Blended Learning

Blended Learning

Blended Learning generally refers to the combination of classroom with electronic learning. A typical example would be a classroom training that places various pre-work, homework, tests, and follow-on sustainment activities on the Web. The idea, a good one, is that the trainer can "offload" what is more efficiently carried out at a computer screen rather than in a classroom. A proper "blend" maximizes both media (classroom and computer) for what they are best suited.

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Blended Learning Sparks a Knowledge Renaissance

In A.D. 750, the Arabs, importing and improving a technology from China, created "paper-enabled" learning (as we might call it today). By substituting inexpensive paper for expensive animal-skin vellum and parchment, the Arabs created the paper-based manuscript, a mass-media platform that—combined with the oral tradition of ancient Greek learning—helped ignite an explosion of learning that would lead to the Arab renaissance (800–1100) as well as to the subsequent Italian Renaissance (1400–1600).

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Blended learning can also refer to the combination of videotaped lectures or live Webcasts with online tests, or of personal coaching sessions with a Web course. There are endless variations. The key concept is to leverage each medium for what it does best in order to deliver the biggest payback in ROI.

It should be added that world-class learning has always been "blended" learning. The very first classrooms of ancient Greece were "blended" learning combinations of traditional Socratic classroom discussion (oral medium) with the new hi-tech medium of the scroll (print medium).


I think, therefore I am.

—Descartes, 1630

The battle cry of the cognitive revolution is "Mind is back! A great new science of mind is born."

—B. F. Skinner, 1989

Cognitivism (from Latin, "to think") is a twentieth-century movement in psychology away from behaviorism's scientific experiments with habits, reflexes, and conditioning, and toward the study of such subjective mental states and processes as thinking, problem solving, and decision making. Cognitivism asserts that behaviorism is often overly mechanistic and simplistic when applied to the complexity of human beings, and that it tends to treat only surface symptoms and not the real problems.

In the 1960s, cognitivism, by bringing the "head" into the discussion, expands the reach of general psychology; during the 1970s it receives an added boost from the new and related fields of artificial intelligence and computer science. In the 1980s it receives yet more support from cognitive science and neuroscience. By breaking behaviorism's taboo against studying higher mental processes, cognitivism seeks to move beyond mechanistic "chains" of physical movement, and view the human mind as an information processing system. All of these related disciplines study the brain as a model of an intricately ordered communication system.

By the 1990s, cognitivism is making itself felt in departments of training as well. The new dimension that it brings to performance is vitally needed for the more complex mental tasks that are demanded by the information age. For cognitivism's effect on training design, see the books by Merrienboer and Clark in the Fastpath section below.

The chart on the following page summarizes the major differences between behaviorism and cognitivism.



Jean Piaget (1896–1980): Judgment and Reasoning in the Child.


The official launch of cognitivism (cognitive science) at a conference at MIT in Boston.


George Miller: "The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information," in The Psychological Review, vol. 63. The classic paper that helped spark the cognitive revolution. Discusses, among other fascinating topics, why our brains can easily remember phone numbers of seven digits, but have trouble remembering area codes (digits 8 to 10)—something that behaviorists never worried about.


Donald Broadbent: Perception and Communication. First book devoted to what will be called "cognitive science," the processing of information by the human mind. Views memories as storage systems, and human attention as an information filter.


Jerome Bruner: The Process of Education. Bruner, following in Piaget's footsteps, emphasizes that cognitive (mind-based) psychology deserves equal footing with behaviorist (body-based) psychology.


Charles Kepner and Benjamin Tregoe: The Rational Manager: A Systematic Approach to Problem Solving and Decision Making. Classic performance improvement model built on cognitive problem-solving strategies.


The founding of two major journals, the Cognitive Science Journal and Cognitive Science Society.


Howard Gardner: The Quest for Mind: Piaget, Levi-Strauss, and the Structuralist Movement. Gardner, a student of Bruner's, provides a readable summary of Piaget, a cognitive child psychologist.


The Cognitive Science Society is formed.


Donald Schon: The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. A brilliant book, rich in insights.


Howard Gardner: The Mind's New Science: A History of the Cognitive Revolution. Still the best and most readable summary of cognitivism available.


Donald Schon: Educating the Reflective Practitioner: Toward a New Design for Teaching and Learning in the Professions. A book on the same high level as Schon's previous book (1983).


P. N. Johnson-Laird: The Computer and the Mind: An Introduction to Cognitive Science.


Roger Penrose: The Emperor's New Mind: Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics. Witty, amusing, and contentious by turns, attacks the cog-sci crowd (the emperors wearing no clothes), stating that the brain is more than a collection of tiny wires and switches. A highly intelligent, important theoretical book.


B. F. Skinner's "The Origins of Cognitive Thought," published in Recent Issues in the Analysis of Behavior. Skinner fights a rear-guard action against the advancing cognitivists, still insisting that cognitive processes are actually anchored in behaviorist processes.


Jeroen van MerriŽnboer: Training Complex Cognitive Skills. An excellent, clearly written book from the Netherlands. MerriŽnboer divides the analysis and design phases of ADDIE into the subphases of decomposition and sequencing. Useful for designing courses for inventory management, aircraft control, policy analysis, troubleshooting manufacturing plants—any topic with heavily cognitive material in it.


Ruth Clark: Building Expertise: Cognitive Methods for Training and Performance Improvement. Provides a readable summary and introduction to the field.

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Reporter: Don't you know anything?

Yogi Berra: I don't even suspect anything.

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Behaviorism (1920s-)

Cognitivism (1970s-)



Physical tasks

Mental tasks

Lower level physical jobs

Higher level management jobs

Shapes physical habits

Teaches thinking, decision making, problem solving

Tools: punishments and rewards

Tools: creative challenges, problems to solve

Example: "cures fear of selling"

Example: "teaches you how to sell"


Pioneers: Pavlov, Watson, and Skinner, studying animals

Pioneers: Piaget and Bruner, studying children

"Objective" psychological truth

"Subjective" psychological truth

Scientific model: nineteenth-century scientism

Scientific model: twentieth-century information processing

Related to: physiological psychology

Related to: cognitive science, neuroscience

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The two most powerful agencies in man's nature are reason and mind.

—Plutarch: On Education,
Greek philosopher, A.D. 100

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A Cognitive Contrarian: The Zen Way to High Performance

In 1974 Timothy Gallwey writes The Inner Game of Tennis. Using an anticognitive approach similar to that of Zen and the martial arts, Gallwey prescribes techniques for short-circuiting cognitive feedback and bypassing the noise in our heads in order to deliver higher performance. Gallwey's approach could be called that of the "non-reflective" practitioner: "Don't think, watch the seams on the ball" is his rallying cry.

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My head is like a fishbowl. Everyone sees inside it.

—Peter Lorre, German movie star, 1928

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Doctor: "They'll restructure your brain."

Woody Allen: "Nobody touches my brain!"

Sleeper, 1973

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See also Behaviorism Constructivism