Tag Archives: blended learning

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!


The problem with learning objectives….

…is the confusion over what they really are.

Metal confusion 1 by shho on stockxchange.The debate over the importance of learning objectives continues. I enjoyed reading a recent post by Clive Shepherd and more particularly the responses it generated. I like to think I have a fairly open mind and welcome reading debates around various doctrines in the L&D arena (perhaps it’s my equal left brain/right brain split that helps – or hinders – or am I just indecisive?). It’s healthy to question and to see the other point of view. But before we can really decide whether learning ojectives should or shouldn’t be used, surely it’s important to first establish what exactly a learning objective is before we condemn?

Might objectives have such a bad press because of their misuse and poor construction? I’ve often seen lists of key learning points posted at the beginning of a lesson or course. These are not learning objectives and certainly, if faced with a whole list of key learning points that early on, would probably send the best of us running to the hills. When someone sees a list as long as your arm, of all the topics they are going to be taught at the very start of a course, session or module it is certainly understandable that their hearts will sink. Any motivation and buy-in that may have already been established is likely to be lost and all they hear inside is “I’m never going to take all that in!” or “it’s going to be a long day”.

Then of course you have a poorly constructed learning objectives. An example of a poorly constructed learning objective could be “you will understand the interview process”. At least it is succinct. But it could do with being more specific and measurable (how do you prove understanding?).

Even if you do have well constructed learning objectives, it’s best to only offer the overall learning objective at the start of the course. When it comes to listing all of lesson objectives at the beginning of the course/programme/module this should be avoided for the same reasons as highlighted above.

A good learning objective is a succinct, clear description of the task that proves learning has taken place.

Clive’s post gives us pros and cons of learning objectives. I agree with the pros as you might expect and to a great extent I agree with some of the cons but would like to explore these and some of the responses a little further.

Yes learning objectives are usually seen as directed from top-down. They give the organisatioin and the learners progress markers in their development which can be measured. They are certainly required from a development point of view to help the instructional designers construct learning that is logical, specific and relevant.

In Nick Shackleton-Jones’ response to Clive’s post, he recommends learning objectives should appear only in the catalogue and not the course. Certainly, when looking to register for a learning programme, we all need to know what’s in it for us – what we’re signing up for. But learning objectives (specific, well constructed and valid learning objectives) are also important progress markers within the course. The help us as the learner measure our achievements along the way and we can see how our skills are building. They help us, as learners, build confidence in our abilities.
Although I loved his film analogy “I can’t imagine a movie opening with the title ‘in this film you will learn that good eventually triumphs over evil, though this may require car chases and romantic interludes”, what Nick is referring to here isn’t what I would call a learning objective at all. It’s the aim or the message of the film. And, agreed, in the credits we wouldn’t see an overview of what the film was about to tell us. This message appears in the marketing of the film, oiceovers in the trailers and film reviews which would help you decide whether or not you wish to see the film. But these are still not learning objectives. If we were to write a learning objective for the film, first we’d need to establish a task for the viewer to do to prove they understood the message. Perhaps something like “using a your choice of media, submit a critque of [the film] citing at least 2 scenes where good overcame evil”.

In effect, the learning objective is a succinct description of the task that proves learning has taken place. When we have established that these are learning objectives, then including these within the course makes more sense. Throughout a course, whether it’s a classroom course, an eLearning course or a blended course, the programme will very likely consist of a series of progress checks (preferably skills checks not just quiz checks but that’s a whole different topic). For example, if a session in a ‘presentation skills’ course culminates in a progress check task where the learner has to apply the visual design elements covered in the session to a number of PowerPoint slides’ then it’s only right that the learner knows at the beginning of that session that they will be undertaking that task. Telling them at the beginning of the session is in the form of their learning objective e.g. “apply the 5 key design elements correctly to at least 1 of your PowerPoint slides”.

Now it can become very boring, even though it’s what we all expect, to see a slide titled ‘Learning Objective’ followed by “by the end of the session/module you will be able to….” at the beginning of every session/module (yawn!) Yes – even I get bored of that. Especially when considering an eLearning course. As long as everyone is clear of the task that’s expected of them why not break out from the mould and try saying it slightly differently “Your mission is to apply …. etc”

As we’ve heard, learning objectives are more often than not driven from the top. However, even from a personal learning point of view, without individually establishing a goal – an end result i.e. a learning objective, how would we as individuals be able to measure how well we have achieved our own personal learning goals? I’ve done more self-learning in my adult life than have undergone formal training courses. Of course a lot of my development has been serendipidous but where I have made a conscious decision to do something I have, in effect given myself a learning objective. Recently, I’ve been interested in creating and editing video in my spare time. It’s a minefield and in order to establish where to start I had to give myself a specific performance objective. I decided on a task which was “to create and edit a piece to camera about tips for writing book reviews”. This was my learning objective. It wasn’t a top-down initiative. It was a personal learning goal but a learning objective nonetheless. I’ve been doing this with the help of the eLearning Organisation’s mentoring scheme (slowly because of work commitments but am pleased with my progress so far – and if my mentor is reading this, I haven’t forgotten).

