Blended Learning: An Approach to Quality Correctional Training

Article excerpt

Correctional administrators are faced with the challenge of offering professional development and training opportunities to personnel while reducing costs. Likewise, correctional training instructors are constantly challenged to search for the appropriate blend of learning strategies to achieve their outcome objectives. With many organizations facing significant reductions in their budgets, "blended learning'1 is one approach that allows agencies to offer high-quality, low-cost training.

Although the term blended learning has become fashionable recently, the model has been in existence for hundreds of years. However, the meaning of the term has evolved as new methods have come about through technological developments. Additionally, many instructors have already intuitively integrated blended learning strategies into their training programs.

Blended learning has many variant definitions. According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, blended learning is "training or instruction that blends face-to-face training with technological techniques in order to maximize the transfer of knowledge."

According to the National Institute of Corrections' (NICs) Distance Learning Reference Guide Version 1:0: Corrections Learning Environment (CLE) Program, blended learning mixes synchronous delivery modalities (real-time) with asynchronous ones (anytime). (1) Examples of synchronous delivery methods include lecture, video conferencing and webinars, and asynchronous styles of delivery include email, online discussion boards and wikis.

The use of blended learning allows for in-person classroom instructional strategies, such as instructor-led classrooms, coaching and on-the-job training, to be combined with any of the following online or virtual delivery/instruction methods.

Online Delivery Methods

Chat rooms. Chat rooms are a process whereby the learner and instructor are online at the same point in time. (2) This type of learning method can be used for group discussions and providing feedback (3) Many learners familiar with chat rooms are likely to become involved in the conversation, because the environment is often viewed as less formal than a classroom. Chat rooms have the ability to produce great conversation and thoughts that may not come about in formal class discussions. In corrections, employees assigned to intelligence units engage in chat rooms to enhance their knowledge and understanding of various gangs that are housed within their departments. Additionally, chat rooms are available for all corrections professionals to interact, learn and gain an understanding of various worldwide initiatives in the correctional setting.

Computer-based training. Computer-based training (CBT) is a universal term used for training that is delivered through a computer. Learners have the convenience of scheduling training sessions when it is convenient for them and sessions can be taken from their office, home or other off-site locations. The learners have the ability to work at their own pace.

The three major types of CBT are compact disc readonly memory (CD-ROM), local-area network (LAN) and Web-based training (WBT). CD-ROM-based training is used by only one learner at a time and is the least expensive of the three. CD-ROMs are used to deliver training to the learner at the computer. NIC offers a number of correctional training programs on CD-ROM. (4)

LAN-based training is used in organizations through the agencies intranet, and learners on the same computer network have the ability to gain access to the training course and other supplemental material. A few examples of LAN-based training are training courses offered to correctional employees over the intranet, including how to use software programs such as Microsoft Word, or training specific to a particular computer application.

WBT uses a Web browser to deliver training to learners. The training is provided to learners through the Internet or intranet, and learners may have the ability to communicate with other course participants through chats. …