing media or, for example, merely adding some form of additional media  to a traditional classroom-based learning activity.  It’s about thinking it through closely,  considering media choice with learning integrity front of mind.

Consider the extent to which media choice can influence –

  • the learning design including the performance outcomes inherent in the learning objectives, the success factors, and the assessment/s
  • the characteristics of the learners, their learning environment, available time and familiarity with technology
  • the need for a safe learning environment
  • the availability of technology at remote  locations
  • the practicalities of using alternate media, including costs and logistics
  • the role of the facilitator as a coach rather than a tutor
  • opportunities to encourage –
    • student initiative and autonomy
    • use of raw data and primary sources of information to entice innovation
    • debate, critical thinking ,inquiry, elaboration and exploration
    • utilisation of existing know-how to drive concept development
    • cognitive terminology such as “classify”, “predict, “analyse”, “create”
    • student/s and teacher communication and meaningful collaboration
    • students to construct knowledge for themselves

Some questions worth pondering include –

  • Can the learning be enhanced through pre-classroom activity on-line?
  • Is a tutorial style best for this topic and this  audience or would the learners be enriched by a simulation?
  • What is the best alternate media I have available to me that is likely to encourage students to reflect on their past experiences?
  • Is a demonstration of the desired outcome important early in the learning process?
  • Does the learning design call for small group activity or assignments?
  • How would independent research be best facilitated?
  • How is application of learning to the job/task best handled?
  • Can the choice of media assist demonstrate success of the learning program?

Learning is a process, not an event and as such it extends over a period of time where information is gathered, shared, taught, debated and then consolidated, contextualised and applied in a work or task situation that is focussed on and measured by performance.

This process engages us in learning followed by immersion into real job tasks, firstly through examples and demonstrations and later with hands-on practice.  Along the way we are subjected to both structured (formal) learning and un-structured (informal) learning.  Therefore true blended learning is a mix of media types, but only when appropriate, and also structured and un-structured learning and support interventions, tied together within a learning design framework.

The above model depicts a continuum on which Structured Learning is at the left and Un-structured Learning is at the right.  Within the Un-structured area there are some components that are in fact developed in anticipation of needs (“engineered”) and on the far right of the Un-structured area there are forms of unplanned (“collaborative”) support.

The model below sets out some rationale around recognition that the value un-structured learning interventions are becoming clearer and the building of them relies on tapping into expert knowledge and contextualising it for work place usage and support.  On the other hand, and notwithstanding its value, it is reality that justifying the expense of structured learning provided as an event, rather than an isolated piece of a process, will become under increasing scrutiny.

The model also suggests that the building of un-structured learning interventions will represent a challenge for many traditional learning and development people as we transition from learning design principles to the collection, synthesising and engineering of knowledge.

My words here are not meant to be either authoritative or conclusive; but enough to construct some better understanding of “Blended Learning” and generate some further discussion.


  1. Thanks Debora. Liked your “take” as well. Reinforces my point that it’s important to think through the various risk areas before “hitting the button” on a blender full of fruit with the lid off!

  2. […] Interestingly, and again inkeeping with much of the discussion across the Streams and Sessions during the day, the question about whether L&D professionals being adequately equipped, well enough informed and competent to add value to informal learning was raised within the contaxt of technology and the “trendiness” of social media.  In the time available it was not possible to have in-depth discussion but there was a clear message from the group that while some L&D people had the opportunity to utilise and try out new media/methods, some organisations were cautious.  It was generally agreed that (generally) L&D professionals have some way to go to become proficient at linking formal/structured learning with informal/unstructured learning.  It was suggested participants refer to the following link within the Learning Cafe for more information. […]

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