The Covid-19 pandemic sent the world reeling and higher education had to pivot quickly. When campuses closed, sending students home to continue their studies remotely, every college and university was pushed into new territory and had to make the best of a situation that was anything but ideal. Online education wasn’t optional anymore; it was mandatory.
Eventually, we began to make our way back toward campus life. But that change was gradual, leaving higher education with a gap that had to be bridged between remote learning and traditional campus classes.
Blended learning was quickly identified by those in higher ed as something to help address that gap. By focusing on students, blended learning is a way to approach education that combines face-to-face learning with online resources and opportunities. This idea goes beyond simply adding internet components to a traditional course curriculum. Blended learning systems believe students learn some ideas and concepts better when they learn asynchronously, and some things are better taught in person.
A successful blended learning system requires an analysis of learning methods and programs to determine the best combination for student success. To do this, colleges and universities must be able to monitor and measure the progress and success of their remote learning programs alongside their traditional classroom instruction outcomes.
What Implementing Blended Learning Looks Like
Before implementing blended learning, higher education institutions need to be clear on the definition of education methods. Generally speaking, there are three types of learning in higher education:
- Traditional classroom learning, where everyone is in attendance and all lectures, discussions, labs, and presentations are given synchronously. There is no online component to these courses beyond general correspondence.
- Web-enhanced learning, where a traditional class uses the internet to facilitate learning through discussions, online course material, and other supplemental items.
- Blended learning, where online materials are not supplemental to the main course but integrated into the overall class time. Students shift some of their in-person time and activities online where it benefits their learning the most.
To follow this definition of blended learning, each institution and program must make an effort to maximize the opportunities for learning in their coursework by identifying which learnings should be in-person and which would be best online. That can make implementing blended learning a daunting task, but the result is students benefit from a variety of learning methods that are optimized for their needs.
For example, at Columbia University, the Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching, Learning, and Innovation support hybrid or blended learning efforts. Professors may apply for grants to assist in their efforts to build and optimize blended learning programs. Many educators at Columbia are trying a “flipped classroom,” in which traditional lectures are observed online when a student chooses and more interactive activities like labs, group projects, and discussions take place in person.
Implementing blended learning identifies which activities benefit from flexibility (thus fitting online learning time) and which learnings will be most impactful when done as a group. That mix looks different depending on the class, program, or university. This offers educators the opportunity to innovate and revitalize course curricula as professors determine the ideal delivery method for each portion of their class(es).
Blended learning also includes clear expectations for students. Online lectures do not mean they are less important, and live discussions or working groups don’t mean attendance is optional. Students should know professors are trying to maximize their learning opportunities and use their time together efficiently and impactfully. Learners must still engage in every aspect of coursework if they are going to get the full benefit of the course.
Achieving Objectives in Blended Learning
As always, the ability to measure and illustrate success is critical in implementing and evolving blended learning programs. World Wide Technology recommends four tips for measuring progress as higher education works to implement blended learning.
Use solid technology. A great learning management system (LMS) will provide the basis for building and delivering blended learning content successfully. An LMS can also give data on student activity, helping professors to know which resources are being used and which may not be serving their students in the way that they need to. Other technology tools, like video conferencing, online messaging, and virtual whiteboards should also be available to students.
Find champions of blended learning.
Colleges and universities should include positions that will help faculty create and implement blended learning tools. These advocates should track feedback and results, helping others on campus to learn effective methods and building best practices for future professors to follow. Student champions may also be helpful when asked for feedback on course delivery.
Celebrate success stories.
Share progress! Talk about how many classes have implemented blended learning, share positive feedback from students, and work to implement improvements often. Blended learning will evolve more often than traditional classroom learning, but that should be viewed as a positive opportunity.
Be realistic and patient.
Set goals for implementation and track performance, but be realistic in the timing and expectations of those goals. Gather student feedback and allow it to help steer new goals and objectives; after all, the purpose of blended learning is to be student-focused.
Implications and Benefits of Blended Learning
Blended learning was accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, but it was already on the way and it is most definitely here to stay. The technology available to teachers and students can and should be tailored to provide the best chance of success for every student. eLearning Industry noted that blended learning models are what sustained higher education through the recent years of the pandemic, allowing students to continue learning safely amid all the instability and uncertainty.
But what does blended learning mean for higher education, beyond self-preservation in times of crisis? What should it not be?
Blended learning should not mean a sustained higher workload for either professors or students. The implementation period will take additional effort, but the overall effort for established classes should not change. What blended learning changes is where and when learning happens, not the overall quantity of hours required.
Students should have more ownership over their education. Blended learning brings an additional level of autonomy, which demands that students are invested and responsible for the portions of coursework that take place outside of the classroom. This concept also brings flexibility, allowing students with more complex schedules to still find academic success.
With blended learning, professors and classmates experience high-value interactions both in-person and online. The time they spend in class together should be focused on the parts of the class that benefits most from in-person discussions. Office hours and opportunities to interact with professors should not decrease. Students should be able to participate more evenly, instead of a few students dominating discussions, with online forums giving everyone time to collect their thoughts and provide meaningful contributions.
Ultimately, blended learning should and will allow higher education to be the most relevant, beneficial learning environment possible for students. Blended learning depends on students developing soft skills that will continue to benefit them beyond graduation, including those taught in FranklinCovey’s LeaderU courses. Contact us to learn how our courses can complement blended learning environments and help students be successful learners wherever they are.
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