As the internet continues to boom and shape the way we engage with information, educational institutions now look towards web-based teaching and learning tools to answer the question “How do I better support student learning?” Amongst the many buzzwords we hear on this subject is the term ‘Blended Learning’. So what is Blended Learning? In a series of presentations created especially for Blackboard, Dr. Richard Walker of the University of York explains:

“Blended learning as a pedagogic approach is commonly associated with the combination of face-to-face and fully online components within a course. It has also been used as an instructional term to describe the combination of media and tools employed in an e-learning environment, as well as the combination of a number of pedagogic approaches within one course design. There are consequently a variety of ways in which courses may be ‘blended’ to support student learning. “

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In my role as a Solutions Engineer for Blackboard, I have the privilege of talking to educators throughout Asia who have achieved success blending Distributed Learning Environments with Face to Face classes. As mentioned by Dr. Walker, there are many ways to blend a course. I spoke to two members of Blackboard’s Client Success team, both former educators themselves, about Blended Learning and asked them to describe their approach.

Dr. Susan D’Aloia is an interdisciplinary practitioner who has over 1000 hours experience with online and blended environments. On the subject of blended learning she explained:

“In the virtual world, we are a version of who we are when not-online. In an online learning environment the learner can exercise capacities and strengths that maybe aren’t so accessible to him or her in a purely face to face scenario. The facilitator (educator) then has access to such student cognition and inquiry via the virtual world in a way that they cannot access face to face.”

“The fact is, we function and create both face to face and virtually. An educational approach that negotiates both realities is ideal.

When speaking of the benefits she has experienced with such an approach, Dr. D’Aloia further explained that the real-time engagement in class can become much more focussed because of the time already spent interacting in a virtual environment.

“You can begin a class with at least some up to date understanding of a class’ dynamic, which can help the instructor to target face to face activities that respond to the group process they have witnessed online. An instructor may have less face to face time with students, but the time that is spent becomes more relevant and meaningful.”​

Dr. Alan Masson specialized in engineering design, and began using a blended approach in the mid 1990’s. Dr. Masson described his approach to blended learning in terms of dialogue:

“When I started out using technology in education, there were two main drivers. The first was to create a dialogue between myself and the students. I would ask them to complete a task, and they would feed back to me with their results and their reflections on the process. The second reason was the ability such an approach gave us to create a dialogue between the students and the learning content itself. The ability to interact with content and around the content made a huge difference.”

What was that difference and why was it important?

“In my field, knowledge is related to professional judgement and confidence in that judgement. The solution to each problem cannot be taught, it must be discovered. A blended approach gave students the chance to interact with a problem from a variety of angles and then report back to me with their findings from which I could then assess their competency in moving through that process. It provides students with the chance to critically reflect on their activities in ways that are not easily attainable in a traditional seminar. “

These approaches to blended learning illustrate not only the variety of choice that ‘Blending’ offers the instructor, but perhaps more importantly they show the need for a considered approach. They suggest that before choosing which tools to use, educators need first to define the added value that such an approach will bring both to their teaching, and to students’ learning.

At Blackboard, we are committed to supporting educators achieve success in their technology enabled environments, and our solutions team is able to support the development and implementation of a blended approach at every stage. We welcome any feedback that you have on this subject and invite you to share your vision of blended learning in the comments section of this blog.

 

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