Sometimes it seems that the more you think about blended solutions, the harder it is to define what is and what is not blended. This decision is complicated by the fact that there are so many aspects of an solution that you can choose to blend:
You can blend the educational and training strategies that you use (exposition, instruction, guided discovery, exploration).
You can blend the social contexts in which the learning takes place (the learner alone, the learner with a teacher/trainer/coach, the learner with a group of peers).
You can blend the primary medium used to deliver your methods (face-to-face, offline media, online media, telephone).
You can blend between asynchronous media and synchronous media.
I’m coming to the conclusion that blending is a continuum, from not blending at all at one extreme, through to very significant shifts in methods and media within a single solution. Let’s look at some points upon this continuum, starting with the least blended:
- You use a single method and medium throughout, e.g. (1) reading from a book, (2) coaching face-to-face.
- You use a variety of methods, albeit within a single social context, and a single medium, e.g. (1) a classroom course with case studies, presentations, discussion, role-play; (2) an e-learning course including demos, simulations, quizzes.
- You use a variety of methods, employing different social contexts, but still only a single medium, e.g. (1) within a face-to-face classroom course, there is a mix of self-study, one-to-one coaching and group work; (2) within an online distance learning course, there is a mix of self-study, one-to-one support, asynchronous collaboration and live online group sessions.
- You use a variety of methods, employing different social contexts, but this time you use a variety of media as well, e.g. a mix of face-to-face workshops, self-study with printed materials and CDs, online forum discussions, telephone tutor support.
Clearly number 1 above is not blended and number 4 is, from any perspective, but what about 2 and 3? They are blended in some respects but not others. And does it really matter whether a solution can be defined as blended or not? Surely the only important issue is whether it works.
It would be easy to argue that, with so little agreement on definitions, the concept of a blended solution is not actually that useful, but I can’t accept that. So many solutions, particularly in workplace learning, employ a single approach throughout when this doesn’t really deliver the results. The approach may work for some aspects of the solution but not for all. A good example would be a stand-alone classroom workshop that attempts to deliver a body of knowledge, as well as provide opportunities for practice and discussion. The classroom may do a good job of the latter but not the former. And it ignores the fact that learning continues beyond the classroom into the workplace, and may need to be supported by coaching and reference materials. The whole idea of blending is to use the right methods and media at each and every step in a solution, and not only the obvious formal elements, but the non-formal, the on-demand and the experiential as well.