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Blended Learning Methodology
Blended learning refers to a mixing of different learning environments. It combines traditional face-to-face classroom methods with more modern computer-mediated activities. According to its proponents, the strategy creates a more integrated approach for both instructors and learners. Formerly, technology-based materials played a supporting role to face-to-face instruction. Through a blended learning approach, technology will be more important.
For example, consider a traditional class meeting schedule. Say that the course would normally meet MWF, from 1-3 PM. If the institution were to apply a blended learning approach, the course may change so that it meets once per week instead of the usual three-session format. Learning activities that otherwise would have taken place during classroom time can be moved online.
In other circumstances, a greater reliance on technology within the classroom may occur. Activities may be structured around access to online resources, communication via social media or interaction with distance learners in other classrooms or other learning environments.
There are many different approaches to blended learning. It can take on many shapes or forms, depending on the teachers and learners involved. As of now, there is no consensus on a single agreed-upon definition for blended learning. The terms “blended,” “hybrid,” and “mixed-mode” are used interchangeably in current research literature.
The Many Names of Blended Learning
Blended Learning has been around for many years, but the name has changed as the uses and recognition have increased. Many people may be using a form of blended learning in lessons and teaching, but may not realize it or be able to give it an actual name. Blended learning is something that is used in the world of education as well as the world of business. Blended learning is not a new concept, but may be a new term to many users. Below is a list of just a few of the more common, but older, names of blended learning.
“You may hear blended learning described as “integrative learning”, “hybrid learning”, “multi-method learning” (Node, 2001). “The term “blended learning” is being used with increasing frequency in both academic and corporate circles. In 2003, the American Society for Training and Development identified blended learning as one of the top ten trends to emerge in the knowledge delivery industry” (cited in Rooney, 2003) (Graham, 2004).
Mixing Synchronous Learning and Asynchronous Learning
A blended learning approach can combine face-to-face facilitation with computer-mediated instruction and/or discovery learning opportunities. It also applies science or IT activities with the assistance of educational technologies using computer, cellular or Smartphones, Satellite television channels, videoconferencing and other emerging electronic media. Learners and teachers work together to improve the quality of learning and teaching, the ultimate aim of blended learning being to provide realistic practical opportunities for learners and teachers to make learning independent, useful, sustainable and ever growing.
Considerations In Blended Learning
Whether a course should be proposed as a face-to-face interaction, an online course or a blended course depends on the analysis of the competencies at stake, the nature and location of the audience, and the resources available. Depending on the cross-analysis of these 3 parameters, the course designer will opt for one of the 3 options. In his course scenario he/she will then have to decide which parts are online, which parts are offline. A basic example of this is a course of English as a second language where the instructor reaches the conclusion that all audio-based activities (listening comprehension, oral expression) will take place in the classroom where all text-based activities will take place online (reading comprehension, essays writing).
Blended learning increases the options for greater quality and quantity of human interaction in a learning environment. Blended learning offers learners the opportunity “to be both together and apart.” A community of learners can interact at any time and anywhere because of the benefits that computer-mediated educational tools provide. Blended learning provides a ‘good’ mix of technologies and interactions, resulting in a socially supported, constructive, learning experience; this is especially significant given the profound effect that it could have on distance learning.
In a perfect world, an ideal harmony can be created between face to face and online learning. Blended learning strives to do that. In this scenario, the benefits of both approaches would be utilized, without incurring the negative side effects of an unbalanced approach. The challenge, though, is that it is difficult to come up with a perfect prescription for how to establish a course that will be effectively blended. The needs of every course is different, as are the needs of learners in a given course. There isn’t a way to set up a perfect formula that says “use 10% internet, 20% face to face interaction and 2 shakes of hugs and a lot of high fives” and then you’ll have a perfect learning environment.
While it is easiest for most of us to picture a blended learning environment in a traditional classroom environment with a sprinkle of computers thrown in, there are other ways to create blended learning environments.
Researchers Russell T. Osguthorpe and Charles R. Graham from Brigham Young University suggest that there are at least three environments that are effective blended learning environments: 1. online and face-to-face learning activities, 2. online and face-to-face students, and 3. online and face-to-face instructors.
There are a variety of motivations for utilizing blended learning environments. Obviously, educators want to maximize the benefits that any approach would offer learners. The authors described six goals that are applicable to the types of learning environments that they described: pedagogical richness, access to knowledge, social interaction, personal agency, cost effectiveness, and ease of revision.
Role of the Facilitator
The facilitator can combine two or more methods of teaching. A typical example of blended learning methodology would be an integrated combination of technology-based materials and face-to-face sessions to present content. An instructor can begin a course with a well-structured introductory lesson in the classroom, and then proceed with follow-up materials online. Blended learning can also be applied to the integration of e-learning with a Learning Management System using computers in a physical classroom, along with face-to-face instruction. Guidance is suggested early in the process, to be used more sparingly as learners gain expertise.Facilitators must focus on literacy instruction, using both technology and face-to-face instruction, in order to develop independent learners so they can interact with the texts in meaningful ways. The role of the instructor is critical as this requires a transformation process to that of learning facilitator. Quite often, with the increase of baby boomers going back to school and pursuing higher education the skills required for technology use are limited. Instructors then find themselves more in the role of assisting students with computer skills and applications, helping them access the internet, and encouraging them to be independent learners through both guided and individualized instruction. Blended learning takes time for both the instructor and learner to adapt to this relatively new instructional concept.