I certainly agree with Clive’s suggestion that where “participation in an intervention is determined by employees themselves, then their goals should surely over-ride any objectives set by the designer/instructor – at very least they should be negotiated”. This becomes more important in today’s climate where change happens at such a fast pace and the way we deliver learning needs to adapt. Enabling employees to have more of a say in their learning and negotiating their own personal learning goals is more achievable when applying more of a flexible and blended approach to learning. Nevertheless, negotiating and agreeing a real, learning objective which is task based is still as important as ever.

As instructional designers we can do a lot more to improve the delivery of our learning objectives which will have a positive impact so they engage our audiences instead of switch them off. Not only can they then be listed in the catalogue (“by the end of the course you will be able to….”) but with a little creative re-writing, the same goals can appear in the course (“your mission for this morning is to apply the 5 design elements correctly to your PowerPoint slides before a run through with your colleague”). They are still the same learning objective but one is from the instructional designer’s perspective, the other for the learner.

I guess the debate will continue

Pre-work – Is it work or isn’t it?

ringbinderPre-work!  There’s no such thing.  Pre-work! – what exactly do we mean by this? Work is either work or it’s not.  And if it’s not ‘work’ what is it?  Is it reading?  If so, reading is something you do therefore it’s work!  Is it watching (a video)?  If so, it’s still doing ergo work.  There’s nothing ‘pre’ about it.  Are you getting the drift?

Of course, to make any sort of sense, it’s got to stand for ‘pre-course work’ but even that’s equally confusing.  Let’s explore.

The reason for this little rant is that my pet-hate of a phrase (as if you have yet guessed) has been rearing its ugly head quite a lot lately.  I’ve read a few blog posts, articles and had conversations with people where these terms are being handed out without any thought about their implications.  It’s always baffled me when people use this term.  I mean, really!  Even when traditional classroom training was the default delivery, we were very often given ‘pre-course work’ to do.  The term indicates that it some sort of activity (usually reading) that needs to be done before attending the course.  Students are usually provided with details of this as part of their joining instructions or booking confirmation.  And what do they do?  Well, the don’t do they?  This pre-course work is often (to be fair not always) forgotten.  Usually, it’s down to their perception that this pre-course work is optional.  After all, if it was necessary, it would be actually part of the course wouldn’t it? Its often provided with no clear guidelines about what they should do with it or how it’s going to be used when they arrive at the classroom.  There’s no real deadline apart from the date of the classroom course and more often than not there’s no tutor support or facilitation.

This all tells the student that if the tutors/facilitators can’t be bothered to put that effort in then why should they?  OK, I might be being a little unfair but it gets my point across.

Now us learning designers know that isn’t the case.  We’ve toiled for hours carefully creating this material and determining its importance in the course design.  I too have thrown my hands up in the air, looked skywards and silently screamed when set work hasn’t been carried out.  So why, if we have determined that this work is a necessary part of the course do we insist on calling it ‘pre-course’?  We’re not helping ourselves here.

In today’s multi-media rich world has opened the opportunities of the course to be more than classroom.  There is a wider adoption of blended solutions where different elements of the course are delivered via a range of different media channels.  Some don’t have a classroom element at all.  Strangely enough, those blended solutions where all elements are delivered remotely using a variety of media options are less likely to have ‘pre-course’ work included as it is easier to see it as part of that (likely) online delivery.

But where we do see these blended solutions having a significant classroom delivery element, any set activities outside of the classroom element are still being referred to as ‘pre-course’ or ‘post-course’.  Is it any wonder then  that we still hear concerns from learning designers that their students are unlikely to carry that work out?  Using the phrase ‘pre-course’ perpetuates the misconception that the classroom is still the only place where the real learning happens.  Anything else is less important.  And, sadly, there are learning designers, trainers and facilitators who still think that themselves.

Over the past 5 years I tried to do my bit to persuade people to think differently about using the term ‘pre-course’ work and to consider using terms such as ‘part 1, part 2 or stage 1, stage 2.  It will also help when we no long consider the bulk of the learning/training to take place in the classroom and concentrate on the course being the content not the classroom.

So, come on folks, no more ‘pre-course work’ – please!