Sunday, January 06, 2008

Blended baloney

After all of that fuss what did ‘Blended Learning’ do for the world? It had the promise to shake the training world out of its ‘classroom-obsessed’ straightjacket into a fully developed, new paradigm for training. This needed research, evidence-based models and an analytic approach to developing and designing blended learning.

So what happened?

Muddled by metaphor
First, it got muddled by metaphor. Blended learning failed when it got bogged down by banal metaphors. I've heard them all - blended cocktails, meals, even alloys. Within the ‘food metaphor’ mob we got courses, recipes, buffet learning, tapas learning, fast food versus gourmet. My own favourite is ‘kebab learning’ - a series of small bites, repeated in a spaced practice pattern for reinforcement into long-term learning memory, held together with a solid spine of consistent learning content and objectives. Only kidding of course, but that's the problem with metaphoric blended learning. Who's to say that your metaphor is any better than mine? I even had some fool at the Learning Technologies exhibition come up to me with a 'fruit blender' trying to explain the concept in terms of a fruit smoothie!

What happened to analysis?
Blended learning needs careful thought and analysis, the consideration of the very many methods of learning delivery, sensitivity to context and culture and a matching to resources and budget. It also needs to include scalability, updatability and several other variables. All this talk of meals and metaphors has been going on for several years. What it led were primitive, indigestible (sic) 'classroom and e-learning' mixes. It never got beyond vague 'velcro' models, where bits and bobs were stuck together (now that's a metaphor).

Blended learning became blended TEACHING
Second, blended learning books turned out the very opposite of Blended Learning theory, namely Blended TEACHING. Attempts at defining, describing and prescribing blended learning were crude, involving the usual suspects (classroom plus e-learning). It merely regurgitated existing 'teaching' methods, usually around some even vaguer concep like 'learning styles'. Note how vagaue concepts reinforce each other in training. When it did get theoretical it went wildly overboard, with the ridiculous ramblings of the Lego Brick brigade (Hodgins, Masie etc), espousing the virtues of reusable learning objects.

Let me put forward my own food metaphor – blended baloney. What do you get when you blend things in a mixer without due care and attention to needs, taste and palette? What we got was baloney (dull, tasteless sausage meat).

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Anonymous Seb Schmoller said...

It's not often I get a grumpy old man, "told you so" moment, but this post reminded me of something in an interview I did for Epic in 2005:

Q Any views on the phrase and concept 'BLENDED LEARNING'?

The term provided a bolt hole for traditionalists wanting to defend face-to-face teaching against the encroachment of online learning.

6:28 AM  
Blogger Karyn Romeis said...

My problem with the "smoothie" metaphor is that a smoothie is, by definition, smooth. No chunks, no chewy bits, no variation, no effort from the consumer, jut total, bland, homogeneity.

9:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


So what are you saying - why do people use these terms - there must be a point to the coining of a phrase like 'blended learning' - surely there is a point - it is that point that is important - what is that point - can it be expressed more accurately?

11:08 AM  
Blogger jay said...

To my way of thinking, blending is only new to people who were foolish enough to think that delegating the entire training role to the computer was going to work. I could not imagine unblended learning. My first-grade teacher used a blend of story-telling, song, recitation, reading aloud, flash cards, puppetry, and corporal punishment.

Is it not nutty for a learning strategist to ask “Why blend?” The more appropriate question is, “Why not blend?” Imagine an episode of This Old House asking, “Why should we use power tools? Hand tools can get the job done.” For both carpenters and learning professionals, the default behaviour is using the right tools for the job.

Here's my introduction to the Handbook for Blended Learning.

4:46 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

My point is that coining a phrase isn't enough - it must be backed up with some theory and best practice. Seb and others, like Schank, have given one explanation as to why the phrase was coined. I happen to think they're right. It was the need to defend the line - and in many cases do nothing at all, rather than face the prospect of changing methods of delivery.

6:40 PM  

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