November - December 2003 Issue of Educational Technology,Volume 43, Number 6, Pages 51-54.Building Effective Blended Learning ProgramsHarvey SinghIntroductionThe first generation of e-learning or Web-based learningprograms focused on presenting physical classroom-basedinstructional content over the Internet. Furthermore, first-generation e-learning (digitally delivered learning)programs tended to be a repetition or compilation of onlineversions of classroom-based courses. The experiencegained from the first-generation of e-learning, often riddledwith long sequences of ‘page-turner’ content and point-and-click quizzes, is giving rise to the realization that asingle mode of instructional delivery may not providesufficient choices, engagement, social contact, relevance,and context needed to facilitate successful learning andperformance.In the second wave of e-learning, increasing numbers oflearning designers are experimenting with blended learningmodels that combine various delivery modes. Anecdotalevidence indicates that blended learning not only offersmore choices but also is more effective.
November - December 2003 Issue of Educational Technology,Volume 43, Number 6, Pages 51-54.This article has two objectives:1. To provide a comprehensive view of blendedlearning and discuss possible dimensions andingredients (learning delivery methods) of blendedlearning programs.2. To provide a model to create the appropriate blendby ensuring that each ingredient, individually andcollectively, adds to a meaningful learningexperience.Badrul Khan’s blended e-learning framework, referredto here as Khan’s Octagonal Framework (see Figure 1)enables one to select appropriate ingredients(http://BooksToRead.com/framework). Khan’s frameworkserves as a guide to plan, develop, deliver, manage, andevaluate blended learning programs. Organizationsexploring strategies for effective learning and performancehave to consider a variety of issues to ensure effectivedelivery of learning and thus a high return on investment.Figure 1. Khan’s Octagonal Framework.Blended LearningLearning requirements and preferences of each learnertend to be different. Organizations must use a blend oflearning approaches in their strategies to get the rightcontent in the right format to the right people at the righttime. Blended learning combines multiple delivery mediathat are designed to complement each other and promotelearning and application-learned behavior.Blended learning programs may include several forms
November - December 2003 Issue of Educational Technology,Volume 43, Number 6, Pages 51-54.of learning tools, such as real-time virtual/ collaborationsoftware, self-paced Web-based courses, electronicperformance support systems (EPSS) embedded within thejob-task environment, and knowledge managementsystems. Blended learning mixes various event-basedactivities, including face-to-face classrooms, live e-learning, and self-paced learning. This often is a mix oftraditional instructor-led training, synchronous onlineconferencing or training, asynchronous self-paced study,and structured on-the-job training from an experiencedworker or mentor.
November - December 2003 Issue of Educational Technology,Volume 43, Number 6, Pages 51-54.Dimensions of the BlendThe original use of the phrase “blended learning” wasoften associated with simply linking traditional classroomtraining to e-learning activities, such as asynchronous work(typically accessed by learners outside the class at theirown time and pace). However, the term has evolved toencompass a much richer set of learning strategies or“dimensions.” Today a blended learning program maycombine one or more of the following dimensions,although many of these have over-lapping attributes.Blending Offline andOnline LearningAt the simplest level, a blended learning experiencecombines offline and online forms of learning where theonline learning usually means “over the Internet orIntranet” and offline learning happens in a more traditionalclassroom setting. We assume that even the offline learningofferings are managed through an online learning system.An example of this type of blending may include a learningprogram that provides study materials and researchresources over the Web, while providing instructor-led,classroom training sessions as the main medium ofinstruction.Blending Self-Paced andLive, Collaborative LearningSelf-paced learning implies solitary, on-demandlearning at a pace that is managed or controlled by thelearner. Collaborative learning, on the other hand, implies amore dynamic communication among many learners thatbrings about knowledge sharing. The blending of self-paced and collaborative learning may include review ofimportant literature on a regulatory change or new productfollowed by a moderated, live, online, peer-to-peerdiscussion of the material’s application to the learner’s joband customers.Blending Structured andUnstructured LearningNot all forms of learning imply a premeditated,structured, or formal learning program with organizedcontent in specific sequence like chapters in a textbook. Infact, most learning in the workplace occurs in anunstructured form via meetings, hallway conversations, ore-mail. A blended program design may look to activelycapture conversations and documents from unstructuredlearning events into knowledge repositories available on-demand, supporting the way knowledge-workerscollaborate and work.