The facilitator’s role can be broken down into the following four categories: 1. developing online course content and structure 2. communication 3. guiding and individualizing learning 4. assessing, grading, and promoting.
Implications for Teacher Preparation
Following current trends, many high school classes will be offered online by 2019, in some high schools, yet few teacher preparation programs address online or blended learning. There is a lack of resources identifying best practices which will be crucial for addressing current problems of teacher training. Teachers need to be educated in both traditional classroom methods, but also enhanced training to develop skills targeted to online education.
The elements of teacher preparation for online learning fall into two categories. First, they need to be trained to use the available tools and technology. Secondly, they need to be trained in online pedagogy; particularly, how to communicate content without the use of contextual cues. According to Watson (2006), many online professional development programs focus on helping teachers “understand how to motivate individual learners, enhance student interaction and understanding without visual cues, tailor instruction to particular learning styles, and develop or modify interactive lessons to meet student needs.” (p. 13)
The additional skills necessary for teachers utilizing online or mobile learning are: 1. Enhanced communication skills: teachers can’t rely on nonverbal or proximal cues with which to address misunderstandings. Teacher preparation programs will need to help teachers develop a clarity in their instructions not required by traditional classrooms. 2. Time management (in asynchronous classes): students can be online at any time, so teachers can’t predict when heavier work loads will occur. 3. Teacher planning (in synchronous classes): lessons need to have a multimedia component which requires more planning than a traditional classroom lesson 4. Differentiation: if students have different learning styles or disabilities, teachers must be able to adapt online content for them. Reaching students with physical or learning disabilities will be much different than in a traditional classroom.
While all these skills are necessary for traditional teachers, they must be strengthened to incorporate online components.
Current Usage of the Term
With today’s prevalence of high technology in many countries, blended learning often refers specifically to the provision or use of resources which combine e-learning (electronic) or m-learning (mobile) with other educational resources, also called hybrid courses. Some would claim that key blended-learning arrangements can also involve e-mentoring or e-tutoring. These arrangements tend to combine an electronic learning component with some form of human interaction, although the involvement of an e-mentor or e-tutor does not necessarily need to be in the context of e-learning. E-mentoring or e-tutoring can also be provided as part of a “stand alone” (“un-blended”) e-tutoring or e-mentoring arrangement.
Heinze and Procter have developed the following definition for blended learning in higher education:
Blended learning is learning that is facilitated by the effective combination of different modes of delivery, models of teaching and styles of learning, and is based on transparent communication amongst all parties involved with a course.
— Heinze and Procter
Some of the advantages of blended learning include; cost effectiveness for both the accrediting learning institution and the learner, accessibility to a post secondary education, and flexibility in scheduling and timetabling of course work. Some of the disadvantages may include; computer and internet access, limited knowledge in the use of technology, study skills, problems which are similar to those who would be entering a physical learning institution.
It should also be noted that some authors talk about “hybrid learning” (this seems to be more common in Northern American sources) or “mixed learning”. However, all of these concepts broadly refer to the integration (the “blending”) of e-learning tools and techniques.
Blended Learning Systems and Projects
The European Union’s Socrates programme has funded the development of blended learning courses in nine less widely spoken European languages. The development projects, Tool for Online and Offline Language Learning TOOL are coordinated by the EuroEd Foundation, Iasi, Romania and Autonomous Language Learning ALL coordinated by CNAI, Pamplona, Spain.
Each project has developed blended learning programmes at A2 ‘Waystage’ level in accordance with the competence descriptors defined in the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages).
ALL: Romanian, Turkish, Lithuanian, Bulgarian. TOOL: Slovene, Dutch, Hungarian, Estonian, Maltese.
The development is large in terms of size and scope and these may well be the first blended learning courses available in these languages, representing a development for the application of modern communicative language learning techniques in these languages.
The course developments were undertaken by development teams, consisting of several partner institutions, from each country. These institutions include publicly and privately funded universities, and private language learning providers, as well as consulting specialists.
Outside the academic sector, blended learning is being used in private companies, possibly because of the cost benefits over traditional training, though no studies are available which show clear cost savings. One of the earliest commercial offerings in the sector came from Virtual College, which produced a blended learning NVQ system in 1995.
Why Is Blended Learning Important?
One clear advantage of blended learning in education is its connection with differentiated instruction. Differentiated instruction involves “custom-designing instruction based on student needs.” In differentiated instruction, educators look at students’ learning styles, interests, and abilities. Once these factors have been determined, educators decide which curriculum content, learning activities, products, and learning environments will best serve those individual students’ needs. Blended learning can fit into a number of these areas. By using blended learning, educators are definitely altering the learning environment when students work collaboratively in learning communities online, for example. Teachers could also add relevant curriculum content that would be unavailable or difficult to comprehend outside of the internet. Learning activities and products can also be changed to use technologies in a classroom that uses blended learning.
