In the “what’s old is new all over again” category (no, I’m not talking about the disconcerting popularity of 80s “fashion”) there’s a lot of talk these days about blended learning. In February, I presented at the ASTD TechKnowledge conference on new tools for Blended Learning and it turned out to be a standing-room-only session. New technology and media tools open up a whole new world of fun and useful affordances for curriculum planners and instructional designers. At the same time, creative uses of some “old media” (let’s call them “analog technologies”) may carry even more weight in a curriculum. The more we move online, the more value we find in some of those tangible artifacts and face to face experiences. We’re sharing our tips for blended learning media options here.

WARNING: Nerdy Instructional Design Content Ahead!

As important as media selection is for an effective and engaging blended learning design, you can’t neglect the structure of the curriculum itself. In Josh Bersin’s 2004 The Blended Learning Book, he suggests two models for how blended learning takes place: flow and core + spoke. Bersin’s book was released in a pre-iPad, pre-YouTube, pre-MOOC world. The wide use of tablets has changed our view of how learning can be delivered and the types of support we can provide away from a desktop computer.

In that light, I would suggest a third model is emerging today: a network approach. Here’s a summary of the three models.

Flow Model

The flow model is a linear, more formal approach. The learner progresses stepwise through an ordered sequence of learning events, comprised of a variety of media each suited to the task. Learners start with step one, and when that’s complete they move to step two, and so on. It can be implemented all at once or designers can build out the sequence one step ahead of the learners. With the flow model, consistency of the experience can be achieved. It can result in meaningful cohort groups of learners because everyone has a set of shared and maybe even contemporaneous experiences.

Core-Spoke Model

With the core + spoke model, learners all start with a common core learning event. However, that’s where the shared experience stops. Learners branch off in different directions to meet their own personal needs, some of which will be shared by others, but there’s no guarantee. The core + spoke model allows for the learning experience to be built out and evolve over time. It’s a more individual experience for the learners, and the common core provides the high level structure that guides the solo exploration that follows.

Network Model

At first glance, the network model looks similar to the core + spoke but it functions quite differently. With this model there are no core shared experiences, rather collaborative networks of people who are sharing their knowledge and also linking out to other experiences. Think of LinkedIn groups where professionals contribute to a conversation or topic and reference other knowledge sources such as books, articles, organizations, conferences, etc. While the network model lacks effective metrics to evaluate the experience of learners, the capability and vibrancy of the learning experience can be intense and fulfilling since it is driven and enriched by the learners themselves.

This table shows a further exploration of the differences among blended learning models.