Blended learning really took off in the early 2000s with the first generation of web-based learning. It is a way of teaching that combines online digital media with in-person instruction to create an overall more effective and customized learning experience. You may also hear it referred to as hybrid learning. It is being used in K-12 and higher education but also in corporate training.
How is Blended Learning Different?
To understand how blended learning is different, we need to consider the traditional classroom environment. In these settings, instructors may deliver course materials by way of a lecture, with students required to attend classes on specific dates and times. After class is finished, students are required to continue their learning and usually complete an assignment to prove their understanding and application of the knowledge.
This presents several challenges, but some typical ones may include:
· We all have different preferences of how we learn topics and apply them. The lecture-based approach may not always be effective for all students.
· Maybe times have changed, but certainly when we were attending university it was fair to say that not everyone was receiving first class honors on their ability to turn up to classes on time (or at all).
· It is very common that participants of all levels can understand the theory at the time of consuming it, but then struggle to apply it on an assignment later. Unfortunately, the classroom setting provides very limited opportunity to seek more direct guidance and support on this crucial element.
Blended learning focuses on enhancing or transforming this traditional classroom model to negate some of these challenges. For example, tutors focus on producing, curating and sharing high-quality content via digital channels such that it can be consumed outside of the classroom when learners have the time and are in the right mindset to best consume it. The classroom sessions are still critical but become more focused on the application of the knowledge that has already been consumed.
What are the benefits of Blended Learning?
1. Easy online access to lessons
Many learners have differing levels of understanding around a specific subject or topic. Some may pick-up theory and its practical applications quicker than others which may lead to frustration around the pace of content in a traditional classroom setting, the flipside is also possible.
By putting the content online, you provide the ability for learners at differing levels of ability and motivation to move at their own pace when they are most alert to consume the content.
2. Lesson application and direct class interaction
One of the great challenges in a traditional classroom setting is the focus towards learning theory through active listening rather than driving the practical application of a subject.
Research, however, shows that we learn more effectively by doing active work rather than passive listening. Unfortunately, in a university setting, for example, much of this practical application is done away from the classroom in the form of an assignment.
Learners often complain that whilst they understood the theory during the classroom setting, they really struggle to apply it later. As such, the point where they really need guidance and reassurance from an educator is the exact time when that access is unavailable.
In the blended learning approach students, would learn the bulk of theoretical content away from the classroom and then work through assignments in class with access to the educator.
3. Educators can guide learners accordingly
Blended Learning counts on face-to-face interaction between educators and learners.
This moves instructors from just someone who teaches a class to someone who guides their learners. Educators can now focus on guiding individual learners and customizing materials to fit a learner’s needs.
4. Blended learning is flexible
In traditional classroom lessons, it’s normally time-based with all learners receiving the same lesson materials and having their performance monitored with consistent testing.
With blended learning, the mastery-based learning is being used. This method acknowledges that not all students are going to reach the same level at the same time. By giving the students as much time as needed to learn the lesson, and letting them decide when they are ready to be tested, blended learning can help students move forward only when they have shown that they can apply the lesson with confidence.
Technology is everywhere these days, and we should take advantage of what it can do to help us improve teaching and learning. Whatever the student age is, they will never outgrow their learning styles, meaning blended learning, is more important than ever.