Sunday, October 20, 2013

Converting to a Distance Learning Format


Congratulations! You've decided to make the leap into a hybrid/blended learning environment and this guide will help make that leap a little more manageable. After completely reviewing this guide, we urge you to use the Table of Contents to find what you are looking for in a more timely manner in the future. It is our hope that this guide prepares and helps direct you through this transition.
(To see the complete guide more easily, please click here.)

Pre-training Strategies

            When beginning to consider the shift from a traditional classroom to a hybrid/blended classroom, one must begin with an analysis of the learners, content, methods, and environment (Simonson et al., 2012, p. 152). With that information, a more informed decision about how to proceed with the design and development of the course can be made.


            You should begin by thinking about your learners because "taking the time to learn about the learners in the class yields a more productive learning environment" (Simonson et al., 2012, p. 154). Each learner is different and has his or her own preferences and ways he or she likes to learn so the instructional designer will have to consider that and "develop supporting materials to individualize instruction" (Simonson et al., 2012, p. 155). Using a survey would be a good place to start for this kind of analysis and that survey can enlighten the design and development of the course.


            As Simonson et al. (2012) remind us, "Keep in mind that courses previously taught in traditional classrooms may need to be retooled. The focus on the instruction shifts to visual presentations, engaged learners, and careful timing of presentations of information" (p. 153). In fact,  in online learning environments activities help learners engage with and learn the content, so along with a more visual representation of concepts, the designer must think about how to encourage interactivity (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d.).

Method and Materials

            With your desire to have your training materials available on a server  along with interactive activities, the recommended method of delivery for the hybrid/blended learning environment is a Course Management System (CMS). A CMS is an "Internet-based software that manages student enrollment, tracks student performance, and creates and distributes course content" (Simonson et al., 2012, p. 162). These are some of the essential features you will be looking for as you move from a traditional classroom to a hybrid/blended classroom. Your organization will have to choose the CMS that works for you, but there are a number of CMSs (which are also known as Learning Management Systems or LMSs) to choose from, so your institution will have to make that decision according to your previous analysis of the learners, content, methods, and environment.

Modifying Original Aspects of the Traditional Course

            Since the course has been done in a traditional format, the chances are good that you will be able to modify what you've already done to work in a hybrid/blended learning environment. It does take some work, but this chart outlines the materials and activities that are used in the traditional classroom and how they can be modified for a hybrid/blended classroom. The key is that "online education demands that students become engaged in the learning process. They cannot sit back and be passive learners; rather, they must participate in the learning process" (Simonson et al., 2012, p. 195-196). Therefore, the designer needs to plan for a higher amount of interactive activities (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d.).

Shifting from Traditional to Hybrid/Blended Learning


Traditional Classroom
Hybrid/Blended Classroom

Course Readings

Readings are usually bought before the class or distributed in class as a copy that students can highlight and comment upon. These readings are often stored in a binder or a folder dedicated to the course.
Readings can be bought or distributed using the same means as a traditional classroom, but they can also be hyperlinked to places on the internet or stored on the server and made available through the CMS. This means they are available at anytime, anywhere. Highlighting and commenting can be done digitally, making the resources more user-friendly and searchable.


Copies of handouts are given in class and it is the student's responsibility to keep track of them, again, likely in a binder or folder. Comments and highlighting are made directly on the document.
Handouts may be delivered in the traditional classroom, or they can be hyperlinked to places in the internet or stored on the server and made available through the CMS, again, making them available at anytime, anywhere and highlighting and commenting can be done digitally as well.


Instructors deliver the message verbally while students listen and take notes. Sometimes visual aids are used to enhance the lecture.
Instructors may still choose to do an in-person lecture, but that lecture can be recorded as a video or podcast and stored in the CMS for students who may not be able to attend. Or the instruct may choose to record his/her lecture instead of delivering it in class. The instructor may even choose not to be seen in the video and feature the visual aids with narration. A narrated PowerPoint presentation would be an example of this kind of technology; however, instructors need to use PowerPoints and these kinds of resources sparingly because they aren't very interactive. As was mentioned before, learners will learn the content through interactivity with the content (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d.). Any kind of video or podcast should remain between 3-10 minutes and if it is longer, the instructor should consider creating a series (Simonson et al., 2012, p. 97).


Assignments and papers are collected in class or sometimes they are put in the instructor's mailbox or some other designated collection spot.
The CMS may have an assignment drop box where assignments can be uploaded and time-stamped so instructors are sure learners turned in their work on time. Feedback then also becomes more instantaneous as instructors are able to deliver that as soon as the assignment is graded. The student will find that feedback on the CMS and it will remain there for future reference.

Discussions/ Debates

Discussions/Debates are held during class time and all members are expected to prepare and participate equally. Timid learners often struggle with this portion of a course since they tend to be soft spoken and reluctant to participate.
Discussion forums can host discussions and debates in written or video form. Each participant should be required to post a reaction or response to a given topic and then participants could be required to respond to a certain number of classmates. The same topics that were discussed in the traditional classroom can be used here; however, all participants will be heard and they will have more time to think about their responses (Simonson et al., 2012, p. 273-274). In fact, Simonson et al. (2012) wrote, "One of the most effective techniques to promote interaction in distance education is the threaded discussion " (p. 156).


