eLearning Myths: Is Blended Learning The Answer?
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Blended Learning Could Be The Way Of The Future

The vast number of people working and learning remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic will change the way we work and learn in the future. That’s a given. But I’ve read many articles that seem to view the choice of eLearning as all-or-nothing; a future where all learning occurs online or a wholesale return to in-person training. That’s not a choice that anyone actually has to make. Glowing descriptions of how eLearning improves accessibility, reduces training costs, or saves businesses money and time are right to highlight the many benefits of moving some training online. There are costs as well, though. Looking at moving to online instruction as a black-and-white issue perpetuates myths about eLearning and potentially harms learners. In reality, newfound proficiency with eLearning and appreciation for its potential points to the real future of learning: A blend of the approaches that best meet the needs of each specific learner population.

Myth 1. eLearning Is All-Or-Nothing

Moving some training to eLearning confers many benefits. Moving all training to eLearning is generally not desirable. Implying that it’s an either-or choice is misleading and potentially damaging. There’s no reason to consider a future where, for example, K-12 or even university education is conducted entirely online. The current worldwide experiment in distance learning may well mean that more eLearning opportunities are available, expanding opportunities for learners everywhere—but that doesn’t mean that all students everywhere should forgo the benefits of learning together with peers. Corporate learners also benefit from both eLearning and in-person options replete with opportunities to interact with colleagues and mentors.

Learning and working together foster interpersonal skills that are harder to develop and practice online. The choice of whether to instruct online, in-person, or in some combination should be made for each course and situation, based on the learners and their circumstances.

Rather than choosing one path for all instruction, the best option is usually a blended learning approach. Blend in-person instruction with virtual classroom and webinar instruction and asynchronous eLearning. Blend types of asynchronous eLearning. Blend media formats. Offer learners lots of choices.

Myth 2. eLearning Can Replace All Face-To-Face Learning

Virtual Instructor-Led Training, such as webinars or virtual classroom sessions, is certainly more interactive than asynchronous eLearning and offers easier opportunities to ask questions and “chat” with co-learners. But it’s not the same as being in a classroom together.

Millions of people are learning to navigate meetings, courses, and social interactions on video conferencing platforms like Zoom. Even when you can see and talk with other participants, though, participants keenly feel the difference—and for some learning content online learning is a poor substitute for face-to-face classes. Some topics lend themselves easily to eLearning; others do not. Some learning requires hands-on practice. Others rely on open, honest discussion.

Many topics are best learned with a blend. You can, for instance, start learning a new language with an online course, choosing one that lets you practice repeating phrases or answering questions aloud. But at some point, you will need to practice speaking to another person who is familiar with your target language. The same goes for learning to play a musical instrument, drive a car, or install cable television. You can practice on your own, use a simulator, learn the steps, but truly mastering some skills requires that learners practice in real life, with an expert providing feedback and guidance.

Myth 3. eLearning Works For All Learners

Learners are unique individuals with varied preferences. Not everyone has the temperament or the self-discipline to work productively from home—or to learn asynchronously online. Very young children will need more face-to-face instruction than older children. Learners of all ages vary in their technical know-how—and their access to mobile devices, reliable internet, and other essential elements of online learning. Some learners with disabilities thrive online because technology helps them overcome barriers they might encounter in a classroom, while others are prevented from participating because of inaccessible technology.

Many learners can use eLearning courses that deliver the same content to all enrollees or they are easily able to find the content they need within a course or library of content. Others need specialized instruction from a mentor, a manager, or a special-education teacher. Some learners progress well when learning independently and will find ways to verify and validate their progress; others need more guidance, reminders, and supervision. Educators and corporate trainers moving learning online should consider both the material and the learners, ensuring that no learner gets left behind.

Myth 4. It’s Easy And Inexpensive To Move Instruction Online

Many large companies do realize enormous cost savings by moving large amounts of their training online. And there are certainly platforms that make it easy to convert slide decks to eLearning courses or widely distribute a recording of a lecture. But converting good, instructionally sound materials designed for in-person teaching to online learning takes a lot of work. Instructional Design for asynchronous eLearning is a very different process from creating lesson plans for an in-person workshop.

Aside from the Instructional Design, creating effective, engaging eLearning requires technical skills that are outside of many classroom teachers, professors, and workshop facilitators’ expertise. Building in ways to provide timely, relevant feedback to learners presents additional hurdles.

Once it’s created, distributing eLearning to all the kids in a school district, a university’s student body, or all of an organization’s employees, wherever they are living, requires planning and technology. Learners need access to a learning platform. They have to know how to use the platform, find and enroll in courses, navigate those courses, and complete and submit exams, projects, and other assessment materials.

As many educators have learned, pivoting to effective eLearning is challenging and can require a large financial investment.

Myth 5. All eLearning Is Equally Effective

There’s a lot of great eLearning out there. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of ineffective or tedious eLearning as well.

Creating effective eLearning, like creating effective face-to-face instruction, requires extensive planning and deep knowledge of both the subject matter and the Instructional Design process as well as an understanding of the learning platforms you intend to use.

It’s not enough to fill dozens or hundreds of screens with factual information or throw together a video using your smartphone. High-quality eLearning content requires following the principles of Instructional Design. Whether you are creating an eLearning course, a video, microlearning, a game, or some other format of digital learning, you need to:

  • Understand your target audience, their needs, their existing knowledge—and their environment and access to computers, tablets, the internet, etc.
  • Define clear goals, stipulating what they will know or be able to do after completing the training
  • Define what “success” looks like—spell out how you will assess their progress and know whether they have learned and retained the content
  • Design and develop your eLearning product—then test it on actual learners
  • Evaluate and, ideally, improve your product using testers' feedback, using two or more iterations to create more effective and usable eLearning

Circumstances might force you to get something out quickly—but don’t assume that’s the best you can do, and don’t judge all eLearning by a few rushed examples. Putting in the effort needed to develop engaging, effective eLearning is worthwhile if your learners will be using it beyond the current crisis.

Take A Deep Breath

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sudden shift to eLearning many of us are experiencing. Understanding that it’s not an all-or-nothing move can help with the transition.

Some lasting changes in how we all learn will inevitably result from the long COVID-19 shutdown of schools and workplaces. But assuming that the march to eLearning is a one-way journey and that all learning will become eLearning is a mistake. While also meeting immediate needs, take a deep breath and think about future options and how a blended solution can offer your learners the best of both online and in-person learning opportunities.

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