16. Only now do we concern ourselves with technologies

Designing blended solutions
In this series of posts (first post here), I describe a simple process for designing blended solutions that are both efficient and effective. This process has three stages: (1) analysing the unique characteristics of the situation in which the solution is to be deployed; (2) selecting the right blend of methods to meet the needs of the situation; and (3) determining the delivery media best suited to these methods. It is to this final stage that we now turn.

Only now do we concern ourselves with technologies

Very few of learning methods are tied to a specific learning medium – they can usually be applied in more than one way, perhaps online, face-to-face, even over the phone. It’s an important aspect of this approach to blended learning that you leave the choice of medium until last. First you establish the methods that you believe will be effective in meeting the demands of your particular situation. Then you select the most appropriate media for delivering these methods, looking to optimise efficiency without compromising on effectiveness. The result of this may be a rich blend of different media; on the other hand, it may be that you choose to use the same medium throughout. This is not important – your goal here is to optimise efficiency, not to introduce variety.
Let’s just pause for a moment to make absolutely clear how methods and media impact on the likely success of your solution. Broadly speaking, methods determine effectiveness – if you choose the right methods, you are likely to achieve your learning objectives.
A great deal of effort has been put into research to test whether the communications media used for learning have a similar impact on effectiveness. Thomas L. Russell undertook an analysis of more than 350 studies conducted over the past 50 or so years, each attempting to compare the effectiveness of one learning medium with another. The title of Russell’s book is The No Significant Difference Phenomenon, which says it all. A meta-analysis of 96 studies, by Sitzmann and others, published in 2006, makes clear that it’s the method, not the delivery medium that makes the difference. When web-based and classroom instruction employing similar methods were compared, there was little or no difference in outcome. That is not to say that the choice of medium is unimportant; it has a big impact on the efficiency and flexibility of the solution, but not its effectiveness.
Needless to say, real-life is not quite that simple. You clearly cannot use any medium to deliver any method – the medium must have the necessary functionality. So, a book is not a suitable medium with which to hold a discussion (although the book might stimulate a discussion) and you are not going to get very far practising first aid skills on a mobile device (although the device may be useful in modelling those skills). Evidently some common sense is required.
Next up:  More and more media to choose from