courseware blog image

Blended Learning’s New Definition

Blended learning as a concept has been around for over twenty years. However, with the rise of digital transformation, the concept has evolved.

What is blended learning? How has it changed? First, let’s talk about what it used to be.

The Traditional Definition of Blended Learning

Blended learning is a strategy to provide learning content with a mix of delivery modalities to achieve a learning program’s goal. By definition, blended learning can be effective assuming you are leveraging the strengths of each modality.

A blended learning program blends one or more of the following modalities:

  • Instructor-Led Training (ILT)
  • Web-Based Training (WBT)
  • Video
  • Job Aid
  • eLearning Module
  • iPDF
  • Virtual Instructor-Led Training (VILT)
  • Infographic
  • Tabletop Exercise

For example, a blended program could include a short WBT primer, followed by a one-day, highly interactive ILT session. Once back in the field, the learning and support is augmented with some job-aids and on-the-job coaching. From a legacy perspective, traditional blended learning is strictly a sum of its parts–each individual component is a discrete element mixed with other discrete elements.

With the disruption of digital transformation, we need to evolve the definition of blended learning to reflect the increasing complexity and efficacy of modern learning journeys.

The New Definition of Blended Learning for the Digital Learning Journey

salad vs smoothie

The new approach to blended learning moves from a collection of discrete elements to a whole experience that is more than a sum of its parts. The learner is one of the most important components. And a key feature of a digital learning journey is the ability of the learner to take control of the experience–achieving a relevant learning experience.

This short clip is from a presentation I delivered for Chief Learning Officer Magazine where I discuss this concept a bit more, imagining blended learning as a tossed salad compared to a smoothie.

Blended Learning’s New Definition for the Digital Learning Journey

Blended Learning Journeys

When we’ve implemented these programs, we’ve seen increases to learner engagement, improved retention, better completion rates, and improved performance across the organization.

Here is a simple example of blended learning developed as a digital blended learning journey.

sample learning journey

What’s critical is how the components come together to create a truly integrated and engaging experience. By focusing on user experience, data analytics, new disciplines, new design components, and the concept of negative space in learning, blended learning can be a strategy to elevate learning programs.

More from Matt

This is a section from Matt’s webinar The CLOs Guide to a Modern Learning Technology Ecosystem, featured in Chief Learning Officer Magazine.

For similar videos, check out our YouTube channel playlist featuring the learning technology ecosystemlearning skills of the future, and more.

About the Authors

Matt Donovan

Chief Learning & Innovation Officer
Early in life, I found that I had a natural curiosity that not only led to a passion for learning and sharing with others, but it also got me into trouble. Although not a bad kid, I often found overly structured classrooms a challenge. I could be a bit disruptive as I would explore the content and activities in a manner that made sense to me. I found that classes and teachers that nurtured a personalized approach really resonated with me, while those that did not were demotivating and affected my relationship with the content. Too often, the conversation would come to a head where the teacher would ask, “Why can’t you learn it this way?” I would push back with, “Why can’t you teach it in a variety of ways?” The only path for success was when I would deconstruct and reconstruct the lessons in a meaningful way for myself. I would say that this early experience has shaped my career. I have been blessed with a range of opportunities to work with innovative organizations that advocate for the learner, endeavor to deliver relevance, and look to bend technology to further these goals. For example, while working at Unext.com, I had the opportunity to experience over 3,000 hours of “learnability” testing on my blended learning designs. I could see for my own eyes how learners would react to my designs and how they made meaning of it. Learners asked two common questions: Is it relevant to me? Is it authentic? Through observations of and conversations with learners, I began to sharpen my skills and designed for inclusion and relevance rather than control. This lesson has served me well. In our industry, we have become overly focused on the volume and arrangement of content, instead of its value. Not surprising—content is static and easier to define. Value (relevance), on the other hand, is fluid and much harder to describe. The real insight is that you can’t really design relevance; you can only design the environment or systems that promote it. Relevance ultimately is in the eye of the learner—not the designer. So, this is why, when asked for an elevator pitch, I share my passion of being an advocate for the learner and a warrior for relevance.