At the heart of great learning is a coherent narrative: a story that runs through all the different media, all the different experiences, all of the learning environments. The narrative is everything.
We have many ways to deliver learning today: workshops and small groups, e-learning, mobile learning and, surrounding it all, semi formal layers of social learning. But not all modes of delivery are equal and not all learning is the same. Some things are best done in certain modalities, whilst others can be covered in multiple spaces.
The art and science of creating effective blended learning solutions is to get this balance right: to ensure that different elements of the narrative are covered in sufficient depth in the right area. And i use the word ‘effective’ intentionally: whilst learning is an experience, it’s not a leisure experience (although it may be leisurely in pace!). It’s an experience designed to deliver a quantifiable change in thinking, in skills, in knowledge or in behaviours. We want people to do things differently at the end, and to that purpose, these outcomes should be measurable if we are going to ensure the experience is ‘effective’.
So the narrative sits at the heart of the learning, it sits above workshops, above flash e-learning, above mobile devices and certainly above assessments and tests. We need to draw up our story before we do anything else.
Like all good stories, it needs to be coherent: it needs a start, a middle and an end. It’s ok to reference out to other things, to look externally, but it still needs internal coherence, it has to make sense by itself.
Once we have captured our narrative, we can start to decide which modality is most suitable to tell the different elements. Where will we use workshops, where will we use video, how will we assess the learning and what is our approach to embedding it, to performance support on an ongoing basis.
The learning methodology is at the heart of this design process. It runs through six areas: context, demonstration, exploration, reflection, assessment and footsteps, all of which i’ve covered in more depth elsewhere (and am currently working up into a book!). The purpose of the learning methodology is twofold: firstly, it ensures that we don’t miss anything out (forgetting to provide opportunities to explore, to play with the learning) and secondly it lets us check that we don’t spend too long on any particular element (for example, too much time on context or too much time on summaries.
Within a blended learning approach, we switch between elements fast, the learning journey is varied: one minute you are listening to a trainer, the next watching some video, then working through a case study in your groups, doing an individual presentation, carrying out some personal e-learning, engaging in a forum space and downloading performance support clips to your phone.
It’s easy for these elements to become disconnected: interesting in their own right, but abstract. The central narrative should be the thing that joins them all together, that gives us the common thread that makes the learning coherent, and it should flow like any good story, with energy and speed. To do this, it needs to be owned. We often end up with different people owning different media elements, for good reasons: video specialist, Flash developers, print designers and trainers, but it has to remain clear who owns the narrative. Someone has to take the role of the Director in a film, responsible for the coherence of the narrative. This may be an instructional design role, or it may be separate.
Blended learning solutions can be highly effective, engaging and cost efficient. They achieve organisational goals of reducing time away from the desk as well as learning goals of increasing the effectiveness of the experience, but they will only do this if they are coherent, presenting the best of all worlds, not just a blur of activity.
Utilising an appropriate learning methodology is essential, as well as taking time out to clearly review the learning journey and ensure it is coherent. It will let us ensure that our narrative is good, that the story we tell for learning is effective.
You can read more about each of the steps in the learning methodology here: