As student bodies have grown larger and more diverse — and budgets have grown more strained — learning institutions have sought ways to accommodate these changes successfully. One of the most significant of these approaches is blended learning. By employing a mix of online technology and traditional face-to-face instruction, learning institutions can create a more student-centered classroom experience and reap a variety of positive benefits. It’s critically important, however, to carefully consider the best protocol for implementing blended learning approaches.
Let us take a closer look at the ideas that support the blended learning concept, and how instructors can best implement blended learning to enhance classroom experiences while driving better learning outcomes.
What is blended learning?
While there is no true consensus on the precise definition of blended learning, it can simply be described as an educational approach that incorporates both traditional, face-to-face instruction in a physical setting and an online component. In other words, a synthesis of the physical and the virtual, offering the socialization benefits of the classroom with the technological enhancements of online learning.
Because of this dual approach, students and teachers can exert greater control over when, where and how learning occurs. Students receive their lessons within a conventional classroom space and also navigate Web-based content.
A blended approach can increase collaboration and interaction between students and instructors, and also among students themselves – which differentiates it from similar instructional methods. For example, “technology-rich instruction” employs the use of digital tools and devices to enhance the learning experience. It lacks the social and intangible aspects of a conventional classroom.
Blended learning liberates students and teachers from the “tyranny of location.” Instead, teachers can deliver the lessons at the time and place that suits participants best. Students also have the flexibility to review material they may have missed, re-examine lessons that were poorly understood and even move forward at a faster pace. It also integrates the social element and the intangible aspects, such as brainstorming at the leisure of a physical classroom.
Blended learning – a paradigm shift in education
Because of its focus on student experience, blended learning represents a paradigm shift in education where the emphasis moves to learning rather than teaching. This shift is effectuated by increased interaction between participants and greater opportunity for feedback. Ultimately, it’s a move from teacher-centered instruction to student-centered instruction.
According to a study by the Journal of Online Learning and Teaching into blended learning, blended learning offers a range of core benefits such as improved learning outcomes, greater flexibility, enhanced accessibility, efficient deployment of resources, and higher levels of student satisfaction and classroom spirit.
A survey conducted by the Pew Foundation (cited in the Journal of Online Teaching and Learning study listed above) found that two-thirds of learning institutions using blended learning reported better educational results, while nearly that many reported fewer drops or withdrawals from students. Overall, research has shown that blended learning facilitates higher grades, greater course comprehension, and greater student engagement — three elements that are essential for academic success.
Challenges you might face when employing blended learning
While the benefits of blended learning are considerable, implementing this approach isn’t entirely without challenges. Institutions should be aware that there are some common hurdles that should be anticipated.
A few scenarios:
- Difficulty in adapting: Some students may have difficulty adapting to the blended learning environment. Those who still need work with time management skills, for example, may fall behind in a less structured setting. Other students may labor under the erroneous assumption that blended learning means less work.
- Technical difficulties: Some students may also experience technical difficulties, or be unfamiliar with the technology used — though these concerns have grown less prominent as modern-day students have been raised in an environment where soft tech skills are prevalent. Institutions, meanwhile, may have their own technical issues, particularly in the beginning.
- Startup requirements: Startup resource requirements can be substantial. Studies have shown that it takes two to three times as much time to design and implement a blended learning program as compared to traditional course instruction.
Ultimately, these considerations can all be addressed by choosing the right support technology, and ensuring that students are well-prepared to meet the specific challenges of blended learning.
How to implement blended learning successfully
Institutions seeking to reap the benefits of an integrated classroom approach should pay close attention to several key factors.
- Manage student expectations
First, student expectations should be managed, so that they have a clear understanding of the specific demands of blended learning. Doing this helps ensure students don’t become overwhelmed or feel alienated from the process. Students should understand that greater autonomy has significant benefits, yet it also requires responsibility.
- Choose the right technology
Second, institutions should ensure that they possess the proper technology, as in, eLearning platform and the appropriate knowledge to implement blended learning successfully. Student abilities in this regard should also be closely monitored.
While a few years ago that meant desktop computers, today that approach is considered somewhat obsolete. Today’s students gravitate toward portable devices. Ultimately, this is a decision that should be driven by the specific demands of your curriculum. Once the larger philosophical and organizational concerns have been addressed, you can examine the best technological tools to use.
- Plan learning delivery well
Institutions should keep the emphasis squarely on student-centered instruction. True blended learning uses online tools to deepen engagement and enhance student experience. The focus should remain on the student, rather than the device being used.
A serious commitment on the part of institutions is also required. Deploying resources in areas such as planning, scheduling, policy and the construction of a viable support system are all essential for success.
- Deploy diverse means to foster blended learning
Let’s take a look at some practical examples of how blended learning can be incorporated into a classroom setting.
- Incorporate more video. This is one of the most basic and least resource-intensive methods for introducing blended learning concepts. Teachers can assign students to watch a video outside of class, then reserve class time for discussion and instant feedback.
- Explore gamification. By using software applications designed to introduce gaming elements into instruction, teachers can meet students on their familiar ground. Game elements help engage students by making lessons more familiar and enjoyable, while also offering self-reinforcing positive feedback. Gamification has proved effective in many other industries; the insurance space, for example, uses it to encourage people to drive more safely and pursue a healthier lifestyle.
- Create external online discussion spaces. Use of social spaces (think wikis and private online groups) to facilitate continuing the discussion is another smart way to keep students motivated. Like the use of games, the creation of online social spaces dovetails nicely with the typical behavior and preferences of today’s students, most of whom have grown up on social media. These spaces encourage collaboration, interaction and free inquiry into important classroom topics.
- Dig data and get insights
When using apps, learning platforms or other online tools, ensure that the technology you’ve chosen offers the ability to track student progress. Collecting actionable data is an essential part of implementing blended learning successfully. This allows teachers to make adjustments on the fly, and to have a clearer window into what works and what doesn’t for individual students. Because blended learning is focused on student experience and personalization, the ability to draw data-supported conclusions is critically important.
- Technology alone can’t work
Understand that technology alone isn’t enough. While choosing the right tools is a key part of the equation, technology is just a means to an end. By establishing a culture that embraces fresh approaches to learning, you can ensure that the conditions are right for your new technological tools to make a difference.
The future of blended learning
Because it offers profound benefits in areas such as flexibility, personalization and engagement, the future of blended learning looks extremely promising. As institutions seek to lower costs and improve student outcomes — and people become more habituated to technology in their everyday lives — the benefits offered by the blended model are becoming more attractive.
Historically, education has been one of the fields most resistant to change. The blended model threads this needle by offering technology-assisted enhancements while still maintaining the core benefits of face-to-face interaction: classroom cohesion, social learning, collaboration, and camaraderie. With blended learning, students receive the best of both approaches.
Additionally, as technologies such as virtual and augmented reality, mobile and adaptive learning continue to mature, the opportunities for blended learning will explode. The use of VR, for example, will allow students to experience what it was like to live during the Roman Empire or to explore the landscapes of the pre-Columbian Americas.
By combining conventional classroom instruction with technology-assisted enhancements, blended learning allows students the best of both worlds — and recasts the educational process from teacher-focused to student-centered.
Institutions seeking to deepen student engagement and improve educational outcomes should give serious consideration to the myriad benefits of the blended model, while also factoring in the considerations that must be addressed to make the transition a successful one.
Author bio: Shivani is Content Manager at WizIQ – LMS Software that offers online learning delivery platform to businesses and educators. She writes about eLearning, education technology and the role of cloud in education. Follow WizIQ on Twitter and LinkedIn.