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Flipping the blend

This post was written by Ben Betts and first appeared on the Epic blog on 19th April 2013.

Ben Betts, CEO of HT2 and creator of the gamified social learning platform Curatr, suggests the concept of re-designing the blended learning experience.

The flipped classroom has got a fair amount of coverage in the L&D tech. The concept is that time in class should be spent doing activities and getting guidance, whilst your homework should be filled with watching and reading instructional pieces. It’s a theory I’d subscribe to – teachers are at their best when they are free to get learners active and experiential, whereas getting them to recite from a textbook is an expensive waste of everyone’s time.

Recently I’ve been thinking about applying this same logic to blended learning. Often when an organisation is seeking to kick-off a project with an e-learning intervention of some kind, they like to hedge their bets and go for a blend – doing part online and part offline. Nothing wrong with this, in fact, I think it’s quite a good method of engagement. My issue comes with how this is set up in the design of a learning experience.  Often the ‘e’ elements of a programme are set up as the ‘pre’ and ‘post’ segments – you do something online before you attend in real life, and then after an event you are encouraged to go back online to do something else.

This may sound good in theory, but I’m not convinced it’s useful in practice. First of all, learner engagement in ‘pre’ and ‘post’ activities is notoriously poor. Some learners can be cajoled into looking at pre-resources or will fill out a survey, but very few return with full vigour to even attempt the ‘post’ resources. But secondly, and perhaps most importantly, I think this approach is the wrong way around anyhow! We need to flip the blend to get the best out of formal learning opportunities.

With an event in the middle of your blend, you are basically saying ‘this is where the learning happens’.  But, of course, it doesn’t happen here. The learning happens when you start to apply things back in the real world. What happens on a day or even a week-long event might act as an interesting trigger, but you don’t walk out of that event a transformed individual. That comes with time and sustained effort.

Instead I would suggest that formal blended learning programmes are kicked off with a face-to-face event. This can be used to start building a community, to trigger emotions and get people pumped for the journey ahead. Its effectiveness can be measured with ‘happy sheets’ because that’s all this event will do – leave people with a warm, fuzzy feeling. They won’t remember the content, so keep it short and keep it active.

This short event would then be followed by a sustained period of online activity. This should be project-based and highly social in nature – this is the period of time you can use to get people applying new principles back in the workplace. This period of time is less ‘course’ orientated, and instead more ‘resource’. You won’t know exactly what your learners need to reach their goals, so your job as an online learning designer becomes the facilitation of a community and the signposting of potentially useful resources. Some of these resources will come from outside your company – the web is full of great (free) content if you are willing to look. Some of this you’ll need to create yourself. I tend to develop a strong focus for developing just three types of resources.

1. Diagnostics: activities that help me assess how I’m doing

2. Curiosity triggers: multimedia that makes me look at things a different way

3. Job aids: performance support tools that help me implement and get the job done

The flipped blend is completed by a further face-to-face event which wraps up the journey. This has a two-fold purpose. Firstly, it acts as a ‘burning bridge’ for project-based work. People have to get their skates on to complete things in time for a deadline. Secondly, it can act as a debrief and reflection session whilst you celebrate the success of learners’ transformations.

Too often in blended learning the ‘e’ elements are left out in the cold. Really, these should be central to people getting things done. Learning is only really going to take place in the context of the work environment, not in the classroom. For me, flipping the blend is the only rationale approach to doing things in a hi-tech and hi-touch manner.

What are your thoughts on flipping the blend? Read more about Epic’s take on blended learning and take a look at some of our other downloadable resources on blended learning

About Ben

Ben Betts is a gamer, entrepreneur and learning geek. He combines these passions to create online learning experiences with impact beyond their means. He is an industry thought leader on the application of gamification and social collaboration in online learning design. He’s also the CEO of HT2 and creator of the gamified social learning platform Curatr.