Defining 5 Modern Instructional Strategies

Posted by Phylise Banner on Jan 18, 2017 12:00:00 PM
Phylise Banner

Access InSync's complete 2017 “50  Modern Blended Learning Blogs" series here.  Subscribe for daily updates.

Instructional Strategies Blended LearningWe have explored some new language of learning definitions this week, so let’s continue our exploration by defining a few different instructional strategies that we use on a regular basis to design, develop, deliver, produce, and facilitate our modern learning campaigns. 

Instructional strategies are the approaches that we use in the design, development, and delivery of learning to engage our students in learning experiences. We choose these strategies based on what, how, where, and when we want our learners to learn. 

I’ve chosen five different instructional strategies to explore here with you today:

  1. Social learning
  2. Collaborative Learning
  3. Gamification
  4. Problem-based learning
  5. Adaptive learning

How we can use these strategies to engage our learners in our modern blended learning campaigns? Read on to discover how.

Social Learning

Social learning is actually a theory developed by Albert Bandura in the 1970s. Bandura offered that we learn in a social context, and that we learn by observing the behaviors of others and from the results of our interactions. In short, we learn from each other, and we’ve been doing that for a very long time.

David Kelly puts it best when he says, “Social learning has been around for as long as there have been people to interact and share life lessons with.”

In The New Social Learning, a book by Marcia Conner and Tony Bingham, social learning is defined as:

 “[The] result in people becoming more informed, gaining a wider perspective, and being able to make better decisions by engaging with others. It acknowledges that learning happens with and through other people, as a matter of participating in a community, not just by acquiring knowledge.”

When we talk about social learning in the modern blended learning context, we tend to think of social media. Social learning and social media are not the same thing. We use social media in social learning, when we use a Facebook group for discussions within a blended learning campaign, or LinkedIn for connecting with our personal learning networks.

Within this modern blended social landscape, we are still individuals. We may download an infographic to explore a topic, but our blended experience becomes social learning when we share it, talk about it, let our colleagues know where they can find it, etc.

Collaborative Learning

The premise of collaborative learning is to keep group interaction at the forefront of the learning experience. I have separated collaborative learning from social learning on purpose. Not all social learning is collaborative, and not all collaborative learning is social.

Collaborative learning implies the involvement of groups or teams, building consensus, and working together to develop solutions and/or produce results. Mutual exploration is key here – and that’s what sets collaborative learning apart from social learning. This is where we are exploring, learning, and achieving together.

We all know that collaboration requires patience and trust, and working in groups or teams can be a challenge. Expert facilitation is required in collaborative learning to ensure that conversation is flowing, team members are listening to and respecting one another, feedback is well integrated, and results are recorded and communicated to the team.

In modern blended learning, collaborative learning plays a key role in connecting our learners to each other, and establishing learning communities. We collaborate in discussions, team projects, breakout rooms, makerspaces, and gamified learning spaces.

Adaptive Learning

We have access to so much data these days, and adaptive learning is about using that data to create personalized learning experiences. Adaptive learning is not new, but the technology that we have on hand to collect data and personalize learning experiences has given us the ability to use adaptive learning to match learners with more appropriate lessons and activities within our blended learning solutions.

Let’s use new hire orientation for an example. Our recently hired line workers need to complete safety and compliance training. As they progress through orientation, we can set up our learning environment to collect assessment data that will guide where they might need more training, and have the system automatically direct them to those resources.

Adaptive learning involves feedback. A lot of feedback. It is not enough to just collect data and move our learners in a new direction automatically. We need to be sure that they know how they are progressing, and why their learning experience is being personalized to meet their needs. And, our learners need to be able to provide feedback within adaptive environments to let us know that they are on the right track!

When done properly, adaptive personalization can truly enhance the modern blended learning experience by helping us anticipate what our learners may need in their moments of learning need.


Gamification is designed to bring a bit of fun back into our learning. Key elements of gamified learning include a set of rules, a method of keeping score, a path of progression, feedback on progress, a recognition or reward system, and a bit of healthy competition. Gamification can involve gaming (game-based learning), but they’re not the same thing.

