Monthly Archives: October 2012

Why we shouldn’t call it blended learning!

Now for those of you who have read a few of my posts might think that a very strange statement.  Those who know me well professionally will certainly be taken aback – after all, to them, I must sound like a broken record (for those who don’t remember records, think scratched CD!) because I’m always banging on about how anyone remotely involved in designing learning should first learn all there is to know about blended learning.

So why am I considering a change of name?  Because there are still a lot of people out there who don’t understand what blended learning is (see my post about the myth of blended learning). In my view, the blended learning approach is the foundation on which all other learning and training components are built upon.

My earlier post talked about how some people think blended learning is a what I refer to as the eLearning sandwich (eLearning tutorial+classroom+eLearning tutorial); some people think it’s a classroom course with some computer work included within it; some people think it has to include classroom; some people think that it has to include some computer-based or online activity.  Well, it may surprise you to hear that none of the above are true – and yet – all are true.  How can this be?

I confess that in this day and age it is very unlikely that any learning solution will not include some sort of electronic activity.  However, it may be there is none.  It all boils down to putting together a solution that is right for the situation – and that situation may not have any access to great technology.  There are too many variables to cover here.

If we consider what Clive Shepherd calls ‘the logical approach’ in his Blended Learning Cook book (1st and 2nd edition), (see my review) we should first establish the current situation before embarking on determining the strategy for putting forward the learning solution.  This means we need to make a detailed analysis: a lengthy process so often skimped.

Without this we don’t know our audience enough, we don’t know the resources we have or haven’t got, and we may not even know if there is a valid learning need.  Once we have all this information we can establish the most appropriate activities relevant for the audience and subject matter and be able to determine the most efficient way of delivering them.  It will also determine whether it is appropriate to go down the formal training route or the less formal approach of coaching, just in time resources, an ‘in at the deep end’ or a mixture.

Once we’ve set out our framework we can then start designing the individual components, facilitating and supporting as my diagram explains.

Blended Learning Infographic

So this is why ‘blended learning’ is the foundation of any learning solution and why it should be the first step for everyone needing to determine the best learning strategy for their organisations.  But what should we call it? What about just LEARNING!

 

Wonderful eLearning

Happy Day by Peter IsmagilovLast week I attended yet another excellent event run by the eLearning Network. I always enjoy spending time in the company of like minded people all with one goal in mind – better quality eLearning. If you weren’t able to make it, then there was an active back channel in Twitter so check out #elnevent to catch up.
First up was Bill Miller of Wonderful Learning. Well, it was certainly a wonderful session and a great way to kick the whole day off which was all about attaining ‘truly effective eLearning’.

Why? Because Bill took us back to considering what is THE most important element of successful eLearning – how our learners feel!

If we consider for just a moment, how many of us are unable to think straight whenever we feel anxiety or stress; how we go blank when taking exams. Bill’s session took us through a highly engaging and entertaining trip through the thinking of Carl Rogers and his setting of the emotional climate; introduced us to the neurobiologist Antonio Damasio and his thoughts on the effect emotions have on our decision-making; and a little insight into recent brain research.

With the introduction of MRI scanning, we’ve been able to find out amazing things about how our brains react to different stimuli. Connie Malamed in her blog The eLearning Coach shared a great piece about Emotions and Learning

Without going into the science bit… you can look that up for yourselves… let’s consider the following-

For some years now, as classroom facilitators we’ve begun to realise how important it is to ‘settle’ our learners so their learning environment is comfortable. We understand about removing barriers that may ‘get in the way’ of their openness to learn. We are what some may call ‘people’ people. We know it’s important to build a trusting relationship between us and our learners and to foster the same amongst them. Becoming increasingly aware of how our own actions will help or hinder has transformed the physical classroom environment into a positive and enjoyable experience.

Why, then, do we often forget this when introducing learning in an ‘e’ environment?

If you imagine that you have been taken out of this familiar, comfortable, setting surrounded by others in the same situation who you can confide in, draw on for support, and where there is someone who can give guidance and advice… then you are plunged into this strange and isolating world of technology, where the only voice seems to be your own, where the tools you have been given are unfamiliar and it seems you are cut off from humanity? How do you feel?

It seems when our learners are thrown into the unknown, the unfamiliar, we remove from them that which helps overcome their feelings of anxiety. If anything, as instructional designers and facilitators of eLearning, we should work even harder to incorporate the research of Carl Rogers, Antonio Damasio and what we are increasingly learning about that little almond shaped part of our limbic system, the amygdala and its influence on our decision-making.

Becoming more self-aware in our design of eLearning – or rather, more aware of our learners’ needs, experiences and emotions, we can design for THEM.

Taking you back to Bill’s session here are some of his thoughts to leave you with:

  • There are more neural pathways to the pre-frontal cortex (the thinking part of our brain) than going back
  • The rational thought processes have been emotionally tagged because they pass through the limbic system (our emotional part of the brain)
  • Emotions need to be at the forefront of learning

The session that followed Bill’s linked superbly by looking at the importance of user interface design from Richard Hyde of Mind Click but more of that another day.

Knowing me, knowing you … A-ha!

What makes an effective learning solution?

I’ve asked the same question many times over the years with the following responses:

    Relevant
    Realistic
    Interactive
    Goal based
    Flexible
    Challenging
    Structured but not controlling

Although all of these elements are important they pale into insignificance without one vital consideration because without it, learning doesn’t hit all the marks.

When discussing a hypothetical situation recently, it was suggested that if we were to produce a specific training programme within the given timescales, within the given budget, using the given resources, to the large number of learners, the only way to get this done in time was to forego the analysis of the audience’s needs, experience and characteristics! The reason given was that there would just not be the time.

My counter-argument was that without knowing your audience, how can you design the most appropriate solution. What you’d actually end up with is the usual blunderbuss approach i.e. blast it out and hope you hit the target!

Unfortunately, and sadly, this seems to be a common decision and subsequently, is the reason why a lot of training solutions, ‘e’, classroom or blended, can suffer.

Today I attended an eLearning Network event where the theme was ‘truly effective eLearning and the key ingredient for its success running throughout the discussions was the need to be more learner-centred. Without knowing your audience, how could eLearning (or indeed any learning) be learner-centred?

Then tonight, by chance, I also read something Clive Shepherd posted on an Onlignment blog post ‘making transformation happen: analysis and design‘ which reinforces how imperative the analysis is.

So as the song goes… “Knowing me, knowing you is the best I can do”!