I came to this conclusion after attending a recent two-day EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative webinar, Blended Learning: The 21st Century Learning Environment. Blended learning is a complex mix of face-to-face and online elements in a single course. After learning about and reflecting on the latest theory and research on blended learning, quality considerations, design and implementation issues, and practical applications, I came away with a few ideas.
Thoughtful design can promote student learning
I learned that blended learning, if designed thoughtfully, can promote student learning. As one webinar participant put it, “intentionality,” is necessary for the success of a blended learning course. Obviously, thoughtfulness or intentionality is important in designing any course, but it may be paramount in designing a blended course. Combining components of face-to-face and online teaching can be challenging, even for instructors who are experienced at teaching in both modes. So what does an instructor need to think about when designing a blended course?
This question is addressed in Ten Questions to Consider when Redesigning a Course for Hybrid Teaching and Learning. One question is particularly important:
As you think about learning objectives, which would be better achieved online and which would be best achieved face-to-face?
This question asks instructors to think carefully about how they and their students can best use their time in class and online.
Rethinking class time
A striking example of rethinking teaching, learning, and time was provided by webinar presenter Gerald Bergtrom at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Bergtrom described how he transformed his face-to-face biology course to a blended learning course that provided content coverage and promoted student learning at the same time. In his original face-to-face course, he devoted all of his class time to lectures and in-class exams. In the blended course, he eliminated all lectures in the face-to-face meetings and replaced them with critical thinking and interactive exercises: muddiest point writings, clicker questions, and small group index card activities. Content was delivered online through a variety of modes, including text readings, PowerPoint lectures, discussions, papers, and quizzes. In this way, Bergtrom integrated and mutually reinforced face-to-face and online activities. Bergtrom found that, although creating a blended course required effort, he enjoyed teaching more and his students learned better in the new blended course.
The idea of rethinking how time in class and online can enhance student learning was also discussed in episodes #26 and #27 of Tuesday Tips on Teaching with Technology (iTunes U link), a podcast series produced by Northern Arizona University’s e-Learning Center. Wally Nolan and John Doherty explained how offering online learning activities before and after class and linking them to in-class activities can improve instructor and student productivity. They described a common instructor experience: students arriving in class without having read the assigned readings. To address that problem before class, instructors can have students complete an online quiz on the readings. During class, instructors can then devote their time to clarifying and enhancing student learning through discussion. After class, students can extend their in-class conversations through an online discussion or an activity that lets them apply what has been learned.
You can find other examples of effective blended learning designs in Blended Learning in Higher Education, written by two other webinar presenters, Randy Garrison at the University of Calgary and Norman Vaughan at Mount Royal University. Garrison and Vaughn organize their examples around three scenarios common to higher education: small class courses, large enrollment courses, and project-based courses. Each scenario has its own challenges that can be addressed through different blended learning designs.
What is your experience with blended learning? If you have taught a blended course, what has and hasn’t worked? If you haven’t taught a blended course, what do you think will be important to consider in course design? Please share your thoughts in the comments.