BLENDED LEARNING BY FLEXIBLE AND DISTRIBUTED LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS
I. Hamburg / O. Cernian / H. ten
dynamic business is particularly known
by some remarkable and characteristic aspects. Since the new
communication means and the so raised speed of market demands have
occurred, new products have to be launched in days versus weeks as was
still the situation a few decades ago. Also the knowledge to fulfill today’s job requirements is not longer only or immediately available
in books or magazines, but it is more than ever before created in
industrial organisations in the processes of work or it is still yet
existing in the head of experts who usually, but certainly nowadays work
at different places. Already for these reasons a personalized and a
continuously updated, effective management training is needed in order
to cope with today’s rapid innovations in product design and -development,
production lay-out and even marketing strategy or to be adequately
reflexive towards the fast changing market trends or sudden economical
changes (Hamburg et al., 2003).
these aspects show that also in general the job qualification
requirements at present are very complex and can be only fulfilled by
applying learning methods and -media different from the traditional ones
and completely adaptable to or suitable for a personal learning style so
that the needed knowledge and skills can be achieved quick and at the
right time. To meet these needs of education and training a relatively
new kind of learning, originally consisting out of traditional and new
methods, has emerged, the therefore so-called blended learning.
is important to know, and this is fundamental for a good understanding
of this notion, that blended learning is not just a mix of traditional
and new methods. A cited metaphor expresses this very well for now:
"Like chemistry, blended learning is about combining elements to
create a desired reaction. However, both practices are not simply about
the inclusion of elements but about how the elements are combined. The
execution of the formula - by combining the right elements at the right
time - creates the desired reaction." (Rick Valdez: www.ksb.niit.com/content/resources/pdf/ Hybrid
to this it is also of great interest to know that the design,
implementation and evaluation of open, flexible and distributed learning
environments to support blended learning are an important success factor
of it (Berg et al., 2002).
this short paper we will present, after the introduction of the main
practical aspects of blended learning (part 2) and of distributed
learning environments (part 3), also two practical cases (part 4).
2. Blended Learning
term "Blended Learning" was used originally for the
combination of the traditional classroom training with a computer-based
training (CBT). At present however, a blended learning programme has
many dimensions which all
different learning delivery
methods and media including learning on-line (CBT, over the Internet or
an intranet), and this also in a traditional classroom setting;
varied learning events which can
be self-paced ones (at a pace that is managed by the learners) or a
collaborative learning that implies a more dynamic communication among
wherever they physically may be;
an instruction based to support
electronic performance and also to supply information oriented to
knowledge management processes;
· the blending of work and learning and embedding learning in the business processes of organisations.
2002) the approaches for blended learning are categorized under three
headings as presented in the following figure:
is not just one simple formula for blended learning to achieve the
desired educational outcome, because too many facets and factors have to
be considered before selecting the proper elements for a such an
approach and even before a blended learning strategy is created. Some of
these facets or factors that have to be explored are most certainly the
capabilities of the teaching or instructing team (also in connection
with the technology and media to be used), the infrastructure of the
local organisation or the willingness and receptiveness of the students
to use new learning formats.
for many trainers the first step in initiating a blended learning
programme is to supplement their traditional classrooms or self-paced
content libraries with virtual classrooms or other computer supported
activities, they can and usually will develop, after having achieved
more experience, a complex strategy for blended learning that is also,
particularly for advanced skills or -techniques instructors on the work
floor, integrated with work and business.
Coming to that stage the least necessary, practical steps that have to be taken in developing a blended learning programme are than:
The performance objectives of
the learning programme must always be clarified.
The target group has to be well
analysed with respect to the determination of the options of content
delivery methods and the selection of the appropriate media. Very
important in this analysis of the target group are of course also the
level of knowledge (special and technological) of each member of the
group, the preferred learning style and the motivation and the culture
of the learners.
The scalability of the audience
that can be achieved by the learning solution (local or distributed,
large or small groups, etc.) has to be studied and valuated.
Appliance oriented information
about the content of the blended learning programme has to be obtained
(e.g. dynamical content or static, who will deliver the content, should
it be a soft-skill content or a behaviour-related one?).
A financial analysis of as well
the content development as the costs of delivery has to be carried out
(e.g. alive learning formats are more expensive
than a stable content for a big audience).
The local infrastructure has to
be known in order to establish the delivery options (e.g. with mobile or
In the following table there are selected -to support decisions concerning training delivery options or to estimate their value anyway- three methods with an indication of their strength and weakness (IDC, 2000):
Table 1: Training Delivery Options
important factor to be kept always in mind when organising blended
learning is that it can maximise learning efficiency by its effective
integration. Recent studies at the University of Tennessee and Stanford
give us all reasons to be convinced that a blended learning strategy
actually improves the learning outcomes because of the providing of a
better match between how a learner wants to learn and the learning
program that is offered.
are however a lot of other benefits that especially industrial
organisations can have by using blended learning, for it can help them
to have more productive staff and also can they cope that way more
efficiently with national and international changes. A few of these
benefits to be explicitly mentioned are:
The different delivery methods
extend the reach of a learning programme or knowledge transfer;
The costs and time for
development and deployment can be better balanced by combining different
Business results can be
optimised in various ways e.g. by achieving the learning objectives in
less time or by reducing travel costs and -time.
improve the view on the benefits if blended learning, but moreover to
understand even better the practice of blended learning we present in
the following the main aspects of flexible learning environments that
support different forms of learning.
3. Flexible Distributed Learning
long learning is one of the success factors in order to cope with the
many, still going on economical changes of the last decades by effects
such as the globalization and the rapid technological developments.
