Blended Learning: Not your Mother’s, Grandmother’s, or Possibly Even Older Sibling’s Training









Blended learning is not new to training. Remember the days when you looked forward to field trips to the planetarium, hovering over a formaldehyde preserved frog with your lab team, or seeing the movie version of Lord of the Rings on a Friday afternoon? Yes, you probably do remember and that’s the point of blended learning.

Not New, But Improved

Make no mistake, today blended learning goes beyond merely tagging on a movie or performing a Web Quest on the internet. The “new” blended learning means finding the right balance of learner participation and instructor facilitation. This involves actively redesigning and rethinking the teaching and learning relationship, and often including technology as a key partner. The outcome is that the learner becomes the leader of their own multi-modal experience, while the instructor assumes a supporting role. To take this a step further, it’s no longer acceptable to take the same content and simply give it a fresh coat of paint with technology. It requires careful analysis, planning, creativity, and follow through on the part of training departments to design meaningful experiences. However, the integration of face-to-face interaction with technology has the potential to create transformative learning experiences, both inside and outside of the traditional training classroom. Suffice it to say, the four walls of the conventional classroom have come crumbling down and are being rebuilt in exciting new settings without borders.

Fringe Benefits

Today’s learners expect a different kind of learning experience. They want information to be relevant to their needs and presented in a variety of ways which appeal to how they learn. A blended learning approach can help you meet these expectations. Let’s look at Melanie’s learning experience to see how a well-designed blended learning program can help improve the learner experience.

Without Blended Learning. Although she loves learning new things, Melanie has always been an introvert and is pretty shy around others. Working in groups makes her very nervous as she prefers to observe and think about what to say first. The courses she’s required to take to maintain her certification are all instructor-led and based entirely around group activities, which make her anxious and uncomfortable. In fact, sometimes she’s so distracted by her discomfort that she doesn’t speak the entire session. From a learning perspective, it’s debatable whether she actually learns anything.

With Blended Learning. In hopes of saving time and increasing learners’ base knowledge, the association offering Melanie’s certification has sent out a link in advance of the face-to-face training with some key information. The online resource is a simple Wiki which includes a course outline with planned activities, reading materials, and a pre-assessment that helps learners understand their strengths and weaknesses. Now that Melanie knows what to expect, she takes time acclimating to the material, taking notes, and coming up with additional questions relevant to her specific job. When she arrives at the in-person class, she knows what will be discussed and feels more comfortable asking questions in front of others and participating in her group. This is how blended learning can not only help your association cover more ground, but improve the overall learner experience.


For associations, it’s not always easy to incorporate change in training programs. There are questions about resources, economics, and stakeholder buy-in to consider and resolve before moving forward with new initiatives. The question always arises, “If we spend the money/resources/time, how does blended learning benefit our association and members?” Blended learning not only provides engaging, experiential opportunities for learners, it also has other benefits. We know that face-to-face training is not only costly, but also time consuming for learners and instructors. However, many organizations are reluctant to take away that personal interaction between learner and instructor.

The hybrid nature of blended learning allows organizations to transition learners from traditional instructor led training while maintaining a personal connection with learners.  It’s also an opportunity to develop talent within training teams by cultivating skills with eLearning platforms and other technologies, at a reasonable pace. Ultimately, even small steps towards blended learning can make change more digestible for learners and more manageable for training teams.

Where to Begin?

If all of this sounds great but daunting, fear not! Start with baby steps. Integrating small changes into traditional ILT makes the process a lot easier. Here are a few ideas to help you get started:

  1. Initiate online assessment
  2. Deliver pre-work online
  3. Integrate in-class surveys with real-time feedback, for example, using Google Forms
  4. Incorporate course wikis or blogs for collaboration
  5. Create “how-to” webcasts or videos, using programs like Camtasia or Jing and upload them to YouTube
  6. Leverage online chat or messaging capabilities for access to experts
  7. Use audio/video conferencing for regular check-ins
  8. Create online discussion groups as part of training and ongoing learning
  9. Try online virtual classrooms or worlds, such as Second Life
  10. Send follow-up “push notifications” to learners via text, email, or messaging

Blended learning allows you to improve the learner experience, manage change, save money, foster a strong technology-oriented training team, and reclaim hours and hours of time all around. What’s not to love? While the transition to blended learning may pose initial challenges, if you can start with small changes, you’re likely to reap big returns for both your members and your association.



