Thursday, January 07, 2016


What has ‘Blended Learning’ done for the world of learning? It had the promise to shake us out of the ‘classroom/lecture-obsessed’ straightjacket into a fully developed, new paradigm, where online, social, informal and many other forms of learning could be considered and implemented. This needed an analytic approach to developing and designing blended learning solutions. So what happened?
1. Blended bandage
Blended learning was really just the learning world coping with the onslaught of new ways of teaching and learning. It's an adaptive response to what's happening to the learning world as the real world changes around it. By real world I mean changes in attitudes, learner expectations, demographics, politics, but above all massive and rapid change in technology. Blended learning as a concept allowed the system to absorb all of this at a sensible pace, as it was a useful bridge between the new and the old. However, seeing it as some sort of bandage or compromise simply disabled the idea, as it led not to fresh thinking but a defense of old with a few new, adjunct ideas added on.
2. Blended learning became blended TEACHING
Blended Learning books also turned out the very opposite of Blended Learning theory, namely Blended TEACHING. Teacher/lecturer.trainer authors simply sliced and diced existing ‘teaching’ practices and added a few online extras. Attempts at defining, describing and prescribing blended learning were crude, involving the usual suspects (classroom plus e-learning). It merely regurgitated existing 'teaching' methods. Blended LEARNING is not Blended TEACHING.
3. Muddled by metaphor
It also got muddled by metaphor. Blended learning started to fail when it got bogged down by banal metaphors. I've heard them all - blended cocktails, meals, even alloys. Within the ‘food metaphor’ we got courses, recipes, buffet learning, tapas learning, fast food versus gourmet. The problem with metaphor-driven blended learning is that who's to say that your metaphor is any better than mine? I’ve even seen the 'fruit blender' metaphor, trying to explain the concept in terms of a fruit smoothie! Let me put forward my own food metaphor. What do you get when you blend things in a metaphoric mixer, without due care and attention to needs, taste and palette? Blended baloney. That is often what we get with models as metaphors - dull, tasteless sausage meat. Blended LEARNING is not a metaphor.
4. Delivery dualisms
Dozens of definitions of blended learning then floated around, most of them muddle-headed as they were simple delivery dualisms:
Blend of classroom and e-learning
Blend of face-to-face and e-learning
This ‘velcro’ approach to blended learning simply fixed the old classroom paradigm and added an online dimension. It was an attempt to simply use the definition to carry on doing what you did before with some extras. The problem with a definition that fixes a delivery mechanism in advance of the blended design e.g. classroom or ‘f2f’ is that you’ve already given up on rational design.
5. Broad dualisms
A slightly better approach was to broadly define the world of learning into two inclusive categories:
Blend of online and offline
Blend of synchronous and asynchronous
Blend of formal and informal
The problem with these definitions is that they are looser but still wide components that may not be needed in an optimal blend. These definitions are simply too general, in that they simply divide the universe into two sets. However, the real issue with all of these definitions is that they are really definitions of blended INSTRUCTION not blended learning. We need to look at the concept from a broader learning perspective with definitions that rise above ‘instruction’ to concepts that encompass context:
6. Flipped classroom
This is just one species of blended learning and a rather simplistic version. Again, however, the focus is on blended ‘teaching’ not ‘learning’. It’s yet another fixed dualistic formula. The concept is primarily about switching the focus of teaching away from exposition towards more Socratic f2f methods. It served a purpose in proposing a radical rethink but still fits the old lecture/classroom/f2f v online dualistic mindset.
7. 70:20:10
This is a more sophisticated version of blended learning in that it emerges from theory and studies that show how people actually learn in practice, as opposed of supply type models of teaching. Around 70% of learning comes from experience, experiment and reflection, 20% from working with others and 10% from planned learning solutions and reading. It’s common in organizational learning, it proposes and explained in superb detail in 702010 towards 100% performance by Arets, Jennings and Heijnen. Now we’re getting there but again these percentages apply more to workplace learning and not education. It’s a great shift away from traditional, flawed mindsets about how people learning but needs further work to be useful across the entire learning landscape. Blended learning has certainly taken root but it has no define shape, theory, methodology or best practice. You can call anything a blended solution.
8. Sophisticated
All of the above are either metaphors, simplistic dualisms, or subsets of blended learning. Don't mistake the phrase for an anlaytic theory. It is so often used as a platitude. It is an old mindset that smothers the idea before it has had the chance to breath. What happened to analysis? Blended learning abandoned 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. What it led to were primitive, dualistic 'classroom and e-learning' mixes. It never got beyond vague 'velcro' models, where bits and bobs were stuck together (now that's a metaphor). You need to work towards an 'optimal' blend. 
9. Analytic
Truly analytic blended learning is not a back of an envelope exercise. It needs a careful analytic process, where the learners, type of learning, organisational culture and available resources need to be matched with the methods of delivery. It has INPUTS, decision making and OUTPUTS. Until we see 'Blended learning' as a sophisticated analytic process for determining optimal blends, we'll be stuck in this vague, qualitative world, where the phrase is just an excuse for old practices.
10. ’Veil of ignorance’
In practice, to do blended learning, one has to apply what called the ’veil of ignorance’, an idea that goes back to Kant, Locke, Rousseau and more recently John Rawls. You have to go through a thought experiment and imagine your course, workshop, whatever, as having NO pre-set components. Now do some detailed analysis on what type of outcome you want from this in terms of your ‘learning’. Only then, having rid yourself of personal preconceptions and institutional forms of delivery, can you really start to rebuild your course/learning experience. So you start with an analysis of the learning and learners, then take into consideration your resources envelope, with a full cost analysis. Also include long-term sustainability issues such as updatability and maintenance. To construct a blended learning experience you have to deconstruct your natural bias to do what you or your institution have always done and reconstruct the learning experience from scratch.

1 comment:

Andy Tedd said...

"To construct a blended learning experience you have to deconstruct your natural bias to do what you or your institution have always done and reconstruct the learning experience from scratch."