Often staff of the same organisation do work and learn at different
places and also on different times. Moreover, the necessary knowledge to
fulfill job requirements is not longer or immediately available from
books or magazines, but is yet in the heads of the experts being
gradually more developed in the labour environment where there is
commonly less pressure to publicize acquired knowledge or research- an
development results. So besides the application of different methods,
also flexible and distributed environments are necessary to facilitate
such forms of learning and to help people to utilize distributed
knowledge, and to store, retrieve, present and use it on the job (Cernian et al., 2000). Two important
aspects offered by distributed environments are that the learners can
access a wide range of resources rapidly and economically through
Internet-based channels as the Web or through CD-ROMs and that they can
participate in social learning communities at any time and at any place
that suits them well.
are particularly two forms of distributed co-operative learning that can
be supported very well by flexible virtual learning environments:
Tele-seminars, that can take
place synchronously as chat-sessions or asynchronously by sending
e-mails. In most cases an expert steers the discussion. Self-organised
learning is than also possible in ad-hoc shaped learning groups.
Tele-tutoring, which is a
learning form where the trainees first work out the learning contents,
e.g. by reading web-sites conform an instruction and after that they
send their questions to an on-line tutor per e-mail. A complex form of
tele-tutorials are co-operative simulations. In these the participants
play determined roles and they interact with a simulation of the object
co-operative learning requires communication, co-ordination and
co-operation. Nevertheless some problems which appear in such learning
processes (in conventional situations they do not exist or exist only in
a weak form) have to be considered in the development of learning
environments that support such processes:
Social presence: because of
limited communication channels it is difficult to know always who is the
learning partner, what he or she does and where he or she is. A method
to increase the social presence is to structure the learning environment
in virtual rooms and to build in guarantees of trusted or reliable
Cognitive orientation: often it
is difficult to understand what subject is discussed and what the
structure is of the learning material. The development of a well
established learning community that uses the environment can facilitate
these understanding problems. (Covey, 1989), (Hamburg et al., 2002).
Communication and plots that
usually go off smoothly in “face to face“ situations, sometimes can
split in a distributed learning environment. The carrying out of
learning protocols within the use of learning environment could be a
solution in such a case.
VITAL (Virtual Teaching and Learning) is an environment for
computer-supported co-operative learning by distributed groups and has
been developed at GM-IPSI in the CLear project (http://www.darmstadt.gmd.de/concert/project
/clear). Its focus is on supporting small and medium-sized
groups of adult learners in job-oriented continuing training. The
learners at various locations
have computers inter-connected by data networks. Each participant has
his/her own private room in VITAL. Other rooms of different types can be
arbitrarily created during a learning process. In addition to private
rooms, VITAL provides group rooms and auditoriums. In group rooms
learning groups can discuss specific topics, in auditoriums trainers or
tutors presenting teaching material are best supported (Wessner et al., 1999).
VITAL provides a
communication and co-operation environment which can be flexibly adapted
to various learning scenarios by supporting, e.g.,
synchronous and asynchronous learning,
co-operative and individual learning,
co-located and distributed learning,
pre-structured and self-organised learning,
symmetric (group discussion) and asymmetric (presentation)
VITAL utilizes the
metaphor of virtual rooms as a basis for modeling the learning
environment. In the virtual learning world the participants of a
learning process play a certain role (e.g. learner, trainer, tutor,
The virtual learning
world consists out of virtual rooms which are represented in analogy to
rooms in the real world. A virtual room has a certain room type and a
unique name. It provides a display of the current participants of the
room (group awareness), a shared workspace,
and a set of specific functions for navigation, manipulation and
provide information on available rooms, inhabitants of the virtual world,
and their current location in the virtual world. All participants in one
room have the same view of the room and its content.
Chat and audio
conferencing tools are used for synchronous communication inside a room.
In addition, a structured question-answer-dialog supports the learning
process on demand. Asynchronous communication is supported by the
integrated message and e-mail tools.
Each room has a
library in which hyper-media documents are stored. In the shared
workspace hypermedia objects such as texts, graphics or tables can be
created, imported, manipulated and annotated individually or
co-operatively. By linking documents inside a room or across room
boundaries arbitrary complex hypermedia structures can be realised.
A virtual auditorium in VITAL (Source:
Pfister et al, 1998)
screenshot (Figure 2) shows a
virtual auditorium in VITAL. Five persons learn about the right-of-way
at intersections and
junctions. In the upper left corner the message board, a
structured chat window, is displayed. The browser in the
lower left corner shows all rooms and their current inhabitation.
second example refers to a
co-operative learning environment that will be developed within the
project “ViReC e-Initiative” – University Virtual Resource Centre
based on a distributed learning environment. This project represents an
attempt with an European dimension to change the traditional, locally
bound learning environment through blended learning in higher education
Learning is a rich opportunity for today’s knowledge transfer.
Especially when a quick or a wide dissemination of advanced knowledge is
involved or (technological) knowledge
with a fast decrease in value, or when time is short for updating
knowledge or the training of (new or innovative) job requirements. A
particular advantage is that most opportunities of BL are not locally
bound to a specific or the traditional learning environment. This means,
especially for industrial organisations, that training or instruction
can be offered even better than before on or next to the work floor
without loosing too much time or to spend extra time. Of course also the
classical way of teaching can profit extremely from BL and this moreover
when the available teaching means are incomplete or inadequate, or a
collaboration of learners would improve their abilities to master the
is for these reasons also to point here again to the importance to
empower individuals in industrial organisations to become an active
participant in the learning and collaboration process.
The projects to which we are committed have not only research objectives in the field of blended learning and flexible learning environments but they have also as an objective to convince organisations that BL provides very well and in an optimal manner a natural way to work and learn.
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