Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Is "Blended" really dead?

One of the topics briefly touched on at the DTI Beyond eLearning session was the lack of any interest in the topic of Blended Learning in the US companies the group visited. According to Alec Keith, the US was not interested in discussing the topic, "Blended Learning is still in the literature, but not discussed seriously" was one specific comment. So is Blended Learning really dead?

From our research in corporates in the UK and Europe, we would say no, and for two reasons. Firstly, I think we're still partly in the hype curve of Blended Learning. Many UK/European corporates are still at the early stages of realising that the e-learning story is not going away and they have an increasing need for integrated learning approaches. Partly this is still driven by market hype, but it is also magnified by hard drivers of reducing cost and increasing the reach of learning programmes.

Much of this blending is not actually very blended. Lowest common denominator thinking drives decisions to chop down classroom time and substitute in e-learning content that is not really integrated with the classroom content. From a research project Elearnity did a year or so ago, most blended design seems to singularly focus on selecting media - in particular where should we use e-learning. I think far much too much attention has been payed to this.

This leads to the second and more profound reason why I think Blended Learning is not actually dead. Blended Learning should force us to focus on learning as a process rather than as a series of events. The value of blended learning should be in understanding and describing that process, and then understanding the interplay between and the added value through the components of the process, i.e. the whole design, not just the selection of specific media types. Process-based and integrated.

Whilst I may not personally like the term "blended learning" very much, I feel it is worthwhile if it forces us to design holistic learning processes rather than media-delivered events. But our research indicates that is not happening yet, and so, for good or bad, I will disagree with the US DTI research and keep advocating blended as one of our learning stories.

Once we have that as the norm, I would certainly be happy to consign it to the bin adn just call it learning!


Lexa said...

It's indeed strange that this doesn't come up in the literature more often. I think the reality - at least in many schools and teacher education institutes that I visit - is that many learning experiences now can be seen as more or less blended learning. At a very basic level, many school classes now share information using groupware tools such as Google and Yahoo, while universities might use an LMS for sharing resources for a course... However, few people will use the term blended learning to describe it.

Once we start seeing technology as a normal part of the learning process, we stop seeing it as eLearning, blended learning, or any other ed-tech buzzword, and get back to simply learning as you mention.

David Wilson said...

Yes Lexa, I agree with your comment that once we see it as normal we stop using special words for it. But we also stop using special words when we want to deny somethings exists. I often see organisations want to stop talking e-learning, blended learning etc. for the latter reason - i.e. to deny their relevance or importance in changing the way learning is designed and delivered in the organisation.

Would be happy to stop talking about blended (hate the term anyway), once learning organisations have moved to a level where they are truly doing it for any programmatic learning. This is not the case currently.

David Wilson said...

See also Tony Karrer's entry on this and the resulting conversation.