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Successfully Combine In-Person and Distance Learning

When creating or revising a training program, you’ll need to figure out what to teach in person and what to teach at a distance.

Compare the Two Kinds of Training

In traditional classroom training, learners and instructors are in the same place. Communication among peers and instructors is easy and immediate, and learners benefit from social interaction.

In distance learning, instructors and learners gather and interact using digital tools. Instructors can design self-paced programs, present material all at once, or stretch classes over a longer time. Distance learning often fits better with adult schedules and learning styles. And it can slash the cost of training, since learners don’t have to travel. The lower cost and lack of a physical classroom mean instructors can use distance learning for bigger groups.

Consider distance learning when you need to

  • connect learners before or after an in-person event
  • let learners train at their own pace
  • present pre-requisite skills or knowledge for another training
  • offer training that does not require expert facilitation
  • train a large group of people including secondary audiences
  • train with a budget that doesn’t support travel, facilities, or professional instructors

Combine Both for Maximum Effect

Research shows neither in-person nor distance learning is necessarily more effective. But blending them leverages the strengths of each and can improve learning efficiency by about a third.

If we determine that blended learning is appropriate, how should we determine which content to teach face-face versus at a distance? In their book Blended eLearning, Larry Bielawski and David Metcalf answer, “There are no optimal blends or mixes…. The key is to determine which considerations are most critical to a particular training need and then examine the options and make informed choices.”

Consider Available Distance Learning Tools

NPS uses multiple sites for distance learning, depending on the topic, presentation style, and audience.

  • The Common Learning Portal is the official training website of the National Park Service. It supports discussion forums in the Commons; videos, articles, and best practices in the Knowledge Park; and self-paced training in the Learning Activities. The site also has tools for posting News and Training Announcements. The site is public facing for when your audience includes volunteers and partners, and it also has privacy settings for nonpublic topics.
  • Microsoft Teams and Zoom support virtual classrooms and video conferencing. Each offers a different suite of tools and privacy settings.
  • DOI Talent is the formal learning website for the Department of the Interior. It contains courses and records of learning for legally required annual training like FISSA, Role-Based Privacy Training, credit card training, and so on.

Learn More

Read Blended eLearning, 2nd Edition by Larry Bielawski and David Metcalf

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