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Gamification or Game-Based Learning? What’s the Difference?

Gamification and game-based learning (sometimes abbreviated GBL) are both hot topics and the terms are often used interchangeably. They’re not the same thing, but a lot of the definitions and explanations that are floating around aren’t very clear. Hopefully this will help: gamification is icing and GBL is cake.

Gamification, “Icing”

Gamification is primarily used to motivate learners. It is usually applied to content or training that already exists. Basically, you already have a cake but not very many people seem to be eating it. You add icing to the cake, which takes effort but not too much. The icing attracts people’s interest and motivates them to eat the cake. At its heart, it’s still the same cake though.

In essence, gamification is at work whenever an incentive is offered to encourage someone to do something they are already supposed to be doing. This could be an award or recognition, a special privilege, an increase in ranking, a prize, or a badge among other things. It’s like offering allowance money for the chores that haven’t been getting done. They’re the same old chores, but that added promise of reward makes people more willing to do them. Sales incentive programs, credit card rewards, and the badges used in scouting organizations are also good examples.

Game-Based Learning, “A New Cake”

GBL is motivational too, but it focuses on how the training is organized and delivered. It is usually applied to topics that require problem solving, critical thinking, or lots of practice. In this case, you’re getting a new cake rather than trying to improve an existing one. This takes more work than just adding icing, but the results can be well worth it in the right situation.

The big difference between gamification and GBL is that you could still learn something from the content you gamified before you gamified it. With GBL the learning takes place during play. If you don’t play you won’t learn, and if you don’t learn you can’t advance in the game. The Typing of the Dead is an example of GBL. As the name suggests, it teaches you how to type. You have to type the words and phrases that appear on screen to shoot at the zombies that are coming after you. If you don’t type fast enough it proves that you haven’t learned sufficiently and you get killed by the zombies.

It is also good to know that “games” does not need to mean “video games” or “computer games.” There are many types of games: board games, card games, word games, pencil and paper games, and other games that don’t require any materials at all, like Charades. All it really takes for something to be a game is a goal and a set of rules that need to be followed in order to reach it.

There are two ways to implement game-based eLearning:

Store-Bought Cake

You can use games that already exist to help teach your content. There are plenty of off-the shelf games available, both educational and commercial. For instance, Monopoly or The Sims could be used to help teach financial concepts. If your association decides to go this route, make sure the game(s) fulfills your needs. After all, you wouldn’t want to show up at a birthday party with a cake that says, “Happy Anniversary!”

Made-from-Scratch Cake

There’s also the option of having your content built into a custom game. This is a big undertaking, so your association will want to find a proven vendor that will work with you to make your game-based eLearning a reality. It can take more time, effort, and money to make a cake from scratch. But you can taste the difference and make it just the way you want it.

There you have it. Gamification and GBL are icing and cake. They’re related, but they’re two separate things. One is purely motivational and the other, although also motivational, focuses on changing the way your eLearning is served. Games come in many forms and can either be purchased as-is or baked from scratch. No matter which recipe you choose, gamification and GBL are excellent tools for increasing learner engagement.

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Four Wishes for LMS Buyers

Four Wishes for LMS BuyersEvery week, like clockwork, I get a call from someone who wants me to recommend an LMS for their association or small business.  The conversation goes something like this…Typical Phone Call Example

If an eLearning Genie would come out of a bottle and grant me four wishes for my LMS buyers, here is what I’d request.

Wish #1: LMS Buyers understand what they are buying

I wish the genie would prompt all LMS Buyers to Google and read the definition of Learning Management System before calling me.  If they would do this, the first item that comes up is this link to a Wikipedia article.

Further down in the article LMS Buyers will see a list of standard LMS functionality compared to LCMS functionality. Notice that course development is generally not one of the functions of an LMS. Sometimes LMSs offer some basic course development tools, but it’s not a core LMS function.

Or the best source to define training and eLearning related terms is ATD’s Learning Circuit’s glossary. Check out the definition of LMS at this link.

