Blended learning is a concept that is understood differently by different instructors. This is largely due to the varying definitions that one can find on blended learning. Not only is it defined in multiple ways, but is also known in many ways – Blended learning, Hybrid learning, flipped classroom, and many more!
Take a look at some of the definitions:
“integrate online with traditional face-to-face class activities in a planned, pedagogically valuable manner.” (Sloan Consortium).
“Blended learning describes learning activities that involve a systematic combination of face-to‐face interactions and technologically mediated interactions between students, teachers and learning resources.” (Bliuc et al., 2007).
“The thoughtful integration of classroom face-to-face learning experiences with on-line experiences” (Garrison & Kanuka, 2004).
In general, most definitions stop at the blend of face-to-face activities with on-line activities. Therefore it is crucial that the instructor has a good idea of what does “blend” mean to him/her. This will help in designing and balancing the blend appropriately.
Personally, I think blend should go much more than a combination of face-to-face and online instruction. So, what does it mean to me?
A blended learning course is one that provides a balanced integration of teaching and learning activities coupled with appropriately designed assessment tasks for achieving each learning outcome of the course that is being taught. There is a need to employ the best delivery option for each learning activity and assessment task in such a way that fosters intrinsic motivation in students and enables purposeful inquiry.
A recent article by Ali Almarry, Judy Sheard and Angela Carter (2014), looked at three basic approaches to designing blended learning courses. They called it, the low-impact blend, the medium impact blend and the high-impact blend.
- In the low-impact blend, it is simply the addition of extra online activities to an existing face-to-face course. This is very similar to “substitution” and “Augmentation” level in the SAMR model (The “Substitution-Augmentation-Modification-Redefinition” model developed by Dr Ruben Puentedura). In this approach, the activity should be based on its pedagogical merit rather than for the sake of introducing technology, and the instructor chooses to get regular feedback from students to understand what is working. As Reuben puts, in the low-impact blend approach, there is an enhancement to the design.
- In the second approach called the medium-impact blend, there is a replacement of activities that were originally planned in an existing course. This is very similar to the “modification” level in the SAMR model. The replacement or modification is done incrementally until a delicate balance is achieved, with a feedback mechanism in place to gauge the balance. In this approach, Almarry et al. (2014), propose that institutional support is necessary for this level to provide the necessary technical support, balance teacher’s workload, and to deal with fears and resistance from teachers and students on using blended learning
- The last approach is the high-impact blend where the course is built from scratch and the approach relies on constructive alignment. This approach is one in which the competencies, skills and learning outcomes that needs to be fostered in students are the key to the pan and design of the course. Once this is established, the instructor redefines the learning activities, assessment tasks, delivery options and determines the best option available so that the learning outcome is achieved. Thus, this approach is similar to the redefinition level in SAMR model, where the learning moves from mere enhancement to a “transformation”. The instructor’s experience will help him in choosing the appropriate media, content, activities and tasks to approach the topic.
Ultimately, the approach that we need to take when designing a blended learning course is to reconsider the learning objectives with your students’ needs as the utmost priority. A redesign approach is generally beneficial as it allows the instructor to take a fresh new perspective, rethink his instructional strategies, and explore the best delivery modes to use. If I were to design a course, I would rather go for a “redefinition” model as that will transform learning experiences of my students, thereby fostering intrinsic motivation, purposeful inquiry and higher achievement levels in my students.
Alammary, A., Sheard, J., & Carbone, A. (2014). Blended learning in higher education: Three different design approaches. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 30(4), 440-454.