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Blended learning in practice

Blended learning in practice: combining online courses and face-to-face learning

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Blended learning means the mixing of different forms of learning. For many years, the term has been a common expression for the trend of combining classic forms of learning with online learning platforms. Just what this means exactly, where blended learning is used in practice, and what its advantages are – you’ll find out right here.

What blended learning means

Face-to-face learning  + eLearning = blended learning


If you search for “blended learning” on the German Wikipedia page, you’ll be redirected to the entry on “integrated learning.” There’s a note at the top that that page is incomplete. Although blended learning has been a concept in German-speaking countries for many years, other countries – such as the USA – are already several steps ahead.

In the following section you will learn what exactly is meant by blended learning, where the term comes from. and in which areas the method is used.

This is Blended Learning // blink.it

Blended learning means the sensible interlocking of different forms of learning – mostly this is classical, face-to-face learning (live) and eLearning (time- and location-independent).

Definition

Blended learning is the mixture of different forms of learning and usually means an interlocking of classic face-to-face learning (seminars, workshops, etc.) with online-directed self-learning. The emphasis here is on “interlocking,” because simply combining two forms of learning is not yet blended learning.

The Association of European Blended Learning Actors e.V. (blended-learning-network.eu) describes it as follows:

“Blended learning means learning through the use of a blend of educational resources. Different approaches to learning – e.g. face-to-face sessions, electronic teaching/learning concepts like computer-based training (CBT) or e-learning tools and techniques - are combined in a didactically sensible way to establish an organized and continually tutored further education arrangement.”

An alternative term for blended learning is therefore “integrated learning,” since here one form of learning is integrated into the overall concept of the other. However, since this term can lead to confusion, we will limit ourselves to the English-language variant “blended learning.”

Origin of the term

We know the term “blended’ in other contexts as blended tea or blended whisky. Just as in blended learning, different components are mixed and put together in a new way. In the 1970s, people spoke of “hybrid forms of learning,” meaning the mixing of the (then new) media of video and audio with classical forms of learning. In the 1980s, the use of computers was added and reignited a discussion about the best possible integration of new and traditional forms of delivery.

Fields of application for blended learning

In principle, blended learning can be used in all areas of teaching and learning. The largest proponents here are schools and universities, vocational training, and continuing and advanced vocational training.

(Higher education) schools: Blended learning is a possible application method in all school contexts. However, the German-speaking region is not yet as far advanced as the USA, for example, where Google Classroom has already become an established tool in many towns. In our country, on the other hand, “classic,” face-to-face learning still dominates and when eLearning elements are used, they are often not adequately integrated into an overall blended learning concept.

Training: The fact that blended learning is an effective solution in training is something that more and more HR managers and trainers alike have discovered in recent years. For example, in a project on blended learning and the new role of trainers, Anja Schulz and Marcel Martsch emphasize the use of so-called blended learning tutors who, as experts, not only train their trainees in the classic way, but also teach them digital learning methods.

Continuing education and training: In a professional context, blended learning is excellent, among other reasons, because adult participants are often heavily involved in a tightly scheduled daily routine. Here, a self-directed online phase is a practical supplement to classroom training on a fixed date.

According to the eLearning Journal Benchmarking Study 2016, sales is particularly suitable for the use of blended learning in a professional context, closely followed by customer service and administration.

In addition to classic soft skill training or the technical introduction to a new tool, the area of onboarding is also suitable for blended learning. In summary, blended learning is always useful in vocational training and continuing education when cross-personal content is to be conveyed in a sustainable manner.

A mix of self- and external control

Blended learning at its best is a good mix of externally controlled and self-controlled processes. The classroom phase is more externally directed and the online phase is more self-directed. Both processes have advantages and disadvantages, which are emphasized or mitigated in blended learning by dovetailing with the other phase.

Blended Learning Range // blink.it

Diagram: Externally directed processes such as speeches and lectures, on the one hand, and self-controlled processes such as pure e-learning, on the other. Blended learning combines both forms of learning.

Finally, a note on the classification of self-directed and externally directed processes: In the specialist literature, self-directed processes are often closely associated with new media. This is true insofar as they have a high interaction and exploration potential (see H.-Hugo Kremer: Medienentwicklung für Blended Learning Maßnahmen, 2005). However, a lecture can also be transmitted by media and is thus not significantly more self-directed than a lecture that takes place live and on site.

