My Fledgling Thoughts on Blended Learning

When the ONL171 course embarked on this topic, I must confess that my initial thoughts on blended learning were at best scant and superficial. I’ve learnt much in the weeks since, but short of applying what I’ve learnt and designing a blended learning course, I daresay there’s still a lot of room for me to learn and improve where this topic is concerned.

Defining Blended Learning: Is it even possible?

When it comes to a definition of blended learning (BL), you can literally take your pick from some very well thought through examples from the literature (Friesen, 2012; Staker & Horn, 2012; Garrison & Vaughn, 2008; Guglielman, 2013). I found the explanation of BL by the Higher Education Academy (2015) to be particularly useful in helping me gain a deeper understanding of this teaching approach. Besides explaining that BL approaches “deliver learning by combining face-to-face interactions with online activities”, the HEA also points out that the definitions of “blended” have varied according to particular combinations of pedagogies and technologies (Friesen, 2012). They add that the detail of the “blend” is context-specific and influenced by institutional culture, learner needs and is often bounded by the digital capabilities of teachers. In short, it isn’t possible to pin down a key definition for BL simply because no one BL course is exactly the same; it would always be informed by the specifics of its context and the unique qualities and needs of its learners and facilitators.

A key lesson I took from the ONL171 discussions has been this – a thoughtfully designed and conceived BL environment is more than just teaching using the affordances of technology. It offers “expanded choices” to learners and educators (Vaughan, Cleveland-Innes, & Garrison, 2013). However, it is also important to remember that interacting in a BL environment also makes more cognitive & social demands of them. In other words, both learner and educators would have to adopt new behaviours and considerations of their roles within the teaching & learning ecosystem.

Designing a Blended Course: Where to start?

If I were in a position where I had to give a faculty colleague (who is new to BL but keen to try it out in their teaching) advice on how to design such a course, these would be some of my suggestions:

  • Ensure that the key components of an effective course are in place (i.e. good knowledge of the subject matter, clearly defined intended learning outcomes, good understanding of students taking the course etc.)
  • Be equipped with knowledge and understanding of what are the definitions of BL out there, and which ones are relevant to your specific teaching and learning needs. I found the decision tree by Norm Friesen (2012), which is informed by the BL taxonomy by Staker and Horn (2012) and other definitions of BL, to be a useful way of defining whether a course is blended or not.
Friesen2012_decision tree
Blended learning decision tree (Friesen, 2012)

Finally, as I have shared with my group members in our presentation for this topic, I would recommend that for faculty colleagues who are keen to try out a BL approach to start small; for instance, they could pilot a BL strategy in a course they’re already comfortable teaching, and to bear in mind that the main components of running a course effectively still bear out, such as ensuring the course’s intended learning outcomes are fulfilled & providing a supportive learning environment. I would also point them to references (the Blended Learning Toolkit offered by the University of Central Florida is a good starting point) as well as faculty colleagues who are experienced in running BL courses, the latter being in a good position to provide constructive feedback on their instructional strategies. 

Next Time: Journey’s End?

References

Friesen, N. (2012). Report: Defining blended learning. Retrieved from: http://learningspaces.org/papers/Defining_Blended_Learning_NF.pdf.

Higher Education Academy (2015). Blended learning. Retrieved from: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/enhancement/starter-tools/blended-learning.

Staker, H., & Horn, M. B. (2012). Classifying K–12 blended learning. Mountain View, CA: Innosight Institute, Inc. Retrieved from: https://www.christenseninstitute.org/publications/classifying-k-12-blended-learning-2/

Vaughan, N. D., Cleveland-Innes, M., & Garrison, D. R. (2013). Teaching in blended learning environments: Creating and sustaining communities of inquiry. Edmonton: AU Press. 

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