Summary: What is blended learning and how it can help you bridge knowledge gaps among your remote workforce? It’s time to delve into the blended learning equation!
This article is part of a series exploring the concept of blended learning for remote and on-site workers. What you are about to read is a fable. The company, AshCom, is fictional but the learning challenges faced by Kathryn, AshCom’s CLO, and her team are real and commonly shared by learning teams in large organizations. It is our hope that you will be able to connect with the characters, their challenges, and the solutions they discover. We also invite you to read the first eBook in the series.
Rebecca’s Learning Journey
From strategies to objectives to assessments, from behaviorism to constructivism, from Bloom’s taxonomy to Kirkpatrick’s model, from Articulate Storyline™ to storyboarding to virtual reality, Rebecca had been involved in learning her entire life.
Now in her late 40s, she was experienced in K-12 education, university curriculum development, and instructional design for corporate L&D teams for a variety of industries from health care to manufacturing to technology. She led teams that built everything from onboarding to the proper process for making French fries to advanced leadership development.
Beyond her instructional design knowledge, Rebecca was a systems thinker who regularly spent time researching the latest trends in learning and development. Blended learning had been on her radar for more than two decades.
Darryl was a member of the learning team at AshCom, a Minneapolis-based manufacturer with 7,000 team members. He thought of himself as an artist who worked as an instructional designer. He preferred to call himself a learning experience designer, a title that eventually caught on at AshCom and became the standard title for IDs on the learning team.
AshCom faced two significant challenges. The first was a growing skills gap that resulted from the ever-increasing technical nature of manufacturing and the growing number of experienced technicians’ retirements each year at the company. This, in tandem with lower interest in manufacturing among younger people, made it challenging to fill the skills gap and give the company the labor force it needed to thrive in the global market.
The second challenge was the increasing call for more flexible work and even completely remote options. It first popped up with those being interviewed for jobs. Soon, current office employees were asking about remote as an option. It was becoming clear that this might make attracting new people and retaining current team members more challenging.
Laszlo, the Chief Human Resource Officer at AshCom, saw these trends as threats to the long-term success of the company. He brought both concerns to Kathryn, the Chief Learning Officer at AshCom. Kathryn, in turn, brought them to her learning team.
Darryl, a member of the learning team, considered the possibility that a blended learning solution might be right for both challenges. He mentioned this briefly to Kathryn, who asked him to do a little digging and come back to her with more complete thoughts.
What Is Blended Learning?
Before he got into his research, he assumed this would not be a challenge. Everyone, he thought, knows what blended learning is. After all, AshCom had done some blended learning in the past by taking some sections of instructor-led modules and injecting some eLearning experiences into them. Easy.
After several days of reading, it occurred to Darryl that he did not fully understand blended learning. But then again, neither did many of the articles he came across. The deeper he dug, the more confused he became. The answer to the question ‘what is blended learning?’ that he assumed would be easily found was more elusive than he anticipated. That led him to wonder, “Is the concept of blended learning even a useful construct?”
Darryl did not have good answers to either question. Kathryn had assigned him to find out more. When he met with Kathryn, he told her it was more complex than he had imagined and that he was stuck.
Kathryn suggested he meet with Rebecca. Rebecca and her team at Inno-Versity had become trusted learning partners to AshCom. She helped them build the learning framework for the true game Kathryn’s team built to help managers increase their financial literacy. Throughout the process, Rebecca brought the AshCom team back to the core principles of instructional design. Kathryn suspected that Rebecca might help get Darryl unstuck.
Darryl and Rebecca worked closely throughout the true game-building process and each respected the knowledge and skills of the other. At their meeting, Darryl walked Rebecca through the two challenges of the skills gap and remote work.
He also told her why these mattered. Global competition meant AshCom needed to find a way to drive down costs and drive up productivity. That meant more automation, increased tool utilization rates, and fewer defects. To accomplish these goals, they needed deeper skills and knowledge among the technicians at AshCom. But they also needed to limit the downtime of their machines and tools.
Blended Learning Solutions
As Darryl spoke, Rebecca furiously wrote in her notebook. When Darryl finished, Rebecca sat quietly for several moments.
“So, your learning team has been presented with two challenges,” said Rebecca. “and your CHRO sees them as potential future threats to AshCom. You have been assigned to dive into some possible solutions. You think you have one possible answer in blended learning. Does that about cover it?”
“Yes,” said Darryl, “except I have dug myself into a hole in what blended learning even is. Maybe more troubling, I’m not even sure the concept is all that helpful. So yes. I don’t know what it means, and I don’t know if it would matter even if I could define it in a way that made sense to me.”
“Is the point of meeting today for me to give you a good definition of blended learning and then tell you how it will fix the problem of remote work and the skills gap?” asked Rebecca, just shy of being sarcastic.
“Sounds like a plan,” said Darryl, meeting Rebecca’s tone. “If you can do that today, it would be appreciated.”
“Sure,” said Rebecca. “In all seriousness, I think you are right on the money about blended learning. Let’s talk through that before we talk about remote learning or the skills gap. Agreed?”
“Agreed,” said Darryl.
Rethinking The Definition
“I’ve been watching the research and articles on blended learning for my entire career. I’ve read dozens of dissertations along with hundreds of articles. I remember back in about 2005 when experts were predicting that blended learning would become the new traditional model.”
“I’ve seen that recently too,” replied Darryl. “Still seems like a new concept to some. Maybe the push for remote education in schools is the source. Or maybe it is being driven by technology. It just seems like we still mostly mean adding some eLearning or online modality to instructor-led and we have blended.”
“And you don’t like that definition?” asked Rebecca.
“No, I don’t,” said Darryl. “I don’t think it is helpful. I don’t think the goal is to create more blended learning. Furthermore, I don’t think blending instructor-led and eLearning necessarily addresses remote work or the skills gap. That feels like we are pointed at the wrong objective and goes against some of the core principles of the best of learning science.”
“I completely understand,” said Rebecca. “Would we call it blended if people were in the same room each taking an eLearning module on a desktop? What if someone was going through a virtual reality experience but in a room where others are doing the same? Is that blended?”
“Let me be more precise,” said Darryl, “who cares what counts as blended learning? Being counted as blended learning doesn’t necessarily solve our challenges or, actually, mean much at all to me.”
“Got it,” said Rebecca. “I think I can help. You mentioned the core principles of instructional design and learning science. Let’s go back to those. Good design thin