The benefits of blending

Published: 30 October 2020 

In response to the pandemic, this year our Teacher Development Fund will support projects that take a blended approach to continuing professional development and learning (CPDL) in arts-based learning. Nichola Clarke of Into Film shares the many ways they’ve successfully combined remote and face-to-face delivery to enhance teacher training.

Just as it’s difficult to remember how we engaged and communicated before Facetime and Zoom calls, I find it hard to recall how engaging and interactive training was provided through face-to-face means alone. We are living in a digital age and we need to respond to our audience’s needs, now more than ever.

I work at Into Film, a film education charity for young people, contributing to our blended learning offer for educators and coordinating Film for Learning, a project providing a sustainable blended training model for schools.

We already know that face-to-face training is great, there’s no doubt about it. To be in the same room as participants has a powerful impact on the learning, but it’s always had its limitations, particularly in terms of accessibility, reach and personalisation.

Enter blended learning. It’s achievable and accessible, and not a substitute for face-to-face training but an enhancement of it. Those fantastic, but often standalone face-to-face offers can now be accompanied by remote training webinars, video tutorials and online courses and resources that allow us to build a learner journey. This differentiation in learning demonstrates how we can change and adapt based on our learners’ needs, providing an experiential and holistic learning experience that caters for all learning preferences. It has also allowed us to overcome many obstacles thrown at us by lockdown by providing training and resources online.

Let’s take a moment to demystify blended learning’s high-tech and high-cost image, and translate it into the simple inexpensive resource that it can be. At Into Film, we are in the final stages of creating our own Online Learning Platform, but not every organisation will have this resource. It’s important to remember that what your learners are signing up for is your expertise, which you can provide with the technology you already have.

Our Into Film twilight webinars are a practical way to provide training to educators at the end of a school day, and to reach a higher but manageable number than with a face-to-face session. The app we use allows us to control the settings of the call, share screens for learning content, and create breakout rooms for group work within the session. There are always helpful hints and tips online for setting up a webinar and making the most of recording your own videos.

Pre-recorded tutorial videos are even more accessible, with participants choosing when to watch and providers controlling the content. You can begin with a simple talking head or do exciting and creative things like bring the artist’s studio to learners. Activities that take hours to demonstrate can be trimmed, sped up and narrated—and revisited by teachers as needed. While artists speak, we can cut away to video examples, creating a visually stimulating learning experience. There are drawbacks of course. Interaction can be limited to a comments section or emails but the flexibility it can provide your learner will outweigh this. If scheduled well with other parts of your blended learning offer, it can be balanced out with interaction during face-to-face opportunities, webinars and closed social media groups.

Online courses don’t have to be exhaustive and accredited, they can be bitesize chunks of CPDL, provided on a webpage through a mix of videos, text, quizzes and downloadable resources. They can include activities to be completed at leisure; offers to submit work via contribution tools on your chosen platform or via email; resources to use with and benefit students; and a chance to build a learning community through peer sharing and learning opportunities with comments sections and social media. GDPR and safeguarding are extremely important considerations, but the end result will be a service that is rich with your organisation’s learning content.

Considering how we work is changing drastically, at Into Film we are incredibly fortunate that we can continue supporting our educators with our blended learning offer. It is swiftly becoming a more sustainable way to continue to reach our audience and achieve our organisational goals.