Successful blended learning in education and training

Blended learning is not a new trend – indeed, it has had a reputation as the future of the education industry for well over a decade. Since 2006, for example, the Learning Delphi trend study has been asking experts from the German-speaking region which forms of learning will be of great importance to companies in the next 3 years. In the last few years, blended learning has consistently been at over 95%. In the Trendmonitor 2020/21, blended learning is undisputedly the top learning form of the future for companies, with 100% agreement from the experts!

blended-learning-trendmonitor-en

Source for data from the graphic: mmb-Trendmonitor 2020/21

Experimental studies also underscore the importance of blended learning. For example, Demirer and Sahin's university-based study in 2013 found that the experimental group using blended learning was 10-12% more successful in putting what they learned into practice than the control group who learned exclusively with face-to-face instruction (Demirer and Sahin, 2013).

Benefits of blended learning for learners

By interlocking different learning methods, there are quite a few advantages of blended learning compared to traditional face-to-face learning or pure e-learning. We briefly present the most important advantages below.

Blended learning appeals to all learning types: Different “learning types” are given the opportunity to use their favored learning method for the greatest success. Someone who does not like to listen to another person for a longer period of time and has difficulty concentrating can, for example, internalize what they have heard in small text modules during the self-learning phase. Practically inclined learners can arrange their own time when carrying out learning content at home so that they can directly follow up with an exercise – and so on.

Blended learning means great self-determination: The learner decides when and where to engage with the content during the online phase. This means that everyone can choose the optimal learning conditions for themselves. Early riser or night owl? Learning by doing or intensive theory study? Tidy desk or learning on the train? Everyone gets their money's worth.

Blended learning brings all learners to the same level: In the presence phase, there is hardly any difference between learners, thanks to the preceding online phase. Ideally, every participant in blended learning has the same level of knowledge. The positive effect is clear: learners are neither over- nor under-challenged and remain motivated and efficient.

Methods in blended learning

When we talk about blended learning, we are referring to a basic idea: combining classroom learning with online-directed self-learning. Practical implementation can look completely different in each case. Some models and methods are particularly suitable in combination for blended learning. In the following we’ll show you the most common models and explain the learning method of microlearning.

Typical blended learning models

It’s important to note that blended learning is not a generic term for one “ultimate” strategy. Depending on the framework, different models can be considered. In some situations, it makes sense to focus on the online phase, in others on the face-to-face phase. The possible combinations are almost infinite, although some typical models have become established in practice.

Here are three typical models in blended learning:

BL models EN - The jumper _ der Springer

The Jumper: In this model, online and face-to-face phases are roughly equally important.

BL models EN - The heron _ der Reiher

The Row: In this model, the focus is on the face-to-face phase.

BL models EN - The sandwich _ das Sandwich

The Sandwich: In this model, the focus is on the online phase.

In addition to these three typical blended learning models, numerous variations are of course conceivable. In practice, for example, some trainers rely on a variation of the Chain in which the course starts with an online phase and classroom sessions follow.

The most popular models in blended learning as well as some special forms of the Jumper, Row, and Sandwich can be found in our free downloadable overview:

To the free overview of blended learning models

Microlearning in blended learning

Learning in small units is commonly referred to as “microlearning.” The idea is that someone who consistently takes ten minutes for focussed learning tends to process information better and more sustainably than someone who deals with a topic for two hours at a time.

Both the consumption and the creation of these learning “morsels” should therefore take place in as short a time as possible and be strongly focused in terms of content. In combination with blended learning, microlearning works so well because the barrier to start learning is lower: Most people can fit a few minutes into their daily routine.

Differentiation from eLearning

In addition to blended learning, e-learning has also become a term that is often used in connection with new forms of learning.

eLearning initially means nothing more than teaching and learning supported by electronic media of all kinds: “It includes, for example, computer-based training (...), web-based training with the Internet, and forms of communication such as e-mails, chats and discussion forums. In addition, educational television and online seminars are also attributed to e-learning” (Stäudel 2008, p. 104, translated).

The great advantage of eLearning is the high degree of independence of the learner. However, a disadvantage of pure eLearning is the lack of commitment and personal support. The following table lists the three greatest potentials and problems of eLearning:

Potentials of eLearning
Individualized learning speed
Independent of time and place
Access to a wide range of digital content
Problems with eLearning
Lack of personal support
High degree of non-commitment
Technical equipment required

In blended learning, eLearning is combined with face-to-face learning. Face-to-face or classroom learning refers to a form of teaching in which teachers and learners meet at the same time at a specific location. The biggest advantage of classical classroom learning is the possibility of intensive supervision of individual participants. A disadvantage is the dependence on time and place and limited transfer performance.

