Saturday, January 31, 2015

10 tests that expose Blended Learning as actually Blended ‘Teaching’

A cheap cocktail is worse than no cocktail. So it is with many blended learning courses. They try, but it's all very limp as the tendency is to include too many things, especially old ingredients, rather than working out a blend that is sound in terms of learning theory, resources and and costs. ‘Blended Learning’ is so often just ‘Blended Teaching’, a half-hearted attempt to retain a mixture of classroom and online. It’s Velcro learning, slamming just a few of things together to satisfy a need to hold on to some of the old and look as though you’ve embraced some of the new. So much learning is determined by the fossilised mode of delivery; lectures in Universities, classrooms in schools, round tables and flipcharts in corporates. What's needed is an attempt to take Blended learnng seriously.
This slicing and dicing of the ‘teaching’ process is not what Blended Learning was meant to be. When it arose (in corporate learning), it promised to lift learning out of its obvious predicament – the dull delivery of overlong, flipchart-driven classroom courses. This never happened as few took it seriously enough to do take learning theory seriously, consider a wide range of options and do the necessary analysis to produce an optimal blend. The reason for this failure is that L&D really doesn’t want to listen to what learning theory has to tell us and the Blended Learning tag is often a useful way of consolidating the past not the future.
The psychology of learning screams at us, telling us that successful learning, retention and recall, that leads to good performance, needs to be sensitive to a learner’s starting state, personal needs, personalised learning, practice by doing, then spaced practice to consolidate what is learnt in long-term memory. Blended learning also screams at us to take this ‘learning’ theory seriously.
So here’s ten tests one can apply to distinguish a Blended Learning from a Blended Teaching solution.
1. Optimal blend of ‘learning’
First up. Have you really matched your blended learning components to the type of learning experience you want to deliver, to maximise the effectiveness of your blend? This is all about blended learning, so the channels you choose and media mix you choose should be matched to the learning outcomes. In practice, courses are still too dominated by overlong ‘presentations’, too much ‘text’ and not enough active and experiential learning. Unless you’ve really mapped your delivery channels to efficient learning outcomes, using an evidence-based approach to selection, you’re delivering Blended teaching, not Blended learning.
2. Get rid of assumptions
An optimal blend is built from the bottom up, not just preserving some of what you've done before and something new. It may well be possible to eliminate F2F learning entirely. It may also be hte case that you can elminate all onine learning completely. Don;t start with assumptions about 'essential' components in a blend. That's not blended learning, that's the very thing that Blended learning was designed to avoid.
3. Pre-selection of candidates & content
You can blend all you want but if you have unsuitable candidates for the course, it will make a marginal difference. Batching trainees through courses, without pre-qualification and pre-testing is still far too common. And forget that hokey, Honey & Munford learning styles questionnaire, where you pigeon-hole, then all subject all to the one-size-fits-all course anyway. No pre-selection or pre-assessment, no blend. In any group of learners, some will come with pre-requisite knowledge and skills. There will be a distribution curve of some sort. Most trainers, especially those parachuted in as suppliers, will know little or nothing about the learners. Yet how often is a course sensitive to the different skill levels of the learners – rarely. This builds in massive inefficiencies. Blended learning means blending out these inefficiencies.
4. Personalised learning
Is your course, essentially a one-size-fits-all experience? As you proceed, does the system adapt to your personal needs or simply deliver content in a largely linear fashion, so that your learning journey is on a bus along a fairly well prescribed road? Is the experience really reacting to you as a person (blended learning) or the agenda of the trainer or designer (blended teaching)? Norman Lamont’s suggestion for Room 101 was 'Click Peter, Nancy and Ashraf to hear what they have to say. And no, you can't move on until you've listened to Peter, Nancy and Ashraf.' If something like this appears in your course, don’t dare call it blended learning. There are opportunties now to introduce adaptivity and links out to content to satisfy individual's curiosity.
5. Learn by doing
How many ‘blends’ start with really providing the opportunity for learners to actually apply what they’ve learnt, in either a seriously simulated or real environment? An airline pilot would be expected to be trained, assessed, even certified using flight simulators, yet how many leaners are expected to actually train in such a focussed, relevant and sophisticated environment? The reason is that pilots go down with the plane. Similarly in the military and to a degree medicine, simulations matter, as people can die. If a blend doesn’t off real opportunities to learn by doing – it’s actually blended teaching, not leaning.
6. Context and relevance
Most courses are sealed off from the actual workplace and real context in which people work. Does your blend, blend the learning experience with what people are expected to do in real life. How many references, examples and activities are linked ot the world of work? Are learners expected to try out their new found knowledge and skills? Are they asked to apply these to the world of work? If not then there may be a gaping hole in your blend.
7. Automaticity
Performance in the workplace is all about automaticity, the immediate recall of knowledge and/or skills that allow one to perform as expected. Yet how many blended courses actually assess for automaticity? Precious few. Multiple-choice questions don’t come even close, as the learner is simply selecting from a list, recognising a given answer, not actively recalling the answer. Quick and active recall is much harder to assess. Blended teaching tends to promote poor assessment. If you’re not assessing active recall and the application of knowledge and skills, that’s not a blend, it’s ignored actual performance.
8. Spaced-practice
Despite 130 years of research and science showing that the forgetting curve, with rapid and permanent decay from memory, is consistent and predictable, spaced-practice is consistently ignored and excluded from blended designs. Why is this? Well, when the focus is on Blended Teaching, the mindset is of delivery channels to learners (e-learning, classroom, resources, social media etc.). Once the learner has exited the blended course, you’ve lost them. Of course, you haven’t, as the technology, especially mobile, is an umbilical cord to them and into the future. You can deliver spaced practice, so ask yourself whether you really have a blend if spaced-practice is missing?
9. Performance assessment
Go for strong formative assessment, even summative assessment at the end of modules and courses but to be relevant, and align your efforts with the organisation, you must look for real business impact. This may mean measuring actual performance down the line, long after the forgetting curve has eaten away at your learning gains.
10. Cost-effectiveness analysis
How often do you see costs mentioned in relation to an optimal blend, and if they are, they are of such low quality as to be meaningless. Have you really costed out your different blended components, not just in terms of cost-benefit analysis (CBA), but cost-effectiveness analysis (CEA). These are different. The latter need alternatives that show greater productivity relative to their costs, i.e., that are more cost-effective and more efficient in the use of social resources, should be preferred for adoption and implemented more intensively.

Here’s a thought experiment. Regard all ten of the above as necessary conditions for being called a Blended Learning course. How many would pass muster? Many courses I’ve seen in over 30 years in this business don’t have a single one of the above. The majority have one or two at most. Note that this is not an argument against Blended Learning. It’s an argument against Blended Teaching masquerading as Blended Learning. It’s an argument for putting ‘learning’ at the centre of the process, not just reshuffling the deck of teaching channels.

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Blogger Ammar Merhbi said...

Outstanding Blog post. I have tried hard to help teachers blend their courses/units, but the resistance is to overwhelming as they always focus on the "wow" factor of technology.
One of the in-house workshops I was doing was how to blend with Moodle, and so I focused on blending based on studies and tools and had another tutorial component where they select the tool they want to learn in Moodle that fits with the blend of a particular course (that is after they designed their blended unit/course). Teachers were disinterested, and wanted to know how to use the tools only.
I found out that they wanted "student control" not "student learning".

6:02 AM  

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