Teaching Methods:Blended learning

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Blended learning represents a hybrid learning approach that combines different elements of face-to-face (traditional classroom) and online learning, such as asynchronous (online discussion forums, emails, blogs, wikis) or synchronous learning (instant chats, video-conferences, webinars). Blended learning is considered as one of the most successful methods of modern pedagogy, as it allows mixing together traditional and innovative teaching methods and addressing the growing needs of learner’s flexibility in time and space. However, the biggest challenge of the instructor before embarking on the blended learning journey is to carefully explore the potential of various face-to-face and e-learning approaches and tools and design creative ways of interaction to increase the success of the learning process. There is no silver bullet blended formula, thus the teacher’s role is to apply a tailor-made approach to course design that matches the course objectives, the learning delivery method, and learners’ needs and expectations and provides a coherent learning journey.

While considering the use of the blended learning approach, there are several main advantages and challenges that have to be kept in mind.

Advantages

  • Higher opportunities of transfer of theoretical and practical knowledge, combining formal learning (e.g. knowledge transfer) and informal learning, or learning by doing)
  • Blending and transferring a variety of valuable skills (problem-solving, organizational and group work skills, digital skills, language abilities)
  • Incorporation of student individual needs
  • Flexibility in time (when to learn) and space (geographical location of learners and instructors)
  • Reducing the costs of transportation (academic experts and practitioners, learners’ costs)
  • Promoting inter-university cooperation and intercultural skills, etc.


Challenges

  • Getting the right blend: a tailor-made approach to course design and implementation
  • Finding the perfect balance between the ‘human factor,’ instructor’s and learners’ presence, and the ICT in the teaching and learning processes
  • Assessing and incorporating the needs of the learners’ audience: traditional students, professionals or life-long learners, etc.
  • More instructor time and flexibility in course design and coordination
  • Technology can go wrong, readiness for prompt reaction and alternatives
  • E-learning training of teaching staff and students
  • Potentially costly, requires updated multimedia system

Pedagogical contribution of Blended Learning

Blended learning can contribute to :

  • Knowledge transfer, offering higher opportunities of transferring theoretical and practical knowledge by incorporating various online resources and e-learning tools, as well as formal and informal learning processes
  • Skills transfer, a tailor-made blended learning course design allows more flexibility in delivering various skills, such as problem-solving, organizational and group work skills, digital skills, language abilities and writing skills, etc.
  • Addressing the demands of modern education systems and the modern learners, such as flexibility in time and space for accessing the learning process, incorporating student individual needs and promoting self-learning, reducing transportation costs, etc.
  • Facilitating life-long learning by opening up the learning opportunities to broader audience of learners, including professionals.


Tips for using the blended learning

Tip 1: Define the ‘spine’ of your blend, the core elements of your blended learning approach, in accordance with your learning objectives, in order to offer a coherent learning approach.

Tip 2: Conduct the need’s analysis of your learners’ audience, for example a survey of the registered learners regarding their background knowledge on the topic, their availability (time and space), their expectations.

Tip 3: There is no magic formula, but tailor-made blend for each course. Design your course content and learning approach according to the main types of personas, i.e. the typical learners profiles from your audience (e.g. beginners, theorists, professionals, etc.) see the Blended learning activity. The aim is to appeal to as many of these personas as possible.

Tip 4: Asses the constraints: what are the main obstacles in implementing the desired blended learning approach, starting with the technical support and equipment, the classroom size, the administrative and financial support, etc.

Tip 5: When choosing specific face-to-face or e-learning elements of your blended learning, always ask WHY does your course benefit from them, e.g. knowledge or skill transfer, cost-effective, learner’s flexibility, etc.

