Best Practices in Blended Learning Development


When developing a new training program (or revising an existing one), a key consideration is selecting content to teach in a traditional classroom environment versus online.

Distance versus Face-to-face Learning

Many of us are familiar with the traditional face-face learning environment in which learners and instructors interact in the same geographic location. Obvious advantages to this approach include ease of communication with peers and instructors, not to mention the social benefit of learner interaction.

A better understanding of how adults learn combined with mounting pressures to slash training budgets continues to drive support for distance learning: training in which learners and instructors interact via distributive technologies across space and often time as well.  The principle advantage of distance learning is that it allows more learners to participate in training via self-paced options, flexibility of training hours, and scalability.

Distance learning modes of delivery used in the NPS include virtual classrooms, job aids, video-based instruction, webinars, eLearning courses, websites, discussion forums, satellite broadcasts, video teleconferencing, resource libraries, and of course other distributed methods like correspondence courses or computer-based instruction on DVDs.

Research indicates that given equivalent instructional design, neither face-face or distance learning is necessarily more effective. Hard to believe, isn’t it? While neither method guarantees learning, blended learning can improve learning efficiency by about a third by leveraging the strength of each.

IF we determine that blended learning is appropriate, how should we determine which content to teach face-face versus at a distance? “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.”   –Larry Bielawski and David Metcalf

Selecting Distance Learning

Choose Distance Learning when you’re thinking about:

  • Connecting learners before or after a face-face training event is important (and it almost always is!)
  • Content can be completed at learners’ own pace, and/or own schedule
  • Training content pertains to pre-requisite skills or knowledge for another training
  • Complexity of training and/or discussion does not require expert facilitation
  • Group dynamics and interpersonal interactions are not key constructs
  • Training can benefit a large group of people, including secondary audiences
  • Training budgets do not support travel, facilities, and professional instructors

For more design-related resources, contact the Distance Learning Group

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