Blended learning is one of the most effective ways to train students who need to quickly and comprehensively attain proficiency with a new technology or software platform. This method of instruction combines traditional in-person instruction with online classwork, utilizing both instructor-led and independent elements.
Since there are many ways to combine online and offline learning, there’s no single correct or optimal way to design a blended learning curriculum. The ideal shape of any educator’s blended learning class will be highly informed by what they’re trying to teach, and who they need to teach it to.
If you’re in the process of designing an educational program and plan on incorporating blended learning, here are five tips that will enhance the quality of your program and help you deliver the greatest educational impact for your dollar.
1. Instructor-led Training (ILT)
It’s important to remember that blended learning, as we’re using the term here, doesn’t just mean selecting from a grab bag of different educational methods. The key to a successful, effective blended learning model is in the synthesis of instructor-led teaching and student-driven exploration.
Many of the technologies and innovations that make blended learning an exciting new field are on the student-driven side of things. However, students can’t reach the full potential benefits of their independent activities without a solid grounding in the fundamental facts and concepts of the subject they’re learning about.
The instructor-led portions of your curriculum there to provide that needed grounding. They also answer questions, clear up misconceptions that might send students down an unproductive path, and provide guidance on how students might direct their unsupervised activities.
When separating independent study and ILT, keep this in mind. The most obvious arrangement is to have instructors lead the in-person classwork while the students work independently in virtual training labs or other eLearning platforms. However, it’s also useful to include instructors in online coursework, through virtual instructor-led training and similar methodologies.
This is especially valuable when students are learning high-level tech skills.
Video content is a staple of eLearning. To get the most out of it in a blended learning scenario, you want to think carefully about using video in deliberate, targeted ways. In other words, don’t just use it as a low-effort vehicle for delivering lectures and other didactic material for students to passively absorb.
The most basic application of video in blended learning is for teachers or trainers to record short video lectures. These often include a screen recording of slides, a webcam recording of the instructor, and footage of techniques being demonstrated.
Here are a few other ideas for using video in blended learning:
- Instructors can record videos for use as supplemental course material designed to help students with more challenging concepts, or for those who wish to deepen their understanding of a subject.
- Video tutorials can be used to introduce students to software or equipment that will be used in subsequent classes.
- Students can record themselves for practice, group feedback, and performance assessment from colleagues and instructors.
3. Breakout Groups
At times, it can make sense to break a class up into smaller groups to discuss a topic, work on an exercise or project, or complete some other collaborative learning activity.
In a brick-and-mortar learning environment, forming breakout groups means splitting up, rearranging desks and chairs, or even relocating to meeting places outside the classroom.
In a blended learning environment, the in-person portion of the class might not be the optimal setting for breakout sessions to occur. It may make more sense to form breakout groups during virtual lab time, when students have direct access to the software or tools they’re learning about.
Online environments like virtual training labs allow teachers to split students up into breakout groups almost instantaneously. Virtual training labs give them access and screen-viewing capabilities that let them monitor multiple groups at once; drop in to supervise more closely or answer questions when needed; and shift seamlessly back into full-class mode for students to present their findings.
Virtual breakout rooms also support features like whiteboards and application sharing, giving students even more ways to share information and collaborate together.
4. Self-paced Learning
If the instructor-led classroom space is the first pillar of the blended learning model, the self-paced learning environment is the second, and equally important.
Giving students time to work on their own, processing and practicing and experimenting with the concepts and skills they’re learning is an essential part of blended learning. This can be done on rotational, flex, or other kind of schedules as fits the course and students best.
Educators have many options to provide students with self-paced learning. Much better educational outcomes happen when students are provided with a supportive environment, and resources designed to facilitate their self-paced learning.
One of the most effective platforms for self-paced learning is the virtual training lab. Virtual training labs give students the same learning experience they would have in a physical lab with an individual workstation and software setup, but allows them to access it from their own devices, from any internet-connected location.
A remote host replicates the hardware environment, runs the software, and serves it up to the student’s device, just as if they were running a program like GoToMyPC. Virtual training labs can natively support features like breakout groups. They offer instructors a variety of tools that allow them to observe students, communicate with them, and even take control of their inputs to demonstrate or offer corrections.
In a virtual training environment, students are free to let their interests and natural curiosity guide their progression. It’s a safe place to practice, experiment, and explore. In a virtual setting, students can test out whatever ideas occur to them without fear of damaging hardware or corrupting important data.
Few words strike as much dread into the hearts of students as, “There will be a final project.” The fact is, putting newly-acquired knowledge to hands-on use is one of the best ways to build on that knowledge and make it stick.
Traditional blended learning classes that adhere to the “hybrid” model of in-person lectures and online exercises may seem poorly suited for project work. However, the opposite is true. Student projects are well-suited for virtual training labs and their accompanying tools.
Breakout rooms that facilitate project groups, teacher tools with access to student screens, and virtual full-featured simulations of powerful hardware and software platforms make it both convenient and a powerful learning experience.
Blended learning works best when educators take advantage of the full range of opportunities and resources that the blended learning model can incorporate. Blended learning really can be the best of both worlds, offering students the most effective learning methods from both the online and offline spheres.
It takes knowledgeable educators to put these methods together harmoniously to make it easier for students to learn, instead of overwhelming them with different features and options.
No two organizations will have exactly the same requirements for their ideal blended learning curricula, but blended learning is adaptable enough to meet and exceed the needs of nearly any educational program.
When you have a good understanding of your goals for training, student learning styles, and student needs, you can begin to put together a blended learning course with confidence.