November - December 2003 Issue of Educational Technology,Volume 43, Number 6, Pages 51-54.Blending Custom Contentwith Off-the-Shelf ContentOff-the-shelf content is by definition generic—unawareof an organization’s unique context and requirements.However, generic content is much less expensive to buyand frequently has higher production values than customcontent. Generic self-paced content can be customizedtoday with a blend of live experiences (classroom oronline) or with content customization. Industry standardssuch as SCORM (Shareable Content Object ReferenceModel) open the door to increasingly flexible blending ofoff-the-shelf and custom content, improving the userexperience while minimizing cost.Blending Learning, Practice,and Performance SupportPerhaps the finest form of blended learning is tosupplement learning (organized prior to beginning a newjob-task) with practice (using job-task or business processsimulation models) and just-in-time performance supporttools that facilitate the appropriate execution of job-tasks.Cutting-edge productivity tools provide ‘workspace’environments that package together the computer basedwork, collaboration, and performance support tools.
November - December 2003 Issue of Educational Technology,Volume 43, Number 6, Pages 51-54.Table 1. Learning approaches and choices.Synchronous physicalformatsInstructor-led Classrooms &LecturesHands-on Labs &WorkshopsField TripsSynchronous online formats(live e-learning)Online MeetingsVirtual ClassroomsWeb Seminars andBroadcastsCoachingInstant MessagingConference CallsSelf-paced, asynchronousformatsDocuments & Web PagesWeb/Computer BasedTraining ModulesAssessments/Tests &SurveysSimulationsJob Aids & ElectronicPerformance SupportSystems (EPSS)Recorded Live EventsOnline LearningCommunities andDiscussion ForumsDistributed and MobileLearningWhy Blend?The Benefits of BlendingBlended learning is not new. However, in the past,blended learning was comprised of physical classroomformats, such as lectures, labs, books, or handouts. Today,organizations have a myriad of learning approaches andchoices. Some of these are shown in Table 1.The concept of blended learning is rooted in the ideathat learning is not just a one-time event—learning is acontinuous process. Blending provides various benefitsover using any single learning delivery medium alone.
November - December 2003 Issue of Educational Technology,Volume 43, Number 6, Pages 51-54.Extending the ReachA single delivery mode inevitably limits the reach of alearning program or critical knowledge transfer in someform or fashion. For example, a physical classroom-training program limits the access to only those who canparticipate at a fixed time and location, whereas a virtualclassroom event is inclusive of remote audiences and, whenfollowed up with recorded knowledge objects (ability toplayback a recorded live event), can extend the reach tothose who could not attend at a specific time.Optimizing Development Cost and TimeCombining different delivery modes has the potential tobalance out and optimize the learning programdevelopment and deployment costs and time. A totallyonline, self-paced, media-rich, Web-based training contentmay be too expensive to produce (requiring multipleresources and skills), but combining virtual collaborativeand coaching sessions with simpler self-paced materials,such as generic off-the-shelf WBT, documents, casestudies, recorded e-learning events, text assignments, andPowerPoint presentations (requiring quicker turn-aroundtime and lower skill to produce) may be just as effective oreven more effective.Evidence that Blending WorksWe are so early into the evolution of blended learningthat little formal research exists on how to construct themost effective blended program designs. However,research from institutions such as Stanford University andthe University of Tennessee have given us valuable insightinto some of the mechanisms by which blended learning isbetter than both traditional methods and individual formsof e-learning technology alone. This research gives usconfidence that blending not only offers us the ability to bemore efficient in delivering learning, but more effective.
November - December 2003 Issue of Educational Technology,Volume 43, Number 6, Pages 51-54.Stanford University has over 10 years of experiencewith self-paced enrichment programs for gifted youth.Their problem was that only slightly more than half of theirhighly motivated students would complete the programs.They diagnosed the problem as a mismatch between thestudent’s desired learning style—interactive, social,mentored learning—with the delivery technology. Theirintroduction of live e-learning into their program raised thecompletion rate up to 94% by addressing these needs. Theimprovement was attributed to the ability of a scheduledlive event to motivate learners to complete self-pacedmaterials on time; the availability of interaction withinstructors and peers; and higher quality mentoringexperiences. The Stanford research strongly suggests thatlinking self-paced material to live e-learning delivery couldhave a profound effect on overall usage and completionrates—enabling organizations to radically increase thereturn from their existing investments in self-paced content.Research by the University of Tennessee’s Physician’sExecutive MBA (PEMBA) program* for mid-careerdoctors has demonstrated that blended learning programscan be completed in approximately one-half the time, atless than half the cost, using a rich mix of live e-learning,self-paced instruction, and physical classroom delivery. Ofeven greater interest, this well-designed program was alsoable to demonstrate an overall 10% better learning outcomethan the traditional classroom learning format—the firstformal study to show significant improvements from e-learning rather than just equivalent outcomes. Thisexceptional outcome was attributed by PEMBA to therichness of the blended experience that included multipleforms of physical and virtual live e-learning, combinedwith the ability of the students to test their learning in thework context immediately and to collaborate with peers inadaptation to their unique environments.*Effectiveness of combined delivery modalities for distancelearning and resident learning; P. Dean, M. Stahl, D. Sylwester, &J. Peat; Quarterly Review of Distance Education, July/August2001.
