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Blended Learning: Lessons and Models

Blended learning is a simple concept: education based on a mix of in-person and online education, thus blending technology and classroom learning. The two are integrated components working together to cover different aspects of the learning process. Here lies the central benefit of blended learning, as the accessibility and flexibility of online learning exists harmoniously alongside the presence of a teacher. However, the hybridity of this model breeds complexity, and with this complexity, a number of key considerations must be made in order to understand the appeal of blended learning in higher education contexts.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Blended Learning

To start, it is important to look at the underlying foundations of blended learning. Norm Vaughan from the University of Calgary explored the impact of blended learning on all actors involved–students, instructors, and administrators. For each, he was able to establish a basic perception of benefits and weaknesses:

  • Students – Preferred time flexibility and enhanced learning outcomes, but experienced technological hurdles and issues around self-regulating time.
  • Teachers – Noted the benefits of student engagement and flexibility, but also highlighted the issues of time in course redesign and technological supports.
  • Administration – Suggested that blended learning is forward thinking, innovative, and cost-reducing, but the limitations include the fitting of blended learning towards institutional goals, resistance to change, and complex organizational structure.

Robin Castro, writing in Education and Information Technologies, provides a more recent overview of the key emerging dynamics in blended learning for higher education, emphasizing that it is difficult to fully determine the effectiveness of blended learning due to the variances in how technology is used. While the multimodal nature of blended delivery is universal, the actual specifics of implementation vary too widley to make sufficient judgements about its efficacy.

Blended Learning Models

Blended learning can be realized through several differing models. These are conceptualized and termed a little bit differently depending on the source, but, in the Educause Review, Heather Farmer outlines six models. These six form a spectrum based on two premises: instructor involvement and synchronousness. For example, in the popular flipped classroom model, students complete a set of asynchronous online learning tasks before attending in-person sessions that emphasize peer-to-peer engagement and knowledge-building exercises. In contrast to this model, there is the self-directed model, in which all components can be completed following the student’s self-assigned pace, asynchronously.

In the middle of the spectrum comes the Integrated Lab Time model, which starts with a synchronous component and then turns into asynchronous. The taught concepts are done in groups, and the applied aspects of learning and in-class assessments are located asynchronously online.

Each model has an assortment of pros and cons, meaning the application of each cannot be universal and require case-by-case considerations. However, decisions on which to apply can be governed by an interrelated set of binaries: synchronous or asynchronous, student pace or instructor pace, independent centric or group centric, alongside matters of environment and accessibility.

What does Blended Learning Look Like?

Beyond the theoretical ideals, one can better understand blended learning through the courses of Alan Ableson from Queen’s University. Alan operates a flipped classroom for his large (200+) first-year courses. For these courses, he has his students complete asynchronous modules prior to in-person sessions that are then structured around discussion and interactive question and answer periods. This eschews the traditional lecture format by repurposing class time as peer and instructor engagement time.

Blended Learning and Educational Success ‘

In a discourse where much time is spent comparing face-to-face and online learning, blended learning represents what the future may look like. By marrying in-person learning with the advantages of online learning, the model presents a significant step forward in EdTech integrated innovative pedagogical practices. However, it is not without its challenges. While flexibility and accessibility are enhanced, the transformation of course materials and pedagogy to the blended format is a complex endeavor. This being said, with examples such as Alan Ableson’s classroom, blended learning is proven effective under the right circumstances.

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