Blended learning is considered by many as one of the most efficient model of education and training delivery, with it accounting for almost 30% of all employee training process in the US, as of 2015. It requires using a learning management system (LMS), as at least some part of the learning content and instruction should be delivered through online channels, according to Innosight Institute definition. However, not all LMS’s are equally suited for this purpose. In this article we’ll try to depict the most important LMS features for blended learning.
Flipping the classroom to increase the learning efficiency
In brick-and-mortar education the classroom is used for delivering more theoretical than practical knowledge, while most of the practice is done elsewhere (at home or in the lab). The classroom role in the blended learning is quite different. The trainees learn theoretical knowledge at home (or anywhere and anytime over the Internet) and spend classroom time collaborating and solving practical tasks together, which is much more efficient.
24/7 availability of the learning materials online makes the learning much more convenient. Thus said, an LMS has to provide access to these materials both through web-based and mobile apps, so that the classroom time is devoted to collaboration, not lecturing.
Centralized storage for learning materials, statistics and personal data.
If a bunch of standalone software is used for creating and managing learning materials, delivering statistics and keeping track of the user’s personal data, exchanging data between them can become quite cumbersome, lowering the overall training speed and efficiency.
Therefore, the LMS should be able to easily integrate with the existing software ecosystem to ensure simple training process for all participants. When all training-related resources are stored and managed within one software, which smoothly integrates into the existing software ecosystem, all involved in blended learning benefit from a clear and streamlined training process.
Convenient learner enrollment and management.
Learner management is a complex process involving such important parts:
- Learner enrollment (gathering and securely storing the learner’s credentials, personal and billing details, etc.)
- Learning process management (who is enrolled to a certain course, can the learners enroll by themselves or should they be invited by the course staff through email, .csv import from other systems (convenient for the HR team), etc.)
- Learning materials access levels management (who has access to which courses & depending on which factors , updating the learning plans if the learner’s position changes, etc.)
Such management can be done manually for each course and each group of learners, which is a time consuming routine. Alternatively, it can be done automatically, if the LMS is able to use the existing data.
An LMS of choice for the blended learning helps deal with all of these questions smoothly and efficiently. For example, LMS integration with HR systems allows linking certain employee roles to certain courses or automatically adjusting learner’s access levels when their position changes - or even building a custom learning/training plan automatically...
Self-paced or synchronous learning.
Each learner is different, somebody comprehends new knowledge faster, while the others need some more time. As the learning materials are accessible 24/7, every student can learn at their own pace (self-paced or asynchronous learning). Quite opposite, an instructor might choose to provide access to the new course parts only after the whole group passes the test on the previous topic (synchronous learning) to ensure all the learners get all the material within required time (which is important for rapid retraining of a geographically diversified workforce).
Ability to provide both self-paced and synchronous learning is a very important LMS feature for blended learning.
Student communication and collaboration.
In face-to-face learning students communicate and collaborate with each other easily as they are all learning together in a classroom. In online education, however, the learners can be geographically spread across the continents and they need efficient means of communication with each other and the instructor. In blended learning the classroom becomes a collaboration centre, where the learners can quickly communicate and concentrate their efforts on the most pressing questions. The instructor can also gather immediate feedback and channel the discussion in the right direction to maximize the learning material comprehension.
An LMS chosen as the main tool for blended learning should provide multiple communication tools like discussion forums, wikis, social media channels, etc. and inspire students to better interact and collaborate with each other and the instructor.
Various learner engagement methods.
In blended learning the instructor has a much wider learner engagement arsenal, as compared to face-to-face or fully online learning. Various leaderboards, possibility to publish the best-done or the most quickly completed tasks online and appraise their authors, contests and badges for achievements, serious games both in educational materials and in the classroom - the blended learning process helps keep the learners engaged and productive.
The LMS of choice for blended learning should provide immense gamification options to keep the learners thriving to reach the pinnacle of their possibilities and improve faster and better.
Precise training progress tracking, grading and analysis
As blended learning most often takes place in companies and corporations, their Learning & Development (L&D) and Human Resources (HR) teams should report to the stakeholders on the success of the chosen training strategies and the resulting increase of the employee’s performance. Blended learning using an LMS allows convenient achievement grading, tracking of the learners’ progress and providing detailed statistics, both per-learner and course wide.
Therefore, the LMS used for blended learning should provide various analytics and tracking tools to help measure every learner's’ progress in the most convenient and efficient way.
Let’s sum up the most important LMS features for blended learning:
- Convenient access to learning materials through desktop and mobile devices on various platforms
- Smooth integration with various software to form a viable ecosystem
- Polished learner enrollment and management tools ensuring the data security
- Ability to provide both synchronous and asynchronous learning
- Multiple tools for learner communication and collaboration
- Various learner engagement tools and gamification options
- Precise grading, analytics and progress tracking tools
What are your thoughts on this? What LMS features do you consider important for blended learning? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!