Advanced Blended Learning: A Concise Primer

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Bill Hathaway

Bill Hathaway, President of, argues the case for Lean Six Sigma Training to make more use of Blended Learning models.

With the advent of the internet and our increased knowledge of how adults learn and apply knowledge in the workplace, the options for delivering Lean Six Sigma training have expanded substantially. The recent PEX Network article "Learning Smarter: Blended Learning Models to Grow" laid out a case for why the Blended Learning model represents an improvement over traditional live classroom training model.

But the article stopped short of describing what a blended model looks like and why it is more effective than standalone face-to-face instruction. In this response, I’ll take the discussion to the next level, explaining the what, how and why of Blended Learning.

Starting With a Definition

Within our field of process excellence, Blended Learning is typically defined as a training model that mixes multiple forms of online and live instructional media and activities in order to increase the capability of Lean Six Sigma practitioners. This can include - but is not restricted to - e-Learning and other Web-supported activities, classroom exercises, coaching, study halls and project-based applications.

As a teaching method, Blended Learning has now been adopted by top Lean Six Sigma deployments like the Hertz Corp., Bridgestone Americas, and Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., top academic institutions like Cornell University and The Ohio State University, and by professional associations like the American Society for Quality. Because Blended Learning encompasses a broad spectrum of live, online and recorded content and activities, each organization customizes its blend to what works best for its audience.

To be sure, the act of blending teaching tools and methods is hardly new. If you think back to your high school foreign-language classes, you’ll remember the combined use of tapes, film-strips, books and food - a rudimentary attempt to demonstrate the target culture and provide context for the lessons.

Advancing the Learning

Around the year 2000, process excellence trainers began to harness online tools to provide a series of static lessons that served mostly as pre-work for courses. From this humble beginning, Blended Learning then grew into a more interactive experience with richer media and less classroom time. We’ve recently reached a third generation of training and technology that we call "Advanced Blended Learning."

In Advanced Blended Learning, all information is now online. The lessons, tests, and tools are tightly integrated with project work. Other components, such as face-to-face and distance coaching, Web and social networking, study halls, live and recorded Webinars, self-directed learning, and realistic, high-fidelity project simulations, all serve to round out the educational experience.

With this advanced approach, process improvement training has become an immersive and flexible experience. It combines the best of the old, live teaching practices (immediate feedback, learned instructors, and classroom interactions) with the best of the new, technology-based teaching methods (flexibility, interactivity, and self-paced instruction).

Many deployments are using Blended Learning to drive just-in-time training. This model gives them the flexibility to deliver the exact tools and training their staff needs at the exact time they need it. It’s the very definition of Lean training.

Exploring an Example Deployment

In The Blended Learning Playbook, my co-authors and I described eleven different Blended Learning Lean Six Sigma deployments. While no program is identical, the example below shows a more typical model used for Black Belt training.

Strengths of this Model

  • Lengthy interaction with the e-Learning punctuated and reinforced by the live activities.

  • After two months of training, coaching and support, the students meet for a week of classroom training to demonstrate competency and actively practice techniques.

  • Two more months of online learning, with on-going coaching and live or Web-facilitated study halls for more challenging material.

  • The second week of live training features a project simulation that fosters critical thinking and builds team and project management skills.

The Benefits of Blended Learning

Blended Learning deployments experience some or all of these advantages:

Lower training costs

The blended model commonly offers a cost savings of at least 50% by minimizing classroom instruction and travel and eliminating the direct costs of printing and shipping materials.This does not include the soft cost savings from greater scalability and the reduction of administrative overhead.

More flexibility

The e-Learning component features a lot size of one, so participants can start at any time with no lead time and work at their own pace. Students can easily integrate on-demand blended training with the day-to-day needs of the business and need not spend weeks out of office.

More practice for students. With classrooms used for hands-on workshops rather than lectures, students will spend up to 60% of their time in practice. Graduates from training models that emphasize practice are better prepared to complete projects.

Optimized resources

Instructors and Master Black Belts are freed from classroom time to spend more of their intellectual capital on coaching people through project completion. You can deliver training to students in multiple time zones without sacrificing the quality of the training.

More effective

In 2006, the Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative conducted a meta-analysis of 96 research reports and concluded that Blended Learning was 11% more effective than classroom instruction. A 2009 study released by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development showed similar results.


Well-designed Blended Learning is more effective than standalone face-to-face instruction because it improves the capability of training graduates, reduces the costs of the program, and accommodates the different learning styles of employees. Advanced Blended Learning brings even more advantage by merging the latest learning technologies like innovative project simulations and self-directed online study with the time-tested best practices of classroom instruction.

By now, it’s a sure bet that a majority of your process excellence candidates will have graduated from at least one online or blended course through a school or a post-graduate program. These bright young minds are comfortable with the use of training technology and have come to expect it. It is no longer a question of when Blended Learning will come to process excellence, but how long it will take for training deployments to convert to the model.