Blended Learning is a didactic concept that combines face-to-face teaching and online learning. Practiced correctly, Blended Learning combines the best of both worlds: learners and teachers benefit from the advantages of both digital and analog learning.
The first e-learning concepts were developed at an early stage of digitalization. For example, computer manufacturer IBM and Stanford University in California developed a computer-based learning program as early as the 1950s. In the 1960s and 1970s, numerous e-learning projects were launched in the USA and Europe. However, these forms of learning only experienced a real breakthrough with the introduction of the PC and the Internet in the 1990s. At that time, companies began to use computer- or web-based learning software to an ever-increasing extent for their in-company training. However, it soon became clear that isolated learning in front of the computer is often only partially effective. Since the turn of the millennium, so-called Blended Learning has therefore established itself as an effective didactic concept for digital learning. Since then, digital communication technologies have greatly expanded the possibilities for this type of learning.
So what is Blended Learning?
The didactic principle of Blended Learning means as much as integrated learning. Digital learning methods are extended by traditional face-to-face courses. As the term ‘blended’ suggests, Blended Learning refers to a mixed-methods approach and thus integrates various components into a comprehensive concept.
This can be designed in different ways: Independent learning can take place, for example, with an app such as Babbel; in addition, course participants meet for interactive face-to-face events. Traditional and digital learning methods are combined in such a way that a complex and diverse learning environment is created that significantly increases the motivation to learn. The attendance of face-to-face classes is to be considered an add-on. Their main purpose is to give participants the opportunity to test their self-acquired knowledge through discussion with teachers and other learners or through practical exercises.
The diversity of a concept
Blended Learning includes face-to-face teaching and various forms of e-learning. Even individual support by a tutor is now possible online. Between classroom sessions, participants in a Blended Learning course are able to learn at their own pace with digital media. The digital dimension of the Blended Learning concept is reflected in the wide range of services in a constantly developing market: Besides e-books, learning videos, online tutorials and other materials for self-study on the computer, tutors, and participants of Blended Learning programs communicate with each other, for example in newsgroups, chats, and video conferences or via email. Within this framework, group work, as well as an individual exchange, is possible. Both digital learning materials and online communication support interactive learning. The individual learning process, on the other hand, is largely autonomous and can be freely shaped by the learners themselves.
Another Blended Learning alternative is so-called ‘flipped learning’ or the ‘virtual classroom.’ Here the learner specifies the learning content, digital courses and face-to-face meetings serve directly to impart new knowledge.
Blended Learning — just an HR trend?
From the beginning, Blended Learning was a controversial topic. Its critics regarded the concept as a short-lived HR trend whose practicability was by no means proven. But this controversy has since been resolved and Blended Learning has been embraced in companies, in higher education, and in external advanced training. Learners and companies that use Blended Learning to train their employees have a number of advantages.
The advantages of Blended Learning for companies:
- Companies save a considerable amount by utilising Blended Learning:This means that digital learning materials can not only be developed and made available at low cost, but digital learning events can also be designed in a cost-effective manner. Additionally, the indirect costs of off-the-job training events are eliminated, such as travel and accommodation costs, but also costs that arise from productivity loss.
- Blended Learning is agile learning:It can be tailored to the requirements of the company. For example, companies are able to support new projects at short notice through Blended Learning projects and thus reach all employees involved.
- Blended Learning can take place independent of location:This way, it offers employees the same training opportunities at all company locations, possibly also on a global scale.
The advantages of Blended Learning for learners:
- Participants benefit from the fact that Blended Learning is largely time- and location-independent. Participants learn at times that suit them and in any location — at home, on the road or at work.
- They learn at their own pace and can often set their own learning priorities.
- Blended Learning enables a flexible methodical and didactic design. This makes individual learning more diverse and interesting.
- Due to the variety of learning media, Blended Learning addresses different types of learners in an optimal way.
However, Blended Learning also has one disadvantage: the majority of course participants learn alone in front of their computers. Social ties between learners and between teachers and learners can therefore only develop to a limited extent. The motivation of learners can also suffer as a result. Likewise, "mislearning" cannot be ruled out, as the tutors have little influence on the actual learning process.
However, the list of advantages resulting from Blended Learning clearly outweighs possible disadvantages of the learning concept. These can largely be canceled out by the structure and design of the courses.
The integration of a Blended Learning concept into the company
Companies that want to use Blended Learning methods to train their employees can maximize the success of their training through optimal preparation.
- An exact analysis of the learning needs of the company and of specific employee groups.
- The target group–specific selection of learning content and learning objectives.
- The decision to incorporate a mix of methods that optimally meet the requirements and demands of the respective target group. Here, for example, it is a question of defining the relationship between digital learning, face-to-face events and individual support by tutors or coaches. In addition, the learning resources available must be defined, created or procured.
It is important that specific Blended Learning offers are compatible with existing learning management systems and that these systems can be scaled as required. Additionally, Blended Learning requires continuous evaluation and success monitoring. Positive experiences with Blended Learning have been made in particular by companies that manage to achieve good integration of self-study and face-to-face courses and also actively moderate the virtual learning process of their employees.