What is the Proper Learning Blend?

Learning Blend Concept - Dr. Jim Guilkey

It’s impossible in the midst of COVID-19’s worsening grip to discuss education and not hear the phrase “blended learning”. In K-12 and higher education, blended learning typically refers to a mix of in-person and remote learning approaches. Blended learning has always been an important part of the M-Pact Learning approach we take to corporate learning. While one aspect of blended learning consists of the mix of in-person and online approaches, the concept is far more robust than that. Blended learning as we define it means acknowledging that different people learn differently and that no two learning needs can be met with a single approach. We “blend” multiple approaches in order to create comprehensive training. What’s the proper learning blend? That depends on what we are teaching.

Let me illustrate with an example. We have filled the learning needs for several companies in the medical industry, including working with surgeons who must learn to use new robotic surgical devices and with surgical technicians who become experts on medical devices and who assist surgeons. In both examples, as you can imagine, the necessary learning requires a great deal of foundational knowledge, demands agile problem solving and situational adaptation, and entails expertise on the workings of the involved technology. We’re not going to presume we can teach a surgeon the physiological background knowledge needed to complete a procedure—that’s what medical school is for. But we are going to need a blend of learning approaches to teach that surgeon how the robotic device works or how they are going to need to communicate with a technician who is providing them data during a heart catheter ablation. Now our technician may need real expertise on the device they are in charge of using, but they’ll need a good working knowledge of the organ function on which the device is used. Different people, different responsibilities, different backgrounds equal different learning approaches.

A traditional classroom or online learning module isn’t going to help our surgeon learn the nuances of the device, so guided, hands-on scenarios in an interactive classroom might fit that bill. By contrast, the expensive time constraints of an interactive classroom filled with simulators or actual devices aren’t practical for teaching technicians about biology and physiology. That’s better accomplished through a combination of reading, short films, or a game where they have to recreate and manipulate a biological process. The communication needs demanded by collaboration between surgeons and technicians are far better taught through interactive sessions with a skilled facilitator who can help them assess the effectiveness of their communication and provide them role-playing scenarios that will test their ability to perform under pressure.

Any good learning design creates blended combinations of these sorts of approaches I have illustrated, alongside many others. Creating such learning blends can only be accomplished by experienced learning design experts. They possess the informed experiences of developing M-Pact learning approaches in a variety of settings and the learning expertise to address the complex needs of different learners for distinct occupational roles. 

For more information and results, check out my book: M-Pact Learning: The New Competitive Advantage or follow me on social media.