Blended Learning: Is it Right for You?

October 23, 2017 in K12, Higher Education

 

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This is the second in a series of blog posts addressing various aspects of blended learning. In the first post (Blended Learning: What and Why), we discussed what blended learning is and how to structure your course to make it successful for both educators and students. In this post, we discuss what factors to consider when you're thinking about redesigning a course for blended delivery.

Blended Learning: Is it Right for You?

In the initial post of this series, I discussed the benefits of blended learning, which include the potential for more active, student-centered learning, enhanced peer-to-peer interactions, and participation in wider online learning communities. The format can be particularly attractive to students, as it provides flexibility in being able to complete work on their own schedules, yet also offers face-to-face contact with instructors and fellow students. However, the format may not be optimal for all courses or all instructors. In this post we will be looking at the factors to consider before deciding whether to redesign a course for delivery in a blended format.

  1.  It requires rethinking how course content is taught and learned. Having students interact more substantially online with course content changes the dynamics of the course, as well as the respective roles/responsibilities of both students and teachers. It will normally entail a greater amount of writing for students, as they interact through blogs, wikis, and/or journals with the course content and with each other. This of course translates for the teacher into a larger time commitment for reading and evaluating student writing. The emphasis on reflective writing, idea exchange, and open discussion may be an approach less appropriate for certain content areas or pedagogical approaches, for example, for courses which emphasize quantitative analysis or which require learning set procedures and fixed content.
  2. Successful blended courses require substantial upfront planning and development. For this format, it’s not enough to stay one lecture ahead of the students. Often, for example, lectures are flipped, with students watching digitized versions outside of class. That takes substantially more time and effort than preparing an in-class lecture. Additionally, assignments need to be developed which enable and encourage learning through online tools and services. That requires familiarity with the mediums used, as well as the creation of appropriate topics and discussion questions, prepared in advance. It may mean that new and different teaching materials, such as online tutorials, need to be developed. Required as well will be a rethinking of course assessments, as it is likely that course components such as participation in discussion forums or the quality of student journals will represent a substantial part of how student grades are calculated.
  3. Students need to be guided towards becoming effective autonomous learners. In a blended class, students have to take more responsibility for their own learning, making sure online assignments are completed appropriately and on time. This may make more demands on time management and study discipline than many students are used to. Instructors need to make expectations clear for students and set out assignments and due dates in a timely fashion. That may well necessitate going beyond just keeping the course website up-to-date, by, for example, sending out updates and reminders through email, text messages, or Twitter. Depending on the number of students, that may entail as well checking regularly individual assignment completion and providing personal reminders. Part of the process of keeping students on track is providing continuous feedback on student work. Rubrics need to be developed for evaluation, as in this set for my intercultural communication course. Additionally, however, teachers need to give written comments and encouragement on a regular basis.

Deciding to redesign a course for delivery in a blended format is not a decision to be taken lightly. As outlined above, the format makes more demands—in time, effort, and technical know-how – than delivery of a regular, face-to-face class. Although students generally like the format, they may struggle or even drop out, if the course is not well organized, assignments and expectations are not clear, or they do not receive enough support. All of this makes more demands on the teacher. In our next blog post, we will look at how to manage these issues, through discussion of best practices for blended courses, as well as of online tools and services best suited for blended learning.

In the next post (Blended Learning: Implementation), we discuss the implementation of a blended course and the upfront planning involved.


About Robert Godwin-Jones, Ph.D.:  Robert Godwin-Jones, Ph.D., is a founding partner and responsible for product research and design. Prior to SoftChalk, Robert was a founding partner of madDuck Technologies where he was a co-developer of the Web Course in a Box Learning
Management System. He is the former Director of the Instructional Development Center at Virginia Commonwealth University and is currently a faculty member in their School of World Studies. His principal areas of research are in applied linguistics and international studies. He writes a regular column on emerging technologies for the peer-reviewed journal Language Learning & Technology (llt.msu.edu) and blogs on intercultural communication at http://acrossculturesweb.com/wp/.

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