The Evolution of Blended Learning

Changes in Blended Learning to keep it relevant and innovative – an article by CLS Performance Solutions.

The term “blended learning” has been around for over 50 years.  It became popular with the rise of computers and telecommunications that enabled automated & remote learning.  The increasing power and flexibility of these technologies dramatically increased the ways that learners could find, assimilate and practice knowledge and skills.

So does this mean that the concept of blended learning is out of date and now being replaced by new technologies and practices such as MOOCs and social learning?  Quite the contrary – these additional learning options increase the ability to use a blended approach and make it even more vital and relevant.

Blended learning allows different learning formats that can be used at different stages and for different audiences.  For example CLS’s training programmes for corporations implementing major (ERP) software installations can use classroom learning for basic instruction and e-learning simulations for mastering specific tasks, with online help and guides for performance support and on demand learning.

The key benefits of a well-executed blended learning programme are:

• making learning more memorable by providing a mix that stimulates learners
• using the appropriate learning options for the different stages of learning – mastering the concept and tasks, attaining on-the-job competency and performance support for continuous improvement – and so supporting the three stages of the 70:20:10 approach.

This is well brought out in Bob Mosher’s diagram below:



Of course blended learning can be over-complicated by offering too many options and media formats, thrown together to give the appearance of a crafted solution.   However, a well-defined approach starts with an understanding of the needs of both the organisation and of the individual learners.

Jane Hart of C4LPT recently conducted a survey on what blended learning means which showed that nearly half of people think it is a training programme with a mix of face-to-face and e-learning, while a fifth saw it as a range of formats and media.  We firmly back the third choice she gave (supported by 23%) that it is a strategic L&D approach supporting a wide range of learning initiatives.

This does not mean that the first two answers are not valid, merely that they do not bring out two key elements of blended learning:

1. Blended learning is not a technique to be used where necessary, but a strategy that underpins the need to plan all learning to meet corporate requirements and to tailor it to the needs and capabilities of learners.  A strategy is vital given the vast range of possible learning options  – for example look at the Chapman Alliance Large Scale Blended Learning Study which on slide 12 shows 24 different blends using 11 different types of tools

2. Blending involves not just a mix of face-to-face versus e-learning but also the appropriate combinations of other dimensions including individual and group learning, timetabled and on-demand, formal and informal, learner-led and coaching.

In the modern workplace, new technologies are great enablers, and because they are so pervasive in everyday life, blended learning has evolved to include their use.  Notable examples include:

• Mobile learning or m-learning harnesses the facts that everyone has at least one mobile device always with them that they rely on more and more for information on-demand and that people often prefer to absorb knowledge in snippets when time becomes available.  Thus m-learning can power both initial training and performance support, both of which are vital for successful learning, whether it be for corporate change programmes or for general talent development.

• Social learning reflects the way that social media is the preferred choice of many people today when asking questions or sharing ideas.  Corporate social networks can be used to collect feedback and share best practices, though they have to be very well implemented to meet the standards set by the leading social networks: research shows that staff are 4x more likely to go to YouTube for learning than their in-house social network (Towards Maturity Learner Voice 2014)

• Flipped learning acknowledges that employees are used to finding out information on their own using online and mobile resources. So the value of group sessions, whether in classrooms, webinars or informal groups, lies in discussion and practice of how to apply the knowledge in particular circumstances.

It is important not to be carried away by any one new learning technology, however enticing it may be.  Teachers and students have been blending group discussions and private research for hundreds if not thousands of years.  Over time blended learning has evolved and grown to include in its toolbox many new techniques as they became available.  Good blended learning requires an understanding of the available tools and the skills to combine them in a coherent way with a clear focus – building them round a “spine” to use the terminology of Kineo (Kineo Oxford Group guide on Blended Learning Today 2013).

As well as adapting to use new technologies such as those listed above, today’s evolved blended learning has also to align itself with the differing attitudes of modern workers.  Nowadays they are much less accepting of just sitting down and having dry facts fed to them and much more demanding of being able to organise their own learning, individually and in groups, using tools that are available wherever and whenever they need them.  This requires the availability of a range of blended tools to help employees learn and embed the changing skills required to do their jobs effectively and also to access information at the point of need to support their performance.

So the challenges are to define a learning strategy that supports your organisation’s willingness to adopt new ways of working and also to find the right mix of learning options to create a blended learning experience that improves performance of both the individual and the organisation. This is a challenge that CLS Performance Solutions is meeting every day in planning training for ERP implementations, providing learning to support large corporate changes and for the continuing performance support which is vital in ensuring the value and return on the system investments.

With the right expertise you can guide your employees on a learning journey in which they gain initial competence but then continue to improve performance and expertise; and you can help build capability and utilise talent to add value to the organisation.

Then your organisation will benefit from the true value of blended learning – business improvement brought about by using the appropriate deployment of learning that enables employees to adopt and embed new skills and which supports their ongoing ability to do their jobs effectively.

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