In a study by Dean and associates, research showed that providing several online options in addition to traditional classroom training actually increased what students learned. (2001) Another study showed that student interaction and satisfaction improved, along with students learning more, in courses that incorporated blended learning. (DeLacey and Leonard, 2002)
Another advantage of blended learning is pacing and attendance. In most blended learning classrooms, there is the ability to study whenever the student chooses to do so. If a student is absent, she/he may view some of the missed materials at the same time that the rest of the class does, even though the student cannot be physically in the classroom. This helps students stay on track and not fall behind, which is especially helpful for students with prolonged sicknesses or injuries that prevent them from attending school. These “self-study modules” also allow learners to review certain content at any time for help in understanding a concept or to work ahead for those students who learn at a faster pace. (Alvarez, 2005)
Because of the ability of students to self-pace, there is a higher completion rate for students in blended learning classrooms than to those in strictly e-learning situations. (Flavin, 2001) This self-pacing allows for the engagement of every learner in the classroom at any given time. Students also see that the learning involved becomes a process, not individual learning events. This revelation allows for an increased application of the learning done in the classroom. (Flavin, 2001)
Blended Learning In K-12 Settings
Blended learning, whether it is in the form of online programs or bringing other technologies into a physical setting, can serve a variety of purposes for students in K-12 settings. Although research and information about blended learning in colleges and universities is widely available, the same is not true for K-12 settings. Recently this has begun to change, as groups including Innosight Institute and the Charter School Growth Fund have done work to chronicle the existence of different blended learning models and capture their results, as well as to define what makes blended learning different in K-12 settings from higher education–given the distinctly different settings and needs–and the different models in evolution. The first comprehensive study published in May 2011, titled “The rise of blended learning: Profiles of emerging models,” profiled 40 different blended-learning models at different stages of their life cycle and gave a variety of data about the different tools being used, policies impeding blended learning’s productive growth, and definitions as well as rationales for those definitions.
The basic definition that Innosight Institute has used to define blended learning is from the perspective of the student–not the school–which is in keeping with the non-profit think tank’s focus on transforming education into a student-centric system. The definition is the following:
Blended learning is any time a student learns at least in part at a supervised brick- and-mortar location away from home and at least in part through online delivery with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace.
Innosight Institute captured six different models it saw in existence to this point of how students are experiencing blended learning. Those six models are: Face-to-Face Driver, Rotation, Flex, Online Lab, Self-Blend, and Online Driver. Some of the models that are capturing the imagination of those focused on next-generation schooling powered by digital learning include Carpe Diem Collegiate High School and Middle School, Rocketship Education, and KIPP Empower.
The remainder of this section discusses the implementation of blended learning in elementary, middle, and high school classrooms based on the older research prior to Innosight Institute’s report.
Online programs, for example, serve students whose needs are not met at their physical school. Many programs seek to serve students with limited educational opportunities . A lack of classes, conflicts with scheduling, un- or under-qualified teachers, and a need to make up credits or to obtain them in certain disciplines may also drive the need for online courses. Under the federal mandates of No Child Left Behind, teachers are required to be highly qualified in the content area they teach. At smaller schools and in rural areas, this is not always possible. Thus, access to highly qualified teachers may only exist through an online forum.
The following are online programs have been implemented in k-12 classrooms :
- Knowledge Building Communities
- Quest Atlantis
- Virtual Math Team
- Apex Learning
- Monterey Institute for Technology & Education
- Compass Learning
There is more to blended learning than online courses. Teachers can enhance their existing curriculum with a number of online resources. For additional math practice, students can use online manipulatives at the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives, Math Magician to practice basic math skills, and Math IXL to access grade-specific practice in all strands of mathematics. The Reading Matrix offers students and teachers with a list of resources for all areas of language arts. For access to current events, students can read local or national newspapers online, or they can access publications specifically for students, such as Time for Kids. Science Resources Online has a list of links to sites that support students learning in science.
Educators can also use resources online to support their students’ needs, tap into students’ interests, to compensate for a lack of physical resources, and to foster greater communication.
Martin Oliver and Keith Trigwell voice some objections to the use of the term “Blended Learning”. They point out that the term has become a bandwagon for almost any form of teaching containing “two or more different kinds of things that can then be mixed”. There is no consensus over what the things are that should be mixed: examples include different media, varying pedagogical approaches, or the mix of theoretical with practical work.
Their main objection is that generally the distinctions being drawn don’t exist, or aren’t productive. For example, the blending of e-learning with traditional learning implies that there can be an unblended form of e-learning in which no traditional learning occurs.
They also object to the use of the term “learning,” when almost all of the focus is on how teaching is deliverered and the implication is that receiving teaching is equivalent to learning.