Thursday, 2 August 2007

Why blended learning is a misnomer

One of the services my company offers (see is help with “blended learning”, but I wonder if I’m guilty of false advertising?

I spent most of the 1990s involved in blended learning, although we didn’t call it that then. My organisation designed and delivered management development programmes comprising a variety of inputs:

  • study guides
  • books
  • self-study workbooks
  • audio and video tapes
  • floppy disks and later CD-ROMs
  • practical kits
  • games
  • face-to-face tutoring (both one-to-one and in workshop groups)
  • telephone, fax and later email support
  • computer-marked multiple choice tests and postal assessments

    (I don’t think I’ve missed anything!)

We called them mixed-media or mixed-mode programmes, if we called them anything at all.

The idea was that learners could select the inputs that they preferred and reject the ones that didn’t interest them. This was always a limited choice – it was hard to glean the essentials without using the self-study workbooks, for example. But the important difference from other options on the market at the time was that there was a degree of choice.

This, in fact, is how we all learn, all the time, if we stop to think about it. We browse the range of options available to us in the world, picking out the ones that appeal to us, and blend them into something that makes sense to us.

“Blended learning”, then, is a tautology. It’s like saying “learning learning”. All learning is blended.

What my organisation was offering in the ‘90s was blended training. And what most providers of “blended learning“ offer today is really blended training. When it comes to learning, it’s the learners who do the blending.

I’m going to keep using the term, because it’s widely used and understood. But I’ll also continue to feel guilty about it.

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