Wish #2: LMS Buyers consider the stages of developing and deploying eLearning

Then the eLearning Genie would help LMS buyers to take the next logical step in the buying process before they call me. Now that the buyer knows that an LMS is not a course development tool, s/he will realize that buying an LMS before building courses means paying for something that isn’t going to be used for a while.  This is a waste of precious resources. It’s hard enough to fund eLearning effort, but to use those funds on something that sits dormant is not the smartest use of scarce funding.

Wish #3: LMS Buyers develop courses that comply with the eLearning industry standards

So, if the first step is to develop courses, the eLearning Genie would reveal to LMS Buyers that they need to obtain a course authoring tool or LCMS, or hire an eLearning firm to develop courses. If they buy a course authoring tool, they will also need training on how to design eLearning courses and use the tool. But then the LMS buyer would look at the Genie and ask, “How do you determine which course development tool to buy?” The LMS Genie would explain that using a course development tool that publishes SCORM-conformant courses, will ultimately allow nearly any LMS to run and track your courses. Here’s a few course development tools to consider: (free)

Wish #4: LMS Buyers don’t assume that all LMSs are the same

The genie would show the LMS Buyer a vision of the eLearning world, and that there are a wide variety of vendors in the marketplace. Choosing the right one requires a savvy buyer and a rigorous process. Although there are a core set of features that every LMS has, the extra features and functions that LMS vendors offers varies significantly.  To choose the best LMS, LMS Buyers need to define their eLearning business processes and find an LMS that can most easily support these processes. Every LMS was built for a specific client to meet their requirements, then it was expanded to meet the needs of additional clients. The LMS that will most cost-efficiently support the buyer’s business process is the one that has clients with similar business processes.

Thanks to the eLearning Genie for enlightening the LMS buyers who read this blog.

Best wishes in your eLearning endeavors.

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Why Negative Reinforcement is Actually Quite Positive!

Today, I wanted to talk about a misnomer I hear all the time that drives me up a wall. Negative reinforcement. Many people hear the phrase and picture scenes of scolding and beratement. They believe that since positive reinforcement means rewarding someone then negative reinforcement must mean punishing someone. I’d like to clear this up right now.

The concepts of negative and positive reinforcement (and negative and positive punishment, which we will get to in a second) came from B.F. Skinner, a behavioral scientist in the 20th century. He suggested that actions were not as freely chosen as we may think, but instead they are a product of our perception of the results of said actions. To put it another way, we are more likely to repeat actions if we think something good will happen as a result. He called this, reinforcement. By the same token, we are less likely to repeat an action if we think something bad will happen. He called this, punishment.  (Please note, this is an extremely over-simplified version of Mr. Skinner’s life work, but it will suffice for our purposes.)

So, if reinforcement is what you do when you want a behavior to increase and punishment is what you do when you want a behavior to decrease, where do the positive and negative parts fit in? I’m so glad you (probably) asked! It’s very simple actually. Positive and negative refer to either the addition or subtraction of stimuli.  Here’s a chart with some descriptions and examples.

Method Description Example
Positive Reinforcement Adding stimuli to increase a behavior Reward a child for getting good grades
Negative Reinforcement Removing stimuli to increase a behavior Stop nagging when someone does what you ask
Positive Punishment Adding stimuli to decrease a behavior Reprimand a subordinate for being late
Negative Punishment Removing stimuli to decrease a behavior Take away TV privileges from a misbehaving child

In each instance, you can identify a stimuli that is either being added or removed and a behavior that you would like to either encourage or discourage. And it makes sense, doesn’t it? The idea of “positive” or “negative” referring to how the recipient “feels” is very unscientific. What feels “good” to one person may feel “bad” to another. It stands to reason that the definition for a scientific term would be more concrete and measurable.

So what can you do with this information? Another fine question!  First, the next time someone says you to you, “I don’t yell at my subordinates because I don’t’ believe in negative reinforcement,” you can say, “Actually, you don’t believe in positive punishment!” But more seriously, (and practically) you are probably intuitively doing these things already without defining them as such. But, by understanding the theory behind the concepts, you can more deliberately put them to work for you. You now know you should focus your efforts on identifying the appropriate stimuli that your learners would like added or removed and use those in your training efforts.