Tip 6: Balance between formal learning (e.g. knowledge transfer), informal learning (on-the-job learning or learning by doing and skill development), and feedback (focusing on individual learner’s needs, coaching, mentoring)

Tip 7: Plan your assessment strategy, how will you know that the course objectives and learner’s goals were achieved, ranging between ongoing assessment and feedback and formal assessment (e.g. formal accreditation or qualifications)

Tip 8: Test your blended learning elements, whenever using e-learning, it is highly advisable to organize test sessions that will introduce your learners to the specific tools and learning methods and provide assistance. Also, always try to estimate the time required for each face-to-face or virtual learning components and offer enough flexibility with the online learning, since there is always a chance of something not going as planned.

Tip 9: During course implementation, be ready to re-design and adjust your blended learning approach whenever needed. Be flexible in implementing your original course design and have some alternative scenarios in mind in case if things get out of control.

Tip 10: Have a support team available to help with course design and particularly course implementation (technical expert, academic experts, tutors, administrative staff).

Academic Resources on Blended Learning

Alonso, F., López, G., Manrique, D., & Vines, J. M. (2005). An instructional model for web-based e-learning education with a blended learning process approach. British Journal of Educational Technology, 36(2), 217-235.

Boyle, T. (2005). A dynamic, systematic method for developing blended learning. Education, Communication and Information, Special Issue on Blended Learning, 5(3), 221-232.

Condie, R., & Livingston, K. (2007). Blending online learning with traditional approaches: Changing practices. British Journal of Educational Technology, 38(2), 337-348.

Dziuban, C. D., Hartman, J., & Moskal, P. (2004). Blended learning. Educause Center for Applied Research Bulletin, 7, 1-12.

Dziuban, C., Hartman, J., Cavanagh, T. Moskal, P., (2011). Blended courses as drivers of institutional transformation. In A. Kitchenham (Ed.), Blended learning across disciplines: Models for implementation (pp. 17-37), Hershey: PA: IGI Global.

Garrison, R, Kanuka, H. (2004) Blended learning: Uncovering its transformative potential in higher education, in Internet and Higher Education 7, p. 95-105: an article looking into the potential but also the challenges of using blended learning.

Garrison, R., N.D. Vaughan (2008). Blended learning in higher education: Framework, principles and guidelines. Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Ginns, P., & Ellis, R. (2007). Quality in blended learning: Exploring the relationships between on-line and face-to-face teaching and learning. Internet and Higher Education, 10, 53-64.

Leston- Bandeira, C. (2009) Using e-learning to promote critical thinking in politics, inEnhancing Learning in the Social Sciences 1(3): this article looks at how the use of e-learning can help to enhance critical thinking skills through supporting the development of an active learning.

Moskal, P., Dziuban, C., & Hartman, J. (2013). Blended learning: A dangerous idea? The Internet and Higher Education, 18: 15-23.

Ocker, R., & Yaverbaum, G. J. (2002). Collaborative learning environments: Exploring student attitudes and satisfaction in face-to-face and asynchronous computer conferencing settings. Journal of Interactive Learning Research, 12(4), 427-448.

Owston R, W. Archer, R. Garrison, and N.D.Vaughan (2013). Blended Learning in Higher Education: Policy and Implementation Issues. The Internet and Higher Education, special issue, 18: 1-68.

Rovai, A. P. & Jordan, H. M. (2004). Blended Learning and Sense of Community: A Comparative Analysis with Traditional and Fully Online Graduate Courses. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 5(2).

Spector, J. M. & Merrill, M. D. (2008). Effective, Efficient, and Engaging (E3) Learning in the Digital Age [Special issue]. Distance Education, 29(2).

Timus, N. (2013). "Distance Learning as an Innovative Method of Teaching European Studies." In S.Baroncelli, R.Farneti, I.Horga, S.Vanhoonacker (eds.) Teaching and Learning the European Union. Traditional and Innovative Methods. Springer Verlag, pp.430-44.

Timus, N. (2015). From Challenge to Advantage: Innovating the Curriculum across Geographic Boudaries. In A. Dailey-Hebert and K.S. Dennis (eds.) Transformative Perspectives and Processes in Higher Education. Springer, Switzerland. Blended Learning E-Learning Teaching Methods Innovative Teaching Methods