Moving Forward with Blended Learning

Figure 1: Blended Learning (https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-blended-learning-businessman-work-white-broad-top-view-image70937992)

Blended learning, also known as hybrid learning, has become ubiquitous in schools, academic institutions and companies around the world. In the past two decades, blended learning has evolved into many forms, has taken different shapes and has been used in multiple settings. The recent global pandemic has forever changed the educational landscape for students, teachers, leaders and their families. Blended learning is steadily becoming the new narrative and maybe even the new normal in this post-pandemic period. Many schools, especially in higher education, and corporations have employed some form of blended learning even before the pandemic, and have seen the positive outcomes and the rich learning experiences that a blended learning system affords. Now that we can begin to look at Covid-19 from the rear-view mirror, what is the role of blended learning in this post-Covid era? 

Brief Historical Overview

Blended learning, in its simplest form, combines brick-and-mortar, face-to-face learning with online learning. Many great definitions of blended learning have been formulated, and depending on the context, how much of blended learning is face-to-face and how much of it is online fluctuates. The term ‘blended learning’ first came about in the 1990’s; Friesen (2012) writes about its first occurrence in 1999 as being used by an Atlanta-based computer skill certification and software training company called EPIC Learning, where it described a course the company is offering using its ‘blended learning’ methodology. Blended learning is broad and encompassing; it is highly context-dependent and consequently, a universally-accepted definition is hard to pin down (Moskal et al., 2013, as cited in Saboowala & Manghirmalani Mishra, 2021). In 2006, the Handbook of Blended Learning by Bonk, Graham, Cross & Moore came out and then the following year, the book Blended Learning in Higher Education: Framework, Principles, and Guidelines by Randy Garrison and Norman Vaughan was published (Friesen, 2012). These two books, especially the first chapter in the first book written by Charles Graham, provided clarification to blended learning in the years that ensued and consolidated the broad definitions of blended learning into a widely accepted working definition. Graham (2006) writes: 

“Blended learning is a part of the convergence of two archetypal learning environments. On the one hand, we have the traditional F2F learning environment that has been around for centuries. On the other hand, we have distributed learning environments that have begun to grow and expand in exponential ways as new technologies have expanded the possibilities for distributed communication and interaction” (p. 5).

(Graham, 2006)

Suppose we can describe blended learning as something that exists in a continuum. We have face-to-face classroom interactions and teacher-led engagements on one hand, and student-directed, self-paced learning and asynchronous group discussions on the other hand. It’s the blending of two previously separate systems that are now beginning to take shape as a collaborative, integrated, technology-mediated, engaged learning that takes place in the middle.

Figure 2: Word Cloud (Rody, 2022)

Blended Learning in post-pandemic times

According to Crawford and Jenkins (2016), there are four models that are generally used in blended learning environments.  They are: 

  1. The rotation model – students work in different activities using different modalities, in which one of the stations is online. This has 4 different types:
  • Station Rotation – a flexible way of offering multi-modal activities to students; the stations can be timed and/or based on the needs of students
  • Lab Rotation – students participate in in-person activities, and then switch rooms to go to a lab where they can participate in online activities
  • The flipped classroom – students learn with a teacher in a traditional classroom setting, and then are assigned offline activities to be completed in a remote setting (home, library, etc.)
  • Individual rotation – a student moves through a variety of activities that may be unique to his/her learning needs.  Students many need to go through all the activities or may only need to access some, based on teacher decisions.
  1. The flex model – students do online learning in class or in a location where they can access their teachers for face-to-face support. This model affords time for teachers to work with students individually.
  1. The a la carte model – individual students take a combination of online and traditional courses
  1. The enriched virtual model – unlike the a la carte model where individual students can make their own decisions about which classes are online and which ones are in-person, in the enriched virtual model, the whole class takes the exact course load, including the same combination of online and offline classes.