“Negative reinforcement” has gotten a bad rap for far too long. Knowing its true meaning means you can move beyond its “negative” connotation and instead see it for the valuable tool it is.

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What is WCAG 2.0 and Why Does it Matter?

WCAG 2.0

WCAG 2.0 stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Similar to Section 508, WCAG is the international standard for accessibility in web content created by The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Most people are familiar with Section 508, which requires federal agencies to “purchase electronic and information technology that is accessible to employees with disabilities, and to the extent that those agencies provide information technology to the public, it too shall be accessible by persons with disabilities.” WCAG offers similar guidance, as well as techniques for building web content that is accessible for people with disabilities.

WCAG uses the POUR Principles to provide guidelines for  creating accessible content. POUR stands for:

  • Perceivable:
    • Provides text alternatives for any non-text content
    • Provides alternatives for time-based media
    • Separates content from style
    • Makes it easier for users to see and hear content
  • Operable:
    • Makes all functionality available from a keyboard
    • Provides users enough time to read and use content
    • Doesn’t design content known to cause seizures
    • Provides ways to help users navigate, find content and determine where they are
  • Understandable:
    • Simplifies text content
    • Web pages operate in predictable ways
    • Helps users avoid and correct mistakes
  • Robust:
    • Maximizes compatibility with other products, including assistive technologies.

These guidelines are categorized into three levels:  A (must support), AA (should support), and AAA (may support).

You might be thinking, “Okay, why does this matter to me? I’m not a government agency.” Neither are the American Heart Association or Harvard, but that didn’t stop students from suing  them for accessibility issues. In March, a medical student sued the American Heart Association for failure to provide access to disabled persons with hearing impairments, alleging the organization refused to provide subtitles for video content. This is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which “requires all entities that provide educational training materials and certification to ensure full and equal access for individuals with a disability, including individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.”

The American Heart Association isn’t alone. Harvard and M.I.T. have also been in the news for the same reason. Advocates for the deaf filed a lawsuit in February arguing that both universities either do not provide closed captioning or provide such poorly captioned content that it is inaccessible to deaf students. The lawsuit further alleges that edX, a nonprofit founded by the two universities, which offers dozens of free online courses to students around the world, also fails to provide access for disabled users.

We expect to see  accessibility issues continue to ripple through the eLearning industry. Is your association or organization’s content accessible for all users? Tell us about it.




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Education Balancing Act: Asynchronous, Synchronous, and Blended Learning

Asynchronous, Synchronous, and Blended eLearningWhat do you think of when you hear the term eLearning? Maybe your mind jumps to webinars or interactive courses in a Learning Management System (LMS). There are many different types of eLearning, so it isn’t surprising that they can be divided into categories. Let’s explore them and take a look at their advantages and disadvantages.

Asynchronous/ Self-Paced

Asynchronous refers to eLearning offerings you take on your own. It’s just you and the content, no instructor, no classmates. Courses in an LMS usually fall into this category.


  • You decide when to take the course (although it may still have deadlines or timers)
  • Allows you to proceed at your own pace
  • Content is the same for everyone who takes it, every time


  • No one readily available to answer questions
  • The scheduling flexibility can lead to procrastination
  • Lack of other participants can decrease motivation and sense of accountability


Synchronous refers to eLearning offerings where you participate as part of a group and everyone in the group needs to be logged in at the same time. Live webinars and virtual classrooms are both great examples.


  • Discussion with others (can ask questions, exchange examples, etc.)
  • Participation in a community (collaborate, compete, study together, etc.)
  • No travel required to meet with the group


  • Need to set aside the scheduled date(s) and time(s)
  • Can require the use of multiple devices at once (for example, calling in using a phone while being on a computer)
  • Possible personality conflicts


Blended courses are a bit different because they’re not purely eLearning. As the name suggests, they’re a blend of eLearning and face-to-face training. If you sign up for an in-person workshop but need to watch an online video that explains the basics before you attend, that’s an example of blended learning.


