10 tips for better blends

10-23-2017

Overview

  1. Don’t jump to solutions – start with a sound analysis
  2. Try to stop the subject expert and the client dictating the solution
  3. Focus on performance, not knowledge
  4. Don’t overdo the self-study
  5. Build in lots of opportunities to practise new skills
  6. Use guided discovery to get across the big ideas
  7. Keep a balance between the synchronous and asynchronous
  8. Keep all ideas about technology out of your mind until you’ve fixed on a suitable method
  9. Recognise that face-to-face learning still has an important part to play
  10. Extend the blend along the whole learning journey

Tip 1: Don’t jump to solutions – start with a sound analysis

This one’s a bit obvious, but it needs saying. When confronted with a new project, it’s tempting to jump straight into the creative process of selecting the ingredients for your blend without a clear understanding of what it is that you’re required to achieve.

There will be plenty of room for creativity later on in the design process, although you may find that the ‘how’ becomes all too obvious once you have answered the questions ‘what’, ‘why’, ‘who for’, ‘by when’ and ‘for how much’.

A good test is how clearly you feel you could articulate the requirement to a third party. If you cannot explain it properly, then you don’t understand it well enough yet.

Tip 2: Try to stop the subject expert dictating the solution

Subject experts suffer from ‘the curse of knowledge’ – they believe that every aspect of their subject is not only of vital importance but intrinsically interesting to just about anyone. They are wrong. Their main role is to ensure the quality of the technical content.

Your role is to ensure that the learning objectives are achieved effectively and efficiently.

Tip 3: Focus on performance, not knowledge

Schools and colleges exist primarily to foster learning. Employers are only interested in learning to the extent that it will positively impact on their key performance indicators. Don’t overload students with abstract theory but provide lots of opportunities for them to practise and build confidence.

Tip 4: Don’t overdo the self-study

Self-study provides attractive benefits to learners, particularly in the control that it allows them over what they learn, when, where and at what pace. But we are social animals and we also need to externalise our learning, to reassure ourselves of our progress and to compare our thoughts with others. And after prolonged periods of self-study we are going to be bursting with questions and comments that can only be adequately resolved by contact with coaches and experts.

Tip 5: Build in lots of opportunities to practise new skills

Another side effect of our focus on knowledge is that we allow far too little time for learners to practise new skills. Imagine if you went to a tennis lesson and spent the whole time watching videos and discussing tactics: how frustrating this would be?

Generally speaking it’s best to provide the learner with the absolute minimum amount of information they need before they can start practising. You can top up on the theory later, as they encounter difficulties and are striving to get better. That’s why coaching can play a valuable role in so many blends.

Tip 6: Use guided discovery to get across the big ideas

Nearly all jobs require the incumbent to make judgements in highly variable situations. These tasks are principle-based; they rely on the employee’s ability to make sense of the myriad of cause and effect relationships that impact on them in their work.

It is rarely effective to convey principles through exposition or instruction. Learners need to discover the big ideas for themselves, either through hard experience or through a learning activity that has been designed specially to encourage those ‘aha’ moments.

Tip 7: Keep a balance between the synchronous and asynchronous

Sometimes self-paced learning activities can be too flexible - it makes it too easy to put off those essential learning tasks until another day. Participating in synchronous experiences, whether face-to-face or online, focuses your energies and helps to ensure you keep up-to-date with your self-paced learning activities.

Tip 8: Keep all ideas about technology out of your mind until you’ve fixed on a suitable method

Technology won’t guarantee that you achieve your goals. The first priority in any learning design – once you have a clear understanding of the requirement – is to establish the strategies that will best facilitate the required learning for your particular audience. Once you have a strategy that you believe in, don’t compromise. Take each element in your strategy and ask yourself how you can deliver this efficiently and flexibly, without compromising on the intended outcomes.

Technology is a tool, not a goal in itself.

Tip 9: Recognise that face-to-face learning still has an important part to play

However fast your bandwidth and however high-resolution your webcam, you cannot fully replicate a multi-sensory, face-to-face experience online. There are occasions when learners really do need to get hands-on with tools and equipment (perhaps even with each other), explore a real physical space, be aware of the body language of others in the room or just experience the magic of the occasion.

Tip 10: Extend the blend along the whole learning journey

Learning is a process, a journey, which requires time and a wide range of learning activities.

One of the primary arguments for blending is that it provides just the right support to the learner at every step they take from ignorance to mastery. This starts by helping them prepare for the journey they will be taking, providing formal learning activities and resources, encouraging application to a real work situation, and then following-up as long as needed with additional input and guidance.

Sources

Books

  • More than blended learning (Clive Shepherd)
  • Live online learning: a facilitator's guide (Clive Shepherd)
  • The Blended Learning Cookbook (Clive Shepherd)

Websites

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