We live in an age where college classes are no longer taught exclusively in classrooms, but rather as a combination of onsite and online learning. In this post, I’m going to share an overview of the blended learning approach to education.
WHAT IS BLENDED LEARNING?
Blended learning involves combining the best of both worlds: face-to-face teaching, along with the affordances of technology, to create immersive and engaging student learning experiences. Some refer to this technique as a fusion of online and traditional learning. In other words, some traditional face-to-face “seat time” is replaced by online learning activities. This differs from courses that supplement their lesson plans with technology, because technology-enhanced courses do not necessarily combine face-to-face coursework with online assignments.
Blended learning offers many potential advantages and disadvantages. The efficacy of blended learning largely depends on the quality of the educational design and its implementation.
The online portion of well-designed blended courses can provide students with individualized learning opportunities, such as promoting comprehensive student engagement, because students can participate in an online discussion over several days, rather than just during a few hours in class, and by enabling faculty to tailor and personalize content for students with the use of adaptive learning technologies. Professors may feel empowered to move away from lecturing in class, and to spend more time meeting with students to help them with specific concepts, skills, questions, or problems.
WHAT DOES A BLENDED COURSE LOOK LIKE?
There is no single model for delivering blended courses. In my practice, the learning goals and outcomes, assessments, and activities drive the design of the course.
For example, in my eCommunities course, every other class session is online. Specifically, six classes are face-to-face, and six are online. The onsite classes are reserved for the introduction of new concepts through mini-lectures, discussions of case studies, and student led presentations. Each online session spans a week of the course, and is comprised of both individual and group activities. The individual activities involve students assessing various social media technologies, while group activities are centered on real-life businesses in which student groups are assigned to play the role of a social media agency. The project activities are focused on the application and extension of the concepts learned in class. As the professor, I join the online group meetings to provide guidance, and answer questions as necessary.
Conversely, in my Data Visualization course, only three out of the nine class sessions are online, and the remaining sessions are held face-to-face. This approach allows students to apply the concepts of data visualization through online labs. The labs encourage students to work at their own pace, while giving them the chance to practice and apply the techniques of data visualization using robust data sets to answer key questions. This is particularly important, because student skills may vary greatly with both data analysis, and the ability to use data visualization software. If the “labs” were held during the onsite class, the more advanced students would be stuck waiting for the others to catch up. The onsite sessions are reserved for teaching concepts, group discussion, and student presentations.
Blended learning offers faculty an opportunity to redesign their teaching methods to produce rich, dynamic, and student-centered learning experiences. Remember, there is no single best model for a blended course, and that it should be driven by your learning goals and outcomes.