Potentials of face-to-face learning
Personal support
High level of commitment
Deepening of complex material
Problems with face-to-face learning
Limited use of material
Time-bound
Lack of transfer possibilities after the event  

Note: In many sources, blended learning is divided into online and offline phases. However, this does not fully reflect the basic idea of blended learning, which is to combine face-to-face learning with e-learning. After all, presence basically only means being present. We therefore include all synchronous events under the term “face-to-face learning.” This also includes webinars, where the instructor and participants are in the same place at the same time, even if the place is digital and everyone can visit this digital place from their own desk.

Essential elements of blended learning

For blended learning to become blended learning, some essential elements must be in place. This kit includes at the very least:

  • One person who participates (participant)
  • A person who leads the blended learning (course instructor)
  • A face-to-face event
  • An online platform
  • One online content

Illustration Elemente Blended Learning EN

Diagram: These elements are essential components of blended learning

Requirements for blended learning

Once the essential elements for blended learning are in place, they still need to fulfill some basic requirements to achieve learning targets.

Face-to-face training

In most blended learning models, classroom training is the central core. This is where all participants meet in person – even if it is "only" in the form of a webinar via live chat or live telephony – and this fact should be utilized as a strength, for example in the form of open question periods or other forms of personal exchange.

In terms of content, face-to-face training that is integrated into blended learning can cover more technically demanding topics than without blended learning: introductory lessons and the teaching of basic knowledge can take place online before the first face-to-face event, because personal support is usually not necessary for these starter units.

Software for blended learning

In order to find a suitable online support for blended learning, you’ll need to choose software. The requirements here vary, of course, depending on the chosen blended learning model and your own learning concept. Fundamentally, however, certain characteristics should be fulfilled:

  • Ease of integration: Suitable for all common operating systems (Windows, Macintosh) and all common browsers (Google Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer).
  • User-friendliness: Usable without special IT knowledge; intuitive navigation
  • Data security: A transparent handling of user data and a trustworthy provider

We have listed here only the basic requirements for blended learning software. A free trial version, good support and many other criteria are also signs of good software. Last but not least, the included features (comment fields, quizzes, video upload or similar) are crucial and should fit the overall blended learning concept.

Grafik: Blended Learning funktioniert auf verschiedenen Geräten – ob Laptop, Tablet oder Smartphone

Ideally, software for blended learning will work well on different devices.

Didactic concept for blended learning

In addition to high-quality classroom training and high-quality software, the overall didactic concept is crucial for the success of blended learning. Going into all the details here would far exceed this article, but two seals of quality in particular should be mentioned at this point: A good use of media and clear calls to action.

Quality marked by good use of media: Good blended learning is characterized by excellent use of media. It’s not only the variety of different media that’s important, but also their adequate linking. Explainer videos are particularly popular with learners and teachers. According to Trendmonitor 2018, no other tool for digital learning has such a high approval rating as explainer videos.

Videos are not only vivid and more entertaining than plain text, for example, but often save time as well. When using videos in blended learning, it's especially important to keep them as short as possible (ideally between 30 seconds and 3 minutes). If you would like to know more about the importance of videos, you can find many helpful sources via Google or check out our blog on the topic of videos.

Quality through clear calls to action: In addition to a well-chosen use of media, the consistent use of clear calls to action is of elementary importance in blended learning. What is self-evident in face-to-face learning must not be shortchanged in online venues: the instructor must clearly convey at all times what task the learner has next.

The reason is obvious: even if the online phase is fundamentally self-directed, clear calls to action make it easier for the learner to move forward. The term "calls-to-action" (CTA) is commonly used in this context.

A clear call-to-action is one that

  • focuses on exactly one step
  • can be directly implemented or planned within 5 minutes of the call to action
  • is formulated in an understandable way within 1-3 sentences

Here’s an example of a clear call to action: "Now take five minutes to read the linked text and mark all terms that are related to blended learning. Then share your findings in the comments."

Criticisms of blended learning

Although the response to blended learning in the professional community has generally been very positive, there are criticisms of the concept from time to time. The three most common criticisms are:

  • High didactic demands on trainers and teachers
  • Technical obstacles
  • Restrictions in learning content

High didactic demands on trainers and teachers

Critics sometimes note that the quality criteria of the didactic concept (see above) are quite high. As a result, the demands of managing blended learning - i.e., on the teacher, trainer or continuing education instructor - are relatively high. For beginners in the field of education, blended learning is therefore rather less suitable.

Note: This restriction only applies to the course leader. For participants, the demands are not necessarily higher or lower than for classic knowledge transfer.

To gauge whether the high didactic demands might be a barrier for you as a trainer or teacher, take a quick self-test: Download the booster guide "10 methods for blended learning" and create your own blended learning with the best methods in a few minutes. Don’t worry about achieving perfection here! You will see that it is easy for trainers to put together a blended learning concept with this methods that have been proven in everyday practice.

