Blended learning is a term used for training that uses any combination of on-demand and live online education resources, face-to-face classroom time and site- or job-based training. Blended learning has been proven to meet the needs of a wider range of students than programs that only use one of these training modes.
Face-to-face training, with substantial amounts of time allowed for hands-on opportunities to explore the ‘doing’ of a task or job, is considered the solid root of formal trades training. But not everyone in the construction industry has access, or needs, a formal education in a trade.
Practically speaking, face-to-face classroom training for construction crews is expensive and inconvenient. It takes crews away from their tools, and that costs the company money. Then there’s registration fees, travel and accommodation costs if the training is only available in certain locations. However, being face-to-face with an experienced trainer, especially when matched with the opportunity for hands-on demonstrations, is priceless.
What to do?
One way to overcome cost and time hurdles for learners is to create a blended learning program. This can be a challenge for trainers. There’s a cavernous difference between ‘technology rich’ education and a ‘blended learning’ experience. For example, dumping the curriculum presentations and notes from a classroom course into a learning management system for students to access at their own pace is not a blended learning program. Yes, it is allowing learners access to the material, but there is no clearly defined way for them to navigate through the content. Another example of tech-rich instruction: students learn some topics online then repeat them in a face-to-face lecture.
For a blended learning program, you need to deliver effective training, online, that is supported by resource material and is integrated with the face-to-face components. This requires a learning management system to track student progress, and coordination of the different modalities (online/face-to-face/one-on-one/small group) to the appropriate knowledge level and topic.
So what kind of online training is out there that I can tap into?
Online training comes in two modes: on-demand or live.
On-demand (‘asynchronous’) is produced or pre-recorded so the learner can access the training and the resources on their own schedule, usually for a certain period of time. Good e-learning takes advantage of the computer environment and specialized course authoring tools. The format and presentation is tailored to the mode in which the training is delivered. Learners have the opportunity to go through the course and review unfamiliar material at their own pace, without the pressure of keeping up with the instructor or other members of the class who might be more knowledgeable. Tailoring content delivery to the computer environment can also create a better learning experience for those who are not book learners. This is the type of online training that we offer here at Blue House Energy.
As an aside: many people who are drawn to the construction industry fall outside of the ‘book learner’ category. Instead, they fall somewhere on the spectrum of ‘learning by doing’. Watching videos or animations, using the mouse or a clicker to create a body-based decision; these are all important ways for non-book learners to ground their experience in ‘doing’.
Live (‘synchronous’) online training is just that. Real-time interaction with an instructor. Just like face-to-face training, this mode gives the learner the opportunity to ask questions, explore various options and clarify concepts as they are being presented. It also helps the instructor gauge how well learners are understanding the content, and allows for modification of course content to suit the needs of specific groups.
3 benefits of blended learning
Corporate training has bought into blended learning in a phenomenal way. Why? There are three primary reasons:
Blended learning makes classroom training more efficient
Instructors can make the best use of face-to-face time by having learners complete certain portions of the training online. Basic concepts and theories are introduced prior to the classroom sessions, meaning everyone has been exposed to the same level of knowledge, regardless of their background, when their bottoms hit the seat in the classroom. Instructors can then use the classroom time to teach learners how to apply their knowledge.
Blended learning saves time and money
Online training reduces classroom time. It’s that simple. For example, IBM has estimated that nearly 40% of classroom training costs can be spent on travel and accommodation. Productivity is not as heavily impacted, and you can train more people for the same training budget as a classroom-only program. Online resources that can be downloaded to a mobile device for reference on-the-job also save money and can improve the uptake and implementation of newly-gained knowledge.
Blended learning maintains the teacher-student relationship
A self-contained self-paced online course, offered by itself has a single, glaring shortcoming. There’s no instructor. That means there’s little support for the learner who has challenges with the content, other than what the course designer has determined would be helpful. The absence of an instructor can result in poor learner engagement levels, affecting the quality of training.
Corporate training is one thing - but blended learning for trades training?
My favourite example is a very innovative program for Heavy Duty Equipment Technician apprenticeship training (an Interprovincial Red Seal trade) that was piloted in 2012 by the College of the North Atlantic. This blended learning program pulled together videoconferencing, real-time collaborative whiteboarding and other interactive, real-time activities with ‘asynchronous’ resource and support material.
Was it successful?
According to instructor Greg Ryan, as stated in the linked article above: “In 2012, the provincial pass rate for HDET Block 2 (Heavy Duty Equipment Technician) was 58%. The Bay St. George campus pass rate (before our pilot) was 66%. The pass rate for apprentices in our blended classroom was 100%.”
One of the key points here is that the instructors did not adapt an existing face‐to-face teaching program, instead, they took advantage of several innovations that are specific to online learning modes to provide the same experience to local and distance learners.
It’s very inspiring to hear that carefully designed blended learning programs like this one can be radically successful, even for trades apprenticeship programs.
Blue House Energy: Our Achilles’ Heel
At Blue House Energy, we know the Achilles’ heel of on-demand learning is the lack of contact with an instructor. The bottom line is this: Blending on-demand and trainer-led mediums of learning overcomes the question of one modality or another. Our mission is to create excellent online learning in construction technology and building science that augments and supports face-to-face training.
For example, we have created a simple blended learning experience for our training partners. They have found that offering our Construction Technology, Envelope Fundamentals, or Building Science Basics course as a prerequisite to face-to-face training helps them deliver a better learning experience. That’s true for Energy Advisor training through to insulation installation training.
Blue House Energy training partners report gaining at least a half-day on their old training by ensuring their learners have a benchmark level of knowledge prior to their bottoms hitting the seat. They get to teach more ‘real world’ applications and students are not left baffled or bored. We’re exploring deeper integration of our online content with classroom presentations, so we can partner with more classroom trainers to help them build fantastic blended learning experiences.
We’re committed. How about you?