November - December 2003 Issue of Educational Technology,Volume 43, Number 6, Pages 51-54.Introduction toKhan’s Octagonal FrameworkA variety of factors are required to be addressed tocreate a meaningful learning environment. Many of thesefactors are interrelated and interdependent. A systemicunderstanding of these factors can enable designers tocreate meaningful distributed learning environments. Thesefactors comprise the Octagonal Framework. Theframework has eight dimensions: institutional,pedagogical, technological, interface design, evaluation,management, resource support, and ethical (see Figure1).Each dimension in the framework represents a categoryof issues that need to be addressed. These issues helporganize thinking, and ensure that the resulting learningprogram creates a meaningful learning experience.InstitutionalThe Institutional dimension addresses issues concerningorganizational, administrative, academic affairs, andstudent services. Personnel involved in the planning of alearning program could ask questions related to thepreparedness of the organization, availability of contentand infrastructure, and learners’ needs. Can theorganization manage offering each trainee the learningdelivery mode independently as well as in a blendedprogram? Has the needs analysis been performed in orderto understand all learners’ needs?PedagogicalThe Pedagogical dimension is concerned with thecombination of content that has to be delivered (contentanalysis), the learner needs (audience analysis), andlearning objectives (goal analysis). The pedagogicaldimension also encompasses the design and strategy aspectof e-learning.This dimension addresses a scenario where all learninggoals in a given program are listed and then the mostappropriate delivery method is chosen. For example, if alearner is expected to demonstrate a product (in salestraining), then using product simulation as part of the blendis appropriate. If a learner is expected to come up with anew price model for a product, then using a discussion asone of the elements in the blend would be an appropriatechoice.
November - December 2003 Issue of Educational Technology,Volume 43, Number 6, Pages 51-54.TechnologicalOnce we have identified the delivery methods that aregoing to be a part of the blend, the Technology issues needto be addressed. Issues include creating a learningenvironment and the tools to deliver the learning program.This dimension addresses the need for the most suitablelearning management system (LMS) that would managemultiple delivery types and a learning content managementsystem (LCMS) that catalogs the actual content (onlinecontent modules) for the learning program.Technical requirements, such as the server that supportsthe learning program, access to the server, bandwidth andaccessibility, security, and other hardware, software, andinfrastructure issues are addressed.Interface DesignThe Interface Design dimension addresses factorsrelated to the user interface of each element in the blendedlearning program. One needs to ensure that the userinterface supports all the elements of the blend. Theinterface has to be sophisticated enough to integrate thedifferent elements of the blend. This will enable the learnerto use each delivery type and switch between the differenttypes. The usability of the user interface will need to beanalyzed. Issues like content structure, navigation,graphics, and help also can be addressed in this dimension.For example, in a higher education course, students maystudy online and then attend a lecture with the professor.The blended learning course should allow students toassimilate both the online learning and the lecture equallywell.EvaluationThe Evaluation dimension is concerned with theusability of a blended learning program. The programshould have the capability to evaluate how effective alearning program has been as well as evaluating theperformance of each learner. In a blended learningprogram, the appropriate evaluation method should be usedfor each delivery type.
November - December 2003 Issue of Educational Technology,Volume 43, Number 6, Pages 51-54.ManagementThe Management dimension deals with issues related tothe management of a blended learning program, such asinfrastructure and logistics to manage multiple deliverytypes. Delivering a blended learning program is more workthan delivering the entire course in one delivery type. Themanagement dimension also addresses issues likeregistration and notification, and scheduling of the differentelements of the blend.Resource SupportThe Resource Support dimension deals with makingdifferent types of resources (offline and online) availablefor learners as well as organizing them. Resource supportcould also be a counselor/tutor always available in person,via e-mail, or on a chat system.EthicalThe Ethical dimension identifies the ethical issues thatneed to be addressed when developing a blended learningprogram. Issues such as equal opportunity, culturaldiversity, and nationality should be addressed.
November - December 2003 Issue of Educational Technology,Volume 43, Number 6, Pages 51-54.ConclusionWhile learning technologies and delivery mediacontinue to evolve and progress, one thing is certain:Organizations (corporate, government, and academic) favorblended learning models over single delivery modeprograms.Harvey Singh is the founder of NavoWave (www.navowave.com), an e-learning and e-performance solutions company.Previously, he was Chief Technology Officer at Centra Software.