While the COVID pandemic accelerated the trend towards online, rather than in-person learning, demand for face-to-face or remote “live” sessions still exists.
Most organisations are now adopting a blended approach, seeking a “best of both worlds” scenario that plays to the strengths of each learning format by combining them in varying proportions.
This is supported by a recent study by learning analysis firm Towards Maturity—which reports that in a survey of learning and development practitioners, 4 out of 5 expected to see an increase in blended learning over the coming years.
Among our own clients, we’ve seen a number of successful blended learning strategies put into action using Moodle. Although the most effective programmes are always those which are tightly customised to the individual organisation, and its learners, there are a number of common elements which we’ve seen used with success. Feel free to experiment with these if you’re in the process of transitioning to a blended learning model.
A successful blended learning programme has to start with clear objectives. Course designers should be able to set out a clear roadmap that defines how learners will move through the course, and at what points they will switch between self-guided learning and instructor-led elements.
This allows learners to understand both what they can expect from the training programme, and what is expected of them in terms of autonomous learning outside of the programmed contact time.
From an administrative point of view, it allows managers to track learners’ progress through the various elements which make up the course, identifying if any individuals are falling behind or need additional support.
It also makes clear the time needed on the part of the learners to complete any individual tasks, ensuring that managers can set their schedules appropriately
02 Flexible access
Flexibility is crucial to blended learning. A big part of this learning style is giving learners the freedom to take ownership of a large part of their own training and development, deciding when and where to complete self-guided activities and assignments.
For this to work, course designers and L&D managers need to ensure that there are no unnecessary barriers to learning. Resources and activities should be accessible via a range of devices, from desktops to smartphones, with no loss of quality or unavailable features, whichever platform is used.
At the most basic level, the learning platform itself needs to be configured in such a way that there are no issues with accessing the platform, logging in, or navigating to the right section, and no performance bottlenecks at peak usage times. If there are any issues, contact details should be available for users to seek technical support.
The importance of flexibility is not limited to devices, interfaces and access requirements, but should also include the course content itself. Using microlearning techniques to present learning experiences in bite-sized chunks is ideal within a blended learning model.
That’s not to say that more formal courses may not be necessary, but where possible, even longer format courses can be broken down into modular sections or activities, allowing learners to adopt a “little and often” approach to their training and development.
Ideally, learners should have a degree of control over how they access learning materials and courses. Depending on the learning management system used, it may be possible to enable learners to create their own account on the platform, browse and select from a range of available courses and enrol themselves on those appropriate to their role.
For in-person elements of a course, there may be a limited number of places available in each session, in which case implementing a waitlist or automatically directing learners to alternative sessions on the same topic is a useful feature.
Personalisation is particularly important to any blended learning programme, as learners will spend a significant amount of their time pursuing learning objectives with minimal guidance. The more personalised you can make your learning materials, the more engaged learners will be, and the easier it will be for them to follow the course.
As well as tailoring the course content to your brand or business model, you can also personalise the learning experience by defining learning pathways that respond to a learner’s progress through the course, adapting the materials and activities presented according to preset rules.
For example, in Moodle, the conditional activities feature allows learning designers to set prerequisites for specific activities—like restricting access to an assessment until the learner has completed each of the preceding assignments.
This is useful in blended learning scenarios where you may wish to ensure that learners have progressed through a certain portion of the course remotely before they are able to book themselves onto an in-person session.
The “flipped classroom” is an approach within blended learning which was pioneered in the education sector, but is now increasingly being used in workplace settings. Put simply, it is an alternative to the traditional method of teaching and learning, where in-person time was used to deliver content, e.g. in a lecture, and then non-contact time was used by learners to put what they had learned into practice, e.g. homework.
“Flipping” this model results in a more effective use of both types of learning. Learners research a topic independently, supported by the resources, links or media available within the LMS, and then use contact time (either in-person or remotely via Zoom, Teams, etc) to discuss the concepts or principles with the course leaders and their peers.
This allows for much more immediate feedback on key aspects of the learning and makes for a more engaging and interactive experience in the often limited face-to-face sessions.
Another way to invert the usual hierarchy when it comes to in-person learning, whether they’re taking place face-to-face or via a videoconference is to nominate one or more learners to lead the session.
This can boost engagement and interaction and allows learners greater ownership over the content and structure of these elements of the blended learning programme.
For maximum engagement, a good strategy is to choose learners to lead sessions on topics that they have a specific interest in, or which are particularly relevant to their role in the organisation. The tutor or course leader can then take a facilitator role, ensuring that the session and any subsequent discussion or debate stays on track.
Collaboration is another central part of blended learning—and you should make the most of the communications tools available in your LMS to encourage learners to work together. Using group messaging, setting up discussion forums for a course and integrating video conferencing tools such as Teams or Zoom are great ways to facilitate peer-to-peer learning.
You can also formalise collaboration by adding group activities to an online course, which could then lead to a group presentation during the next face-to-face session, providing an opportunity for tutor feedback.
Regularly switching up the makeup of learner groups is an ideal opportunity to encourage your learners to interact with their colleagues across departments or divisions, and foster productive relationships.
One of the advantages of running the “in-person” elements of blended learning programmes virtually—for example via videoconference—is the opportunity to record the sessions, including contributions from participants.
This may also be possible for genuinely face-to-face sessions, although there will be additional requirements in terms of video and audio equipment, which may make this challenging.
Where it is possible to record sessions though, it’s important to use the resulting recording to maximum effect. Posting past sessions on the LMS allows learners to recap and revisit the material at their own pace and is also valuable for any learner who may have missed one or more events.
Course leaders can also benefit—using the recordings to analyse the structure, pace and scope of their sessions and identify any areas which could be improved in future.
The blended learning model calls for a significant amount of self-directed learning, which means that monitoring learners progress and offering support where needed is important in ensuring no one strays too far off track. You should also provide contact details for learners to seek assistance if they are stuck on a particular topic or activity.
To avoid course convenors or leaders having to deal with a constant flow of inbound requests for support, one tactic is to set up virtual office hours, where students can log in to a chat app or videoconference and talk through any issues in real-time with the course convenor.
An added benefit is that if you allow multiple learners to attend at once, you can solve common issues for a number of learners in one conversation.
Whether you’re a seasoned Moodler, or you’re looking into Moodle for the first time, if you’d like to know more about how to optimise the platform for blended learning, give us a call or email. We’d be more than happy to walk you through your options, no strings attached.
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