It is one thing to include blended learning in an organisation’s L&D strategy, but quite another thing to implement it as part of workplace learning. Knowing what other organisations are doing as far as implementing blended learning is concerned, is extremely useful in this regard. Here, Judith Christian-Carter shares some findings from a piece of recent research which looked at how blended learning is being used across the world.

This article is a follow-on from an earlier one this year, Blended Learning Revisited. Some recently published research* provides useful insights to how blended learning is being used on a global basis in the workplace and the benefits that are being experienced. An online survey, undertaken between 2 April 2019 and 3 May 2019, obtained responses from 1106 people in 77 countries.

The aim of the research was to gain insights from learning and development (L&D) professionals around the world who were involved with workplace learning, to find out how blended learning was being used and seen in today’s workplace. The survey sought to find out how workplace learning practitioners defined blended learning, what percentage were using blended learning to deliver instruction in their organisation, how blended learning was being delivered and the outcomes experienced by organisations.

Defining blended learning

The research used the following definition of blended learning: “Blended learning is a blend of digital/online/technology-based modalities and activities and in-person/face-to-face/offline modalities and activities” in order to see to what extent this definition matched how people were using blended learning in the workplace and the modalities (ie delivery methods) used in the blend.

In conjunction with the above definition the research also looked at how the following levels of blended learning were being used.

  • Level 1: Supplementary — online materials available to support learning and performance.

  • Level 2: Integrated — online materials integrated with classroom instruction, eg pre-work, references, assignments.

  • Level 3: Competency — online materials to assist with competency development, such as coaching, remedial and mentoring.

  • Level 4: Performance — online materials to support increased personal and team performance, such as practice elements, just-in-time support and help for learning on-the-job. (Lupshenyuk and Adams, 2009).

Other research findings

Other research findings with regard to barriers and successes were also factored into the online survey to see to what extent they are still current. Barriers to workplace blended learning, such as internet access, delivery issues, not knowing how to design blended learning and a lack of support were explored, in particular the abundance of so many delivery methods and blending choices causing confusion when deciding what and how to blend.

Likewise with other research findings that indicate better satisfaction and learning outcomes when blended learning is used against strictly online instruction. For example, does the use of blended learning lead to better assessment scores, reduced attrition, increased interactions and more flexibility?

What the results showed

Ninety eight and a half per cent of all respondents used a similar definition of blended learning to that of “a blend of digital/online/technology-based modalities and activities and in-person/face-to-face/offline modalities and activities”. This was an important finding because many of the benefits of blended learning described by respondents come from actually blending face-to-face and digital delivery methods, instead of using just face-to-face or digital.

A number of benefits of using blended learning were identified by respondents, however, the top five outcomes varied depending on the type of organisation in which respondents worked. For those working in business or government organisations the top five were as follows.

  1. Participants like blended learning.

  2. Increased convenience/flexibility.

  3. Cost savings.

  4. Improved participation.

  5. Improved programme quality.

For those working in education or for non-profit organisations the top five were as follows.

  1. Increased convenience/flexibility.

  2. Participants like blended learning.

  3. Improved participation.

  4. Cost savings.

  5. Improved interaction with others.

Blended learning components

The results showed that the most commonly used components were used in live face-to-face instruction. These included practice activities, interactions with participants, interactions with the instructor/an expert, collaboration and feedback on activities/assessments. This finding is perhaps not that surprising, given that these components are often used in face-to-face delivery. However, when it came to designing these components for live online and self-paced learning the findings showed that they are used far less.

The results also showed that the use of blended learning components differs for those working in business and government organisations when compared with education and non-profit organisations. Education/non-profit organisations use more live face-to-face components than business/government organisations do. Also, education/non-profit organisations use less self-paced asynchronous blended learning components than business/government organisations.

Other findings

Overall, the survey showed that blended learning is widely used by those who responded and its use has generally had very positive results. Not only did the vast majority of respondents agree with the definition of blended learning provided in the survey but also this was confirmed when analysing the mix of components they used, ie there was widespread use of all the live face-to-face, live online and self-paced online components, although some were used much more than others.

Interestingly though, the barriers to workplace learning identified by other researchers, including technical and organisational barriers, were also mentioned by respondents. Answers to the question “do you have any additional comments about blended learning in your organisation?” indicated numerous difficulties with using the different technological components, knowing how to blend learning to achieve the best outcomes, and problems with organisational readiness and commitment. In this regard, one comment characterises these difficulties: “The biggest hurdle is really technological competency with the tools — integrating all of the features and having the software and hardware to make certain things run smoothly on both ends.”.

However, despite the difficulties reported by respondents, positive views concerning the results gained from blended learning were also expressed and, even more importantly, these matched closely what other researchers had found. Other research has found increased satisfaction and better learning outcomes result when blended learning is used. The top five outcomes listed by respondents in this survey were:

  • participants like blended learning (74.5%)

  • increased convenience/flexibility (73.5%)

  • cost savings (52.7%)

  • improved participation (52.1%)

  • improved programme quality (46.9%).

Summary

How people are actually using blended learning is an important finding from this research. Other research has defined blended learning as a blend of digital and in-person modalities and activities, and this definition is supported by the findings from this survey, in that respondents are also using a mix of digital and face-to-face components, plus the most commonly used components are used in live face-to-face delivery.

In addition, the findings from the survey show that respondents are experiencing the benefits described from other research. These findings also help L&D professionals to understand why blended learning offers benefits over either face-to-face or digital alone.

*Blended Learning In Today’s Workplace, Patti Shank PhD, eLearning Industry, 2019.

Last reviewed 18 September 2019