Blended learning is a term used to describe the combination of traditional, instructor-led learning with any one of a number of online features, creating a learning environment that balances face-to-face (F2F) and online learning experiences. As technology becomes more and more prevalent in education, it is increasingly difficult to imagine a non-blended learning environment. However, blended learning has the potential to transform learning beyond simple space-time enhancements. The Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation explains:
“Blended learning is not the same as technology-rich instruction. It goes beyond one-to-one computers and high-tech gadgets. Blended learning involves leveraging the Internet to afford each student a more personalized learning experience, including increased student control over the time, place, path, and/or place of learning.”
The notion of student autonomy is an important aspect of blended learning. It makes learning opportunities richer for every student, allowing them to pursue different interests. With blended learning, students don’t have to sit through the same things in a temporal sense. For example, they can choose the method or the means to develop and demonstrate new knowledge. Instead of all students being assigned to read a particular novel, they might have the option to pick a novel in which they are interested and participate in a relevant online study group. Or, the assignment might be universal, but the medium for showcasing mastery could be up to each student.
Educators must move beyond simply posting assignments online; instead, the focus must become making blended learning a more effective part of teaching strategy. However, this task is very challenging and wading through all the “solutions” can be daunting, as noted in an article from THE Journal titled “13 Keys to Successful Blended Learning”:
“Transforming a mishmash of education technologies into a coherent ‘blended learning’ model is fast becoming the holy grail of modern education. With so much software and hardware already in place, making blended learning work is less about acquiring technology, and more about changing mindsets.”
Communication. Education would be impossible without communication; student-teacher, teacher-teacher, and student-student interaction is how systems keep moving and all involved keep improving. A large draw of blended learning is its ability to make communication and collaboration easier. Blended learning eliminates time and space as obstacles and allows students and instructors to connect with fewer constraints.
Engagement. Keeping students and teachers engaged can be easier said than done when working long days and pursuing one learning initiative after the other. Blended learning can help shake up the day-to-day monotony and re-engage students and teachers through diversified learning contexts. The ability for teachers and students to learn at their own pace, in their own way, makes learning more authentic and thus engagement more likely.
Productivity. The teacher to-do list is never short; time is invaluable in education. Technology can be leveraged in the blended learning process to make grading and assessing learning more efficient, thus allowing teachers more time to focus on individual student progress. This will become increasingly more important as teacher shortages begin to require more from each individual teacher.
Confusion. The variety of learning tools available can help teachers create a blended learning model that translates to success for their classroom, but is too much of a good thing really good? The large number of tools available can be overwhelming to administrators, instructors, and IT professionals – not to mention students themselves. It’s important that the selection of these tools is aligned with overall strategy and based on solid research.
Application. As blended learning is applied, some are concerned that it will become a means to increase class sizes and eliminate instructors. The massive outsource of learning is not a positive practice. Online learning, within a blended learning approach, can certainly help to stretch teacher resources, but they can only be stretched so far before schools start to sacrifice the quality of learning. This is an idea not lost on the industry, as noted by education writer, Valerie Strauss, in an article for The Washington Post:
“If blended learning through the rotation model is to be defined by reducing the number of certificated teachers in schools and placing students in computer labs to spend half of their day in front of math or reading software programs, then education in the 21st century is indeed heading down an antiquated and very dangerous path.”
Blended learning is not a perfected formula. “For a successful blended learning experience, it is paramount to identify what to blend and at which level to blend,” says Urvi Bhagi, an e-learning consultant for Assignment Help. Blended learning is not just about technology; it is a careful mix of technology-enhanced learning and traditional learning methods. Media choice can make or break blended learning plans. Teachers and students should explore different combinations, discuss, and keep developing methods to find which “blend” brings the benefits of blended learning to their classroom.
For exploration to result in positive change, leaders, teachers and students will all need to be engaged in the vision and implementation. Schools need to train teachers on how to combine technology with traditional teaching methods. If teachers are aware of best practices, they can put themselves, along with their students, in control of their learning environment.
“8 Things you Need to Know About Blended Learning” Assignment Help. August 1 2015.
“What is blended learning?” The Christensen Institute. 2015.
“Blended learning: The great new thing or the great new hype?” The Washington Post. June 21 2015.
“13 Keys to Successful Blended Learning” THE Journal. September 1 2015.
“Inside Rhode Island’s Transformative Blended Learning Workforce” EdTech. August 7 2015.