Quizzes and/or tests are conducted in class and the instructor usually has to manually grade the questions or at least manually calculate the score if resources like Scantron tests are used.
Many CMSs have "system-scored exams and quizzes" that allow learners to immediately "review their progress" (Simonson et al., 2012, p. 184). Therefore, feedback can be immediate (unless essay questions are also included; then learners will only get a portion of their final grade) and quizzes or tests can be set up so that a learn can have multiple attempts so that he/she can practice the concepts and learn from his or her failures as he or she continues to improve his or her score and comprehension simultaneously (Simonson et al., 2012, p. 273).

Group Projects

The parameters of the group project are delivered in class and the students have some time in class to meet, but are expected to meet outside of class to finish the project.
The instructions may be delivered in person so that clarifying questions can be asked and this information can also be stored on the CMS. The students can choose to work synchronously or asynchronously using Wikis, Skype, Google Documents or other Web 2.0 tools that may be available to them. Those tools are often easily connected to CMSs.


            As previously mentioned, a CMS would be an ideal environment for a hybrid/blended learning environment. Here are some popular options to examine with your institution:
·         Blackboard −
·         Moodle −
·         CourseSites −
·         Canvas −
·         SchoolRack −
·         Haiku Learning −
·         Rcampus −
·         EDU2.0 −
·         EctoLearning −
·         Joomla −
·         SilverStripe −
·         CushyCMS −
            Many of these CMSs have similar features that encourage interactivity, but do examine them all and how they could help your organization make the shift from traditional to the hiybrid/blended learning environment. Ultimately, your organization needs to find the CMS that is right for the interactivity that you plan to incorporate.

Role of the Trainer

            In a hybrid class, the instructor becomes more of a learning coach (Simonson et al., 2012, p. 196). Learning in an online environment shifts the learning paradigm from being instructor-focused to learner-focused and the learner is expected to take responsibility for his or her learning. Even though the learner takes a larger responsibility of their learning, they still need guidance and direction so you will have to be engaged and present; although, that presence comes from logging on to the CMS (Simonson et al., 2012, p. 196). The trainer is expected to be present in the learning activities and "by using assessments carefully, the teacher can identify and address weaknesses or gaps in the instruction" and that can be a powerful tool to help the trainer differentiate instruction and help learners where they really need help (Simonson et al., 2012, p. 264). The class time that the distance portion of instruction "saves" and instructor should be "reallocated from presenting to preparing, from lecturing to posting, and from explaining to interacting" (Simonson et al., 2012, p. 215). However, the instructor is still expected to know the lesson plan and to be prepared to teach the content (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d.).

Encouraging Communication & Participation

            Simonson et al. (2012) wrote, "Constant communication is essential [when teaching online]" (p. 135).  One of the best tools for communication between the student and the instructor is the course syllabus. Simonson et al. (2012) wrote, "The syllabus is the single-most important document an instructor can prepare. This is the primary communication with students at a distance" (p. 199). The syllabus should outline how students communicate with the instructor and what expectations they should have for the instructor (i.e., how often he or she will post, how quickly he or she will respond to e-mails, when it is appropriate to call, etc.). Simonson et al. (2012) reminds us, too, that "the announcements tool in a course management system is an excellent means for instructors to get new information to students" (p. 135).
            As far as participation goes,  it is recommended that the instructor "post once for every 4 or 5 student postings [in the discussion forum], then as student take more responsibility for their own learning later in the course, the instructor might post one for each 10 to 12 student postings−primarily to keep the discussions on track" (Simonson et al., 2012, p. 156). Along with helping the learners learn, this will also show them that you care about them and their academic progress, something that can be very motivating for students who begin to feel a connection with a real person and not just their computer (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d.). This constant communication is difficult, but you have to try your best because you can't disassociate yourself or you will lose learners along the way (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d.).

Trainer Tips

·         "Technology used in distance learning should be considered as a tool to deliver the instruction and not as a method" (Simonson et al., 2012, p. 203). 
·         Facilitators must be trained to use the software (CMS) that they will use (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d.). If your organization does not provide training, ask for it.
·         If there are multiple facilitators teaching the same course, they could take the course together as a means of training to teach the course (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d.).  
·         Learners must also be trained to use the software (Simonson et al., 2012, p. 137). And be sure they know where to go and who to ask if they are having any issues with the software, too!
·         "Be prepared in the event that technical problems occur" (Simonson et al., 2012, p. 153). Discuss possible issues with your learners in advance so that they know what to do and what is expected of them in such situations.  
·         "When teaching with technology, always assume the worst and be pleasantly surprised when everything goes well" (Simonson et al., 2012, p. 200).
·         "Instructors should consistently monitor to detect if students are having difficulty navigating the course website and using its components" (Simonson et al., 2012, p. 137).
·         Mind copyright laws and be sure to give credit where credit is due (Simonson et al., 2012, p. 212).


Acuña, J. (n.d.). The Networked Teacher. In Reflective Online Teacher: Becoming an Online Instructor. Retrieved from
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

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