  • Maximizes the amount of in-person time that can be devoted to hands-on practice and other learning strategies that are difficult to deliver through eLearning
  • eLearning can be used before an in-person event to provide all participants with standardized background information and/or it can be used for follow up (some in-person events even use eLearning during the face-to-face sessions)
  • The use of different delivery methods and learning strategies helps maintain engagement


  • Can require travel along with its related time and expenses
  • Need to set aside date(s) and time(s)
  • Can take more time to plan and execute effectively

Each category has its benefits and drawbacks. Knowing which ones are most important to you and your learners can help you decide which one(s) to consider. What category does most of your association or organization’s training fall under? Why? Sound off in the comments section.

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Anticipating Risk in Online Learning

Anticipating Risk

So, you’ve decided to embrace online learning at your association. You know what a source of non-dues revenue this can be, and you know how popular eLearning has become in the association space. Well, not to be a Debbie Downer, but the board is going to have some questions. Have you anticipated the risk in online learning? Do you know how to overcome the challenges that come with implementing such an initiative? Pour yourself a cup of coffee, and let’s talk.

Risk 1: Being under staffed and ill prepared for implementation and delivery

How many people are in your education department? Will you have enough people to help with course creation, managing your LMS, marketing your courses? Not being prepared for the amount of work that goes into creating a successful online learning initiative could kill the program before it even starts. You’ll need to determine how many departments need to be involved and who needs to be trained. Creating the internal infrastructure to support online learning is a critical first step.

Risk 2: What if we build it and no one comes?

Before you run out and purchase a shiny new LMS with all the bells and whistles, have you considered the demand for online education at your association? You‘ll need to consider the size of your audience, the commonalities among that audience (will they require the same courses), growth within the occupation your association serves (a growing occupation offers more potential members and non-members to consume your educational offerings), and licensure/certification requirements (if members and non-members must maintain certifications and licenses then you have a built in audience with a need for your courses). Additionally, is professional parity an issue? In other words, do members need to keep up with the Joneses professionally? For example, a marketer is often considered only as good as his or her credentials and someone who is a member of a marketing association has an advantage over a marketer that isn’t in terms of professional credibility. You should also determine if your association caters to members and nonmembers within a profession that encourages professional and personal enrichment. For example, development directors and fund raisers often desire additional information and best practices for putting on fundraisers and seeking endowments for their nonprofits.

Risk 3: Not marketing your courses effectively

Market research is critically important to marketing your courses effectively. You must know who your audience is, what they need, what they want, what messaging resonates with them, and their reason for choosing online education. This allows you to create positioning and messaging strategies that work. Will you use email? Will you offer incentives? Will you run promotions? What about social media? Will you engage members and potential members on Twitter? What about content marketing? Will you write blogs and create infographics that add value for your members? Make sure you’ve taken the time to plan your marketing strategy. Sit down with the board and create a strategic plan to determine your goals and a marketing plan to make those goals happen.

Risk 4: Bad course design

You repurposed an old PowerPoint presentation. It has tons of text on the slides because there was a lot of information to cover. Your subject matter experts say the information is accurate and educational. Yet, members and nonmembers aren’t coming back to take more courses. This is probably because your courses just don’t appeal to learners. Maybe its aesthetics or presentation style, maybe the information is boring and tedious to get through. Maybe the learner simply can’t retain the information as presented. In truth, creating effective courses is half art, half learning science. An instructional designer knows how to present information in bite sized pieces that are easy for the learner to understand and engage with. If you don’t have an instructional designer on your team, consider hiring one or seeking additional information on course design best practices from reputable sources such as this blog, or Articulate’s website. You might also want to invest in a solid piece of course design software such as Storyline, or make sure your LMS provider offers you a course design tool.


No risk, no reward they say, and in this case it’s true. Online learning can change the game at your association. No longer must you suffer declining numbers and live events with poor attendance. You can achieve success with eLearning creating a stream of non-dues revenue. You can reach a wider audience than ever before, and you can change the course of a young professional’s life by creating courses that fill the skills gap left upon graduating from college and entering the professional arena. You can reduce costs associated with training and career development. You can also make an environmental impact because eLearning is ecofriendly. Yes, starting an online learning initiative at your association is risky. There are costs involved and you’re going to need to prove that ROI to the board. But, you can do it! If you carefully anticipate and address the risks of online learning and plan for success, you can achieve a successful outcome and reap the rewards of board member accolades and satisfied learners.


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