To the free overview of 10 blended learning methods

Technical obstacles to blended learning

The use of a digital platform is also sometimes seen as a flaw of blended learning. For one thing, because it assumes a certain basic technical understanding should on both the management and user side. For another, because technology is fundamentally prone to errors and external support is necessary in the event of problems.

Advocates of blended learning note in these technical criticisms that, first, a good platform is so simple in design that really only minimal, basic digital skills are required. Second, error-proneness applies to humans at least as much as it does to machines, and again, the blended learning platform chosen should be one that provides good support in case of emergencies.

If you want to see for yourself how complicated or simple blended learning technology can be, you can book a 20-minute introductory demo here.

Limitation of learning content

Furthermore, there is some (limited) learning material for which especially the e-learning part of blended learning can only be recommended in a limited way. For example, language courses in which the focus is on speech training are not easily verifiable in the self-learning phase.

In principle, however, such training courses can be implemented with blended learning by selecting a suitable model. In the example of language courses, this would be a model that includes frequent face-to-face events.

As a rule, however, this point is not a real limitation in the implementation of blended learning. It is only important that the blended learning model fits the content: If the content is highly practical, such as language training or sports courses, the ratio of face-to-face to online should be 70% to 30% rather than vice versa!

Unsure if your content is suitable? There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question - probably a conversation with blended learning experts will help, or you can simply try it out in a test phase.

Practical examples of blended learning

In addition to overviewing the theory of blended learning, we’d like to point out some practical examples at this point. Our focus here is on use cases in training, coaching and consulting.

For this purpose, we start with real-life, practical examples from the blink.it web app and then cite clients who successfully use blended learning in their own business as examples.

Implementation of blended learning and microlearning using the example of blink.it

As described above, blended learning is particularly effective when the online self-learning phase is based on the microlearning method. The following video shows an example of what micro-content can look like in the form of a welcome video at the start of blended learning:

introvideo_zachdavis_democourse

 

The video here is taken out of context and only really becomes pertinent when seen in overview: at blink.it, the principle of microlearning is used to divide all content into small "blinks" (learning contents) that are quickly created and quickly consumed. Sebastian's video above is one such blink used as the introduction to an online course.

This is what a complete blink.it course looks like in the overview pane:

Screenshot_Democourse_EN

The view is virtually identical for both leader and participant. If you want to test a blink.it course yourself, you can do so in this sample course

Our favorite blended learning concept 

A few years ago blended learning was synonymous with combining online and offline content. With the rise of online video conferences more general terms like synchronous and asynchronous or live and self-paced learning seem more appropriate. Either way, when we help our customers create blended learning we aim to leverage the advantages of both. We use the following to describe an effective way to structure the synchronous and asynchronous parts:

  1. Repeat a central element of live sessions (e. g. Q&A call or Webinar) for several weeks. Typically it goes on for 10 weeks, with a Q&A every 2 weeks.
  2. Let the participants learn between the live sessions at their own pace. Provide them with material that they can access.
  3. Nudge them to learn in their self paced time, don’t force them. A good way is to let them reflect on past live sessions and prepare for upcoming ones.
  4. Add a Pep Talk before all of this starts to motivate everyone. It is beneficial if the students reflect on why the course is beneficial to them.
  5. Finish with a graduation event so that the course has a clear ending. This is where you can also place some information about other programs of yours.

Our favorite blended learning concept at blink.it

Further information on blended learning

This page presents the essential aspects of blended learning. The focus is on blended learning for adult participants - for example, in internal company training, in education or in coaching.

Of course, there is much more to learn about blended learning than we can cover here. In the following, we therefore present a selection of specialist literature and online content.

Cited and related literature on blended learning

There is a large amount of literature available on blended learning. Sources available digitally are linked directly in the above mentioned context, all further sources can be found in the following listing.

In addition to the sources cited above, we list here a selection of works that serve to provide more in-depth information on blended learning. We will update and add to this list regularly.

  • V. Demirer und I. Sahin: Effect of blended learning environment on transfer of learning: an experimental study. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, Vol. 29, 2013. 

Additional online content 

You can also find a lot of information about blended learning on various websites and blogs. Our selection includes various approaches and opinions on this topic that don’t necessarily reflect our own view of blended learning. The order here is alphabetical.

This site last updated: August 18, 2021

Further content from blink.it

The blink.it team is working every day on content that shows how blended learning can be done easily, quickly and in a professional way. To accomplish this, we have already created a series of learning material. The content is the result of many years experience with trainers and coaches, as well as intensive research and analysis of blended learning. 

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