As we move forward with blended learning, we also have to be mindful that the tools we use, the resources we avail of and the learning experiences that we provide to students are equitable, accessible and inclusive for all types of learners. Here are some tips for establishing and sustaining an engaging and equitable blended learning environment (Finegan, 2021):

  1. Provide consistent access to routines and resources – whether face to face or online, students should have easy access to resources 
  2. Build a strong community – give students lots of meaningful opportunities to connect with each other
  3. Allow for multimodal learning – celebrating multiple paths to learning success means employing different modalities to reach all types of learners
  4. Consider using choice to promote student agency by creating choice boards and/or playlists. Students can choose how they learn and how they can show mastery.
  5. Design equitable assessment methods that can be used in either face-to-face learning or online learning

Digital coaches, education leaders and teachers need to work hand in hand to leverage technology in designing a blended learning experience for all students. This aligns with ISTE Coaches Standard 4.3: Coaches establish productive relationships with educators in order to improve instructional practice and learning outcomes. Winkleman (2021) offers the following ideas to help with these collaborative efforts:

  1. Promote personalized learning – using a flipped learning model, helping students access content through static resources, such as videos  and recorded lectures releases more time for face-to-face interactions to develop problem-solving tactics, enhance communication skills and promote real-time collaboration.
  2. Allow self-paced learning – helping students to learn in the best way they can, at a pace that works for them while choosing tools that they can be successful with empowers students to be agents of their own learning.
  3. Cost-effective means of studying – blended learning allows families to cut down costs, especially for post-secondary education.
  4. Enable global learning – the surge of innovative technological tools has created many opportunities for collaboration beyond classroom walls and around the globe without leaving your own surroundings.
  5. Bridge the gap – blended learning allows for customization of learning experiences so that students from all walks of life can participate fully.

Conclusion

When the strengths of face-to-face learning, group discussions and in-person collaboration are matched and aligned with the strengths of a digital platform, web-based tools and engaging opportunities that allow all students equitable access, the potential of blended learning is endless. As Winkleman (2021) says, blended learning is having the best of both worlds.

Resources

Brown, M., Skerritt, C., Shevlin, P., McNamara, G., & O’Hara, J. (2022). Deconstructing the challenges and opportunities for blended learning in the post emergency learning era. Irish Educational Studies, 41(1), 71–84. https://doi.org/10.1080/03323315.2021.2022526

Crawford, R., & Jenkins, L. (2016). Blended learning and team teaching: Adapting pedagogy in response to the changing digital tertiary environment. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 33(2). https://doi.org/10.14742/ajet.2924

Finegan, J. (2021, May 12). 5 Keys to Success in Hybrid Learning. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/article/5-keys-success-hybrid-learning

Friesen, N. (2012). Report: Defining Blended Learning. https://www.normfriesen.info/papers/Defining_Blended_Learning_NF.pdf

Graham, C. R. (2006). Blended learning systems: Definition, current trends, and future directions. In C. J. Bonk & C. R. Graham (Eds.), Handbook of blended learning: Global perspectives, local designs (pp. 3–21). Pfeiffer Publishing.

ISTE Standards for Coaches | ISTE. (n.d.). Www.iste.org. https://www.iste.org/standards/iste-standards-for-coaches

Saboowala, R., & Manghirmalani Mishra, P. (2021). Readiness of In-service Teachers Toward a Blended Learning Approach as a Learning Pedagogy in the Post-COVID-19 Era. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 004723952110152. https://doi.org/10.1177/00472395211015232

Winkleman, A. (2021, January 29). How to leverage blended learning methods for a more engaged classroom in 2021. Www.involvio.com. https://www.involvio.com/blog/how-to-leverage-blended-learning-methods-for-a-more-engaged-classroom-in-2021

Join the Conversation

2 Comments

  1. I really like your focus on providing equitable, accessible and inclusivity for all students. This is something that I am constantly reminding myself that I need to address in every single lesson plan that I make. Thank you for the suggested resources!

  2. Bringing up the idea of sustaining an engaging and equitable blended learning environment is excellent. Notably, leveraging digital technologies in the classroom is inevitable in the post-pandemic era. Thanks for elaborating on the importance of blended learning in this post!

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