Within our industry, gamification is the process of taking learning materials and creating a new experience that includes these key elements, with the goal of enticing learners to be more engaged in their own development. Gaming is simply using a game (in-person or virtual) to teach a specific topic or test a specific skill.

Most gamified learning environments are targeted at groups of learners. Yes, we need a few learners together to bring out that competitive spirit!

Here's an example. Treehouse is a training company that uses gamification in all of their learning campaigns. Lessons and activities focus on mastering coding and business skills, and learners work through challenges to earn points and advance on their way to a set professional goal. Feedback is immediate, so when a learner achieves a certain number of points, they are rewarded with a badge, and encouragement from the facilitator and group.

Gamification is one way to empower modern learners to take charge of their own learning, and establish their own learning pathways. I highly recommend exploring the design principles behind gamification. I guarantee that they will inspire you to design new elements into your modern blended learning.

Problem-Based Learning (PBL)

Problem-Based Learning (PBL) is designed to immerse learners in real world scenarios, with the goal of having learners build on their existing knowledge and skills to analyze specific problems and find solutions.

PBL is typically conducted in small groups (yes, this is collaborative learning), with a facilitator assigned to guide learners through a formal process, called the seven-jump process:

  1. Clarify terms and concepts
  2. Define the problem
  3. Brainstorm explanations
  4. Offer possible solutions
  5. Formulate learning objectives
  6. Reflect individually
  7. Regroup and evaluate solutions

To sum it up, the process has learners establish what they know and don’t know, work together to come up with ideal solutions, share those solutions, and review possible results.

PBL scenarios take time to set up and work through, and learners must be self-directed, motivated and willing to work as a team. Assessment can be tricky, as facilitators need to assess the team as a whole while taking individual contributions into account.

PBL lessons and activities can include simulations, labs, virtual reality, augmented reality, breakout sessions, eLearning modules, etc. Even a white paper or job aid can involve PBL. Again, the main premise is that a scenario is set up, and the learners work together to solve the established problem.

For example, a software help center creates a PBL scenario to train their agents on how to deal with difficult customers. There will be an experience presented – real or simulated  where an angry customer is yelling at the agent, and then a team would be established to come up with a solution. Then the agents in training would receive related resources to explore, and work together within the blend to come up with approaches to dealing with angry customers based on their experience, including how they would want the situation resolved.

In modern blended learning, we use PBL to immerse our learners in real-life situations and get them more involved in their own learning. Within these scenarios, we see learners becoming responsible for setting their own goals to achieve desired results – always a good thing! In the end, PBL prepares our learners to solve similar problems when they arise in the workplace.

But Wait, There’s More!

This is, by no means, an exhaustive list of instructional strategies. We encourage you to share your favorite instructional strategies in the comments below.

Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at content and knowledge technology tools and apps that we can use to implement these strategies!

Related resources  

Social Learning

Blog: How to Save ‘Social Learning’ Before We Destroy It, by David Kelly. 
In this blog post, David explores the difference between social learning and social media.

Article: Nuts and Bolts: It's Not About “Doing” Social
This article from Jane Bozarth is a MUST read on social learning!

According to Jane, “It’s not about ‘doing social.’ It’s about supporting workers as they work by giving them the time and the right space to talk about it. It’s about listening. And it’s about using social tools to support conversations and performance already in progress.”

Collaborative Learning

Article: Why Employees Should Use Collaboration Tools at Work
In this Huffington Post article, Jacob Morgan introduces his video on the topic, part of his “Future in Five Minutes or Less” series.


Free eBook: What Is Gamification And How Can It Enhance Corporate Training?
This free eBook provides examples of how to integrate gamification into the workplace.

Adaptive Learning

Blog: What Does Adaptive Learning Mean?
This post from Knewton provides a succinct overview of adaptive and personalized learning.

Problem-Based Learning

Site: Project-Based Learning for the Business Environment
This site is an excellent primer for PBL, and includes a cheat sheet for development, and a sample PBL project site.

Topics: Social Learning, Gamification, Instructional Design, 50 Modern Blended Learning Blogs, Adaptive Learning, Collaborative Learning, Problem Based Learning