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Blended learning: a concept that has gained a lot of traction in the last decade. The prevalence of technology and the widespread use of technological devices and software (both in professional and everyday life) makes it easier to see the benefits that new technologies could bring to the class environment.
Furthermore, as the value of a flexible work environment and work-life integration becomes more apparent, so should there be a greater demand for a more flexible education.
Blended learning, also called the hybrid model, is a blend of the in-class delivery method and online learning. It is an educational model that combines the advantages of in-person interaction with the helpful online resources and tools, offering the flexibility of online education, as well as physically present class time.
This definition also includes the ‘blending’ of different technologies (using different software to create an interactive learning environment) and learning methodologies (incorporating different instruction and learning styles) to achieve the most success in the classroom.
There are several key advantages blended learning offers to both students and course instructors that could be valuable in the busy modern environment. Firstly, blended learning can open up new opportunities to use technology in the classroom, particularly web based learning apps and collaboration tools. For example, here at Ashton College we have used Google Apps for Education. Such apps as Google Docs, or the online environments like Google Classroom help students increase collaboration and organize the class materials.
Secondly, the blended model can facilitate flexible learning. Not everyone learns at the same pace, and some students can struggle to balance their life and study – especially if they work part-time or have a family to take care of. Blended learning gives these individuals an opportunity to have greater control over their time, with fewer hours spent in a traditional classroom combined with asynchronous activities that they can complete in their own time. Likewise, busy instructors can save time marking with self-grading tools and can reach students at any time with e-announcements and commentaries.
Thirdly, there could potentially be better student engagement under the hybrid model, as multiple learning channels can account for various learning styles: visuals, reading materials, discussions, self-learning tools, and face-to-face interaction. Blended learning can take care of different preferences.
Lastly, blended learning allows students to learn skills that can be helpful both in the workforce and in daily activities. They learn how to communicate effectively both in-person and online, how to stay organized and stick to a schedule, or how to use key online tools and software. Even seemingly simple applications that most computer users are familiar with, like Microsoft Word or PowerPoint, can surprise you with the amount of features and shortcuts that they have.
Nathan Courville, Online Operations Administrator at Ashton College, has outlined several methodologies that can help teachers and their students benefit the most from blended learning.
Get organized: Blended learning provides a great environment for student independence. However, Courville points out that a lack of structure has the potential to hinder students’ motivation and desire to participate in course activities. The best way to avoid this is to set and follow a course outline: clearly list the objectives for the course, include monthly and weekly tasks for students (for example, a goal for the number of interactions, or reflection posts) and set clear deadlines for exams and projects.
Take advantage of the tools: If you want students to participate, you should lead by example. Show students how to take advantage of the tools that your school uses: post the class schedule and announcements to the online platform, use online quizzes and provide access to your presentation notes online. There are also different opportunities available to students to take their learning to a more advanced level, so it is useful to have a list of extra resources for students to look at, such as YouTube videos or online tutorials.
Encourage interactions: incorporate the use of different technologies and online tools into the curriculum, Courville explains.
“Online tools offer many advantages for both instructors and students. With webinar technology, you can have access to a clear video of the students on one side alongside your slides and a chat box. This way, you can still get the flavour of a physical classroom.”
Other examples can include using online collaboration tools, such as Google Docs, as a requirement for a group project, or giving a participation grade for online engagement with discussion topics posted online.