Blended Learning for Soft Skills Development

Definition:

  • Blended learning is a combination of face-to-face instruction combined with computer-mediated instruction to facilitate interactive and reflective higher-order learning.
  • Blended learning a combination of various instructional modalities combined with synchronous and/or asynchronous web-technologies to facilitate interactive and reflective individual and collective learning.

Four key factors of blended learning: collaboration, interaction, personalization and media-richness.

Blended Learning Educational Design Principles

Four main principles of educational design for blended learning are identified in the literature:

  1. thoughtful integration of face-to-face and fully online instructional components
  2. innovative use of technology
  3. re-conceptualization of the learning paradigm
  4. sustained assessment and evaluation of blended learning

Benefits of Blended Learning

From the literature, it seems clear that blended learning is an approach that

  • satisfies the needs of students and faculty, as well as
  • satisfies logistical and budgetary concerns
  • pedagogical richness (i.e., shifting from a presentational format to active learning)
  • greater access to personalized learning, resources, and experts
  • greater flexibility and personal agency
  • greater accommodation for learners and teachers of diverse backgrounds
  • increased interaction and sense of community
  • increased cost-effectiveness (e.g., reduced seat time, decreased costs)

Research study

Four different blended learning strategies (i.e., offered in parallel in each of four research groups) based on a theoretical model:

Blended Learning Model Details for Integrating Work and Online Learning
Level 1: e-Learning as a Background Resource (i.e., self-directed e-learning) – a very loose coupling of personal learning with job performance   Online learning resources are made available as voluntary background material for supporting job performance and personal development where learning objectives are very general in nature (e.g. understand the basics of coaching) and used as:

  • a supplementary resource (e.g., e-libraries, e-books, e-catalogues),
  • a stand-alone feature (e.g., self-directed courses),
  • an add-on combined with other primary modes of instruction (e.g., face to face classroom/workshop sessions/ online classrooms/virtual teams).

 

Level 2: e-Learning as Part of a Balanced (Blended) Mode of Instruction (i.e., a blend of class and e-learning)   Online materials are integrated with classroom instruction where learning objectives tend to be general (e.g., learn how to be a coach) rather than very specific as in level 3 and used as:

  • required pre-work assignments,
  • referenced/featured in classroom discussions (e.g. using screen shots to make concrete links and motivate and guide learner use),
  • required post-work assignments.
Level 3: e-Learning Tightly Coupled with Personal Learning Objectives (i.e. a blend of coaching and e-learning)   Online materials are tightly coupled with highly specific personal learning objectives (e.g., coaching Martha to improve sales this month) and used as:

  • core content support for competency development plans,
  • focus for job coaching, advisory or remedial performance support,
  • collaborative focus for team mentoring programs.
Level 4: e-Learning Tightly Coupled with Action Projects (i.e., a blend of action-learning projects and e-learning)   Online materials support action projects (e.g., projects where employees learn as they go) that have been mandated or acknowledged as important by the organization or a specific manager to deliver demonstrable value through individual or team project applications, and that provide the key focus for learning. Online materials are used to:

  • drive a practical “ROL” (return on learning) approach into practice as a key strategic imperative,
  • provide just-in-time support for action projects where learning is directly geared to creating positive outcomes – through demonstrable project results and improved personal/team development and work performance as the primary objective, rather than as an ancillary or supplementary spin off.

 

 

Implications & Recommendations

A highly individualized, “mass customization” approach to employee development where every learner is encouraged and supported to take ownership of his or her own personal learning requires a fundamental shift from an organizational model where decisions are made for learners, to one where organizational learning experts ask questions to find effective ways to support a learner-in-control approach. This is not a traditional course-based model. Rather, it needs to be a holistic approach designed to foster self-directed, meaningful, career-long learning.

 

Recommendations for those interested in developing blended learning strategies for soft-skills development aimed at maximizing learning outcomes for individuals and their organizations include the following highly practical advice.

  • The importance of flexible blended learning models that offer learners as much choice as possible.Blended learning approaches offer a rich context for learning where different technologies and instructional approaches engage learners in a variety of ways, thereby enabling learners to process information using more than one learning style. Therefore, consider offering learners different choices (e.g., those identified in the four-level model). In this way learners will be able to self-select the modes of interaction that suit their needs for the topic being studied and the way they can best integrate learning and job responsibilities.
  • The value of regularly scheduled learning over time. In this research study, learners dedicated twenty minutes a week (i.e. two hours over six weeks) to personal learning and quantifiable value was created for the organization. Designing blended learning offerings in short spurts most likely makes it easier to make time for personal learning than it will be to attend half-day or all-day seminars or training sessions.
  • The importance of “learning accountability loops” to create tightly structured links between work and learning.When the aim is to maximize job impact, creating blended learning strategies that tightly link learning and work can be effective; however, doing so will vary by organization and individual. Therefore, consider asking learners how they would prefer to create the tight framework that will provide the structure needed to ensure learning gets on their schedule.
  • The importance of pre-/posttests to evaluate outcomes. The pre/posttest learning outcomes data provided an objective manner in which to assess the degree of value created and soft-skill development for both learners and the organization. The pre/post comparisons for learning styles and barriers/motivators for learning were also useful for surfacing assumptions and provoking new insights about learners and learning contexts. Feeding this information back can promote reflection. In time, this regular feedback may also help to promote a deeper understanding for both organizations and individual learners on how best to structure learning experiences that have maximum impact for everyone involved.
  • The importance of acknowledging and rewarding learning in meaningful ways for learners. The research findings revealed the importance of creating workplace contexts that motivate learning rather than block it. This, however, is more complex than was originally anticipated. What one person my find motivating or rewarding, another may find irrelevant, or possibly even a de-motivator or barrier to personal learning. Therefore, asking learners about motivating and rewarding factors seems essential to for success.  
Print Friendly

Leave a Reply