Blended Learning in the Digital Age

How has blended learning evolved to meet the needs of modern learners?

Curated Resources on Blended Learning in the Digital Age

Blended learning has been a strategy for learning and development for decades, but the term has taken on new meaning in the digital age. For talent development, blended learning encompasses strategies that combine all kinds of learning approaches to address specific learning needs. These may include formal courses, resources, performance support systems, developmental programs, coaching, peer-to-peer learning, on-the-job learning, and much more. In academic contexts, blended learning involves online and face-to-face strategies including LMS-based activities, connected learning, experiential learning, and more. The internet age has dramatically expanded the available possibilities, and the designers in every arena are taking advantage of every learning tool they can apply to the effort.

In general, blended learning is distinguished from self-directed learning and learning environment design strategies by its alignment with clear designer-defined learning goals. While self-directed learning and learning environment design assume that the learners themselves will identify their objectives and learning paths, blended learning is centered around objectives defined as part of a curriculum or specific organizational learning need. In the digital age, the strategies for blended learning have matured considerably, moving from simply adding on pre-work and course follow-up to devising a full-on blended learning hub with rich resources for ongoing learning.

Here is how blended learning is evolving for the digital age:

Blended learning illustration

> From course-centric (structured) to learner-centric (on-demand)
Blended learning design used to be defined by wrapping additional elements around a formal course. The entire learning process from pre-work to on-the-job application was structured and organized to ensure optimal learning. Now, the goal of many blended learning strategies is to minimize structure and give learners more on-demand access to learning materials as needed while still ensuring that objectives are met.

> From instruction-focused delivery to flipped classroom
Modern blended learning aims to use face-to-face time for interaction, activities, and practice sessions that benefit most from active student-teacher engagement. Content delivery and initial skill-building is frequently designed so individuals can complete these at their own pace.

> From customized resources to curation
Rather than produce a lot of customized material, designers take advantage of the rich resources of the web to curate a selection of the best material to serve the need at hand.

> From providing coaching to enabling social learning
Traditional blended learning often included a defined coaching or on-the-job training role to support application. Blended learning in the digital age may still enable these activities, but is also often designed to build networks and enable social learning on a continual basis.

> From application-of-learning support to ongoing learning and performance support
While traditional blends were aimed primarily at ensuring application, modern blends take a more comprehensive approach to supporting both learning and performance in a broader context.

> From knowledge-testing to performance-based assessment
Traditional blended learning was often evaluated using testing and survey instruments, while modern blended learning tends to focus on observed performance as the indicator of success.

Designing a blended learning approach begins with needs assessment and objective-setting activities to define goals and context. But the designer’s toolset, palate of techniques, and cache of potential resources are considerably expanded in the digital age, making each blend a unique, rich strategy.

The resources recommended here contain terrific advice on conceptualizing blended learning designs.

Curated Resources

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Last updated: April 9, 2017 by Catherine Lombardozzi
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