Blended learning

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True blended learning combines all tools & technologies for (a)synchronous interactions with students
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Last Update

  • Updated.jpg 15 July 2017


See also Digital classroom | Flexible learning | Flipped classroom | Massive open online courses (MOOCs)‎‎ | Transliteracy

Blended learning (also hybrid learning, technology-mediated and mixed-mode learning) brings together the best of classroom and online learning opportunities with information technologies in order to promote active, independent learning. According to Wikipedia: "....Blended learning is a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through delivery of content and instruction via digital and online media with some element of student control over time, place, path, or pace." Blended learning is not "learning on your own" or at a distance; rather, it combines flexible learning on one's own and in groups, at a distance and in proximity to others. Blended learning is not a simple one-size-fits-all approach for there are as many ways to approach blended learning as there are learning styles. Some studies suggest that undergraduate students prefer blended and hybrid learning models because they provide flexibility and students can assume control over what happens while they learn. There is a correlation between blended learning models and early tertiary "undergrad" education, and in graduate programs blended learning seems to be used less frequently.

Hybrid learning models take advantage of familiar learning environments (such as classrooms) but schedule less in-classroom seat time. In terms of technologies, computer-mediated activities are typically integrated into blended models. Digital materials serve as supplements in blended learning and in support of instruction that occurs in bricks-and-mortar classrooms. Blended approaches in traditional face-to-face courses may mean that classes meet once a week and, at other times, interaction moves online to Blackboard Connect or Moodle. One kind of blended learning, called flipped learning, is where students obtain exposure to the content of a class via instructional videos and readings; thus, students arrive to class to deepen their understanding of content through active learning, activities, labs and social interaction. 'Flipped teaching', the 'inverted classroom' and 'reverse instruction', help students experience at home what would have taken place in a traditional class (for example, a content-based lecture) through the use of computers and self-paced learning modules.

Blended learning mixes e-learning, a range of information technologies, and face-to-face contact between academics and students. Much of the research says that students like to use their preferred technologies such as email, Facebook, Twitter and blogs in order to work together.

Typical elements of blended learning

Blended 1.jpg
  • Blended learning combines traditional learning components with newer e-modalities to create a meaningful blend of synchronous and asynchronous elements (F2F & online) not simply technology grafted onto F2F classes
  • Blended learning has a synchronous element but does not necessarily mean F2F in classrooms
  • Blended learning can combine traditional timetabled classes with other modalities such as intensive weekend, external, monthly classes
  • Blended learning course design seeks to use what is done best in-person (debates; group presentations; reflexive responses) in combination with what is done best online (provision of content; deeper, reflective discourse; document management & organization)
  • Conveying course content via well-established forms of information technology such as Google Docs, powerpoints, webinars, social media and other emerging technologies; lectures can be video-conferenced or televised
  • Blended learning provides learners and teachers with all kinds of potential environments to learn and teach
  • Unique sequencing but integrated; may involve mobile devices in ambient spaces (virtual-enhanced reality)
  • BL integrates online with face-to-face instruction in a planned, pedagogically viable way and does not simply combine online interactions with face-to-face time or vice versa
  • Combined online and classroom learning activities and resources with reduced in-class seat time for students in a face-to-face environment.
  • Use of interactive and collaborative tools that help create teamwork and communicaton with faculty and students
  • Mixture of different learning environments; provide various environments to learn
  • Using instructional strategies that match with students (and course topic) is a challenge. To achieve the right blend, institutions should evaluate learning and cost-effectiveness.
  • Blended models can take advantage of shorter, low-stakes assessment; replacements should be found for final exams and lengthy term papers.

Combining methods in blended learning

Blended learning models "... provide the essential methodological scaffolding needed to effectively combine face-to-face instruction, online instruction, and arrays of content objects and assets of all form factors". Blended learning models, for example, incorporate a combination of face-to-face interactions, online exercises and informal learning (e.g. texting classmates, Facebooking, reading, etc.) into a learning experience. These learning models are distinct and incorporate library resources, content and instruction in some new and exciting ways. Flipped classrooms, online courses, and MOOCs fall into these categories but the methodological approach to the development of courses defines whether they will be delivered online, in a flexible or blended fashion. Most library involvement currently falls into either the blended learning model or distance learning instruction. Results of 2012 survey of 164 instructors and their teaching (online and face-to-face):

  • 79% of respondents reported that ideal instruction delivery methods are blended – 50% face-to-face and 50% online
  • The most used (and useful) LMS features are: online grading, online course outlines, and online readings and links
  • 92% of teachers prefer moderate to extensive use of technology (of any sort) in the classroom
  • Only 47% of respondents felt confident to look to their peers for support in integrating blended learning

See Blended learning survey results

Why blended learning is used

The use of blended learning is often focussed on addressing issues of access and convenience for learners (as well as reduced costs for institutions). The online component of blended courses enable students to access learning materials at any time of day and review as needed which provides flexibility. Blended learning courses use information and communication technologies in such a way to provide equivalent learning experiences of the predominant face-to-face model which has prevailed for decades (centuries even) in universities. Many for-profit institutions such as the University of Phoenix (Lindquist, 2005) have created models that focus on making more opportunities available to those who do not have access to education due to time constraints and geographical isolation. It should be said that blended learning models allow instructors to make incremental changes to the pedagogical approaches, and are often aided by the availability of online resources and implementation of online activities.

According to Gerbic (2011), using a blended approach in teaching is often complex and leaves instructors with a variety of issues to deal with: disciplinary and professional learning challenges; student (dis)abilities and pedagogies; balancing face-to-face and online settings in a truly integrated fashion. There is a sizeable literature on student opinions of learning in blended environments but less is known about teacher perspectives. Gerbic's literature review revealed two areas of development: 1) teacher conceptions and beliefs about blended teaching and 2) changing teacher roles, especially around course design and pedagogy.

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