I’d just like to start by reviewing what is meant by Blended Learning. There are many misconceptions. Some people believe it is some form of delivery strategy that I would call Distance Learning. It is definitely not that!
There are many definitions about what blended learning is and in its simplistic form this one from the DET in 2003 identifies that it is the combination of face-to-face tutor student contact with an online element. This though, for me, is to narrow and restrictive. At this level you could argue that providing your students with online content and then delivering the occasional lecture based on this fits the bill and we can call it blended learning. Well you could say that this approach has been around for a very long time and employed brilliantly by The Open University. I would argue that this does not constitute a blended learning approach. For me blended learning takes technology and mixes it with innovative and creative approaches to learning to produce a medium to support and promote individual and collaborative learning where the learner is at the heart of the system and the tutor becomes a facilitator for learning rather than a deliverer of content.
For me this definition by Heinze and Procter in 2003, says it all. It is not limited to simply a combination of face-to-face and online material it allows for much more than that. With this definition the sky is the limit and indeed you are only limited by the creative powers of the users. One very important word in all of this is communication . For blended learning to work this part of the definition is critical. Without it the whole strategy is winding its way to disaster.
Just a little bit here about the misconceptions of blended learning. It is definitely not a cheap way of delivering courses. In my experience it takes a great deal of time and effort and, I would argue, more contact time because of the monitoring and the checking and the updating which is needed. Savings can be made via a lesser need for rooming perhaps but certainly not in the reduction of tutor contact time. It is not distance learning. That can and is delivered online of course but is a very different beast to blended learning. There is no one pedagogy that will work in all instances. Each course will have its own idiosyncrasies which must be catered for let alone the varying needs of the learners within these courses. The final one I’ ve already addressed.
So in what ways do learners obtain information? Well, from physically attending classes of course, but mainly these days from the internet. Information is available 24/7 and so teachers are no longer the main disseminator of knowledge. We are increasingly becoming important as facilitators and filters, separating the good facts from bad!
Physical methods include...which all require physical space to be provided to house the activities.
These include...and all take place online and within a VLE system of some kind.
What if we blend these two together? Two becomes one superb learning environment....... It is not about though a distance learning course with a bit of face-to-face contact like The Open University. Blending is just that. Utilising the virtual resources to complement the physical ones to enhance the learning experience. In a small scale study carried out here at Bath Spa not so long ago by Joelle Adams she states “ A student centred approach to learning and teaching in HE requires consideration of the question, ‘ What is best for students ’ learning and experience? ’” I would argue that it is a true blended learning concept. It engages the learners and supports the ethos of independent learning; critical for life at HE.
So what could a blended concept look like? Well, using an example I have delivered at FE it could look something like this. The VLE has to have structure with updated and useful interactive elements, not simply a repository for course documents.
One of the most important collaborative elements was the Discussion Board, which here I renamed the Coffee Lounge in an attempt to engage he adult learners in a friendly way. Remember for many they had not attended any form of education for 20 years or more; let alone be comfortable with using technology on this scale! However, the discussion board was a brilliant way of sharing good practice, knowledge and support among the cohort of learners. Explain the gradual independence when answering questions.
The importance of the blogs cannot be overstated. It is here that the ethos of reflection to evaluate ones own progress and to set actions to improve is encouraged. Using a simple reflective model developed by Rolfe, “ What, So what, Now what? ” , students are required to comment on their learning and set meaningful SMART targets for self improvement.
I know that I can be an integral part of Bath University ’ s continuing journey to advance the quality of the education it offers to students. Ironically I foresee, and indeed am working, towards a time when we will no longer talk about Blended Learning, instead we have Seamless Learning whereby our methods of delivery are intrinsically ‘ fit for purpose ’ and consequently as varied as the students who entrust us with their education.