Let’s face it: strategic perpetual learning doesn’t just happen. To have an impact on individuals' personal learning paths, during and outside of formal blended learning campaigns, we need to anticipate the correct moments of learning need and embed content in the flow of work.
If we don’t, learners will find content on their own, and the L&D department will have no influence over the accuracy, or applicability, of the information. We won’t know what people need to learn, or if consistent messages are being shared across our learner population.
Therefore, we need to design the entire experience. We need to think about what learners need during and outside of the formal blended learning campaign.
All good questions, but modern blended learning design is much more than technology. It’s about selecting the appropriate design strategy, implementing that strategy with the best instructional technique, and deploying that technique with the best fit instructional technology.The Role of Instructional Design
With regards to blended learning, instructional design is more critical than ever before. More importantly, a lack of instructional design is more obvious than ever before.
Instructional design for modern blended learning must be rigorously applied – a bad or less-than-effective design is much more apparent when the learner is exposed to a variety of instructional treatments that can’t be “made OK” by an instructor in the room. The BIG question in a blended solution is how to know when to use which of the myriad techniques and technologies to best effect.
One of the challenges for learning professionals today is that there are a lot of concepts, tools, and terms that seem to be important – hardly a day goes by that some new theory or treatment recommendation is touted as the harbinger of groundbreaking change that will redefine how we instruct, learn, or assess. New research into instructional tools, techniques, technology etc. is great, but the results and their interpretation generally leave a learning professional with little idea how to apply them, not to mention how to leverage them strategically to connect the dots between all the learning objectives in a blended learning curriculum.
Instructional Strategies, Techniques, And Technologies
To facilitate understanding, it’s useful to group concepts into three categories: instructional strategies, instructional techniques, and instructional technologies. While certainly not the only method of classification, organizing them in this way permits meaningful discussion in the context of blended learning:
- Instructional Strategy. What instructional strategy should be utilized to help learners achieve the desired level of mastery for that specific learning objective? When you decide on your instructional strategy, you have decided on an overall approach for addressing the instructional need – it frames the approach that you will subsequently populate with a variety of techniques and technologies to achieve your instructional objective. In some ways, the instructional strategy is based on fundamental characteristics of the nature of both the learning audience and the content. Instructional strategies include game-based learning, social collaborative learning, problem-based learning, self-directed learning, case-based learning, and task-based instruction, among others.
- Instructional Technique. What instructional technique (or techniques) should be used to implement the instructional strategy? Techniques support the strategy, and generally can be thought as peers of each other– that is, we can substitute one technique with another, and the learner outcome should be the same (although the experience will vary extensively). This is not to say that two techniques applied to the same content (say self-paced computer-based instruction versus traditional in person) produce an experience that is equivalent – they are, by definition, NOT the same – but the incremental progress the learner makes in either towards the overall instructional objective is the same. Instructional techniques frame the approach on how the learner will progress through the instruction, and include simulations, curated learning environments, learning communities, gamification, case studies, and moderated discussions and lectures. Assessment and evaluation requirements play a large role in determining the appropriate techniques to be employed in a blended solution.
- Instructional Technologies. What technologies and tools should be used to support the instructional techniques? Technologies include authoring tools and delivery tools, and are used to deploy an instructional method. Lectures, a method, can be deployed in a traditional classroom, virtual classroom, via a video, or even via a podcast. Again, technology selection will be determined largely on assessment and evaluation requirements. It will also be impacted by where learners are when they are applying the skill or need the knowledge; we want to deploy learning in the most authentic way possible.
I know this is a lot. It seems complex, but strong definitions are important. Knowing the difference between instructional strategies, instructional techniques, and instructional technologies, will help you create a strategic instructional design treatment that makes your content relevant and useful both during formal blended learning campaigns, and during other, informal, moments of learning need.
Blog Post: Sorting Through the EdTech Toolbox: 6 Blended Learning Tool Categories
Need a refresher on instructional technologies? Phylise Banner's blog post provides a solid foundation upon which to build your EdTech foundation.