Think about all of the ways that technology has influenced and infiltrated nearly every aspect of your life. Paying by check? You can do that online or just with your phone. Making a reservation at a restaurant? No need to call - an app will do it for you. Want to turn off the lights and lock your door? Your smart devices can help connect you.
That technological influence extends to our learning environments, too. Classrooms have undergone a centuries-long change that’s only been speed up with the advent of technology. What used to be one-room schoolhouses in the late 1800s are now redesigned spaces which invite students and teachers to engage in learning using tablets, whiteboards, and more.
One of the most prominent ways in which technology is changing classrooms is through impact on what we think of as the traditional learning environment. One classroom with one teacher standing in front of multiple students as an authoritative figure has given way to a concept known as blended learning. The latter is an instructional approach that capitalizes on the best of both worlds - education and tech.
Blended learning, is a learning trend driving education which in some form, is currently available in nearly every state. In a nutshell, this strategy or approach to teaching and learning involves the student learning through at least partial online delivery of content. In this sense, it offers both traditional instruction - a teacher in front of students - and digital or online content that’s accessible at any time.
The conceptualizations behind blended learning adhere to the notion that students are not uniform, and learning shouldn’t be either. Based on learning theories such as Gardner’s on multiple intelligences, and multiliteracies pedagogy, it is considered that students have different learning styles and come for culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds which should be taken into consideration when planning a lesson. In this respect, it is suggested that enhancing students’ learning through digital content can be a personalized response to students’ needs and desires, allowing them to learn at their own pace through means that are relevant to their lives.
In relation to the different strategies for undertaking a blended learning approach, six models have been proposed for its implementation: Face-to-Face Driver Model, Rotation Model, Flex Model, Online Lab Model, Self-Blend Model and Online Driver Model. More recently, other alternative blended learning models have been brought to the surface of educational cycles:
a) The traditional brick-and-mortar blended learning model:
An approach where the instructor uses online platforms to add resources, assign and gather homework, as well as encourage online discussions and other asynchronous learning activities beyond classroom hours
b) The hybrid learning model:
Students attend live events physically or online (for example webinars) while also work in virtual online environments. There could be an arranged schedule where some days students attend the class and others are optional however students must attend online.
c) The flipped learning model:
Teachers and other instructors record their online lectures and students are obliged to watch them before class. During the lesson, they can work on different tasks and in this sense the teacher has more time to work with challenging topics and addresses students’ difficulties.
Regardless of which type of blended learning model one chooses to adopt, there are certain misconceptions and considerations needed to be addressed. For instance, people often assume that blended learning equals all education online, but that isn’t true. It might be that the focus is on a technology rich environment, nevertheless, there is ‘hands on’ learning. In addition, unlike it is commonly believed, in blended learning students do not work individually only. The can undertake projects in groups with their peers to produce collaborative work online.
Furthermore, blended learning in contrast to the myth that it requires less work than traditional face to face instruction, doesn’t cut down on the amount of work that needs to be done by either students or educators. In fact, both sides may need to work at a more systematic basis. Instructors still need to prepare and students still need to do the work. But blended learning allows those learners to engage with information more frequently in order to fully grasp concepts that may have been more difficult with just one go-round.
Based on these characteristics of blended learning, in summary, the advantages from engaging in such practice have been identified as being:
- The meaningful combination of interactive face to face instruction and digital content through a differentiated personalized based teaching approach
- The use of digitally mediated content such as digital storytelling that has been found to motivate students’ interest and increase students’ learning and affective outcomes
- Access to the instruction such as an online session many times, with stops and pauses to the discretion of the learner.
- Researchers and practitioners suggest that blended learning can encourage students to continue learning outside the classroom. It can expand beyond the traditional school walls to connect with students’ lives.
- Blended learning can maximize the potential for acquiring 21st century skills.
Despite the promising features of this approach, the excitement about the possibilities of blended learning and the ways that technology can better prepare our students and assist our educators needs to be tempered with some serious questions about the process. It’s not a match for every person or every situation. Students need to know what the physical, in-class requirements are, and instructors need to be upfront and proactive about their availability and roles through digital means.
For instance, the technology that’s a given in a traditional classroom may not be available in each student’s home, which can impact learning and pacing. Students and instructors must have a shared understanding about assignments and work - what files are usable and which are not. And there should be practice and testing so that everyone understands the accessibility and usability of that particular online environment.
Whilst there is no fixed recipe for meaningful teaching and learning instruction, it appears that technology enhanced learning is the present and future of 21st century education. Blended learning could be a flexible and dynamic approach through the meaningful engagement with technology.
Whatever the end result, it’s important to understand how blended learning cannot guarantee success. It requires commitment on behalf of the educator and careful use of digital means. And therefore it is important to be aware of its different aspects. This graphic is a good place to start.
Conclusively, it appears that exciting times lay ahead for educators and students all together. Now, more than ever, we are in a position to offer the most engaging form of education that will empower students as dynamic and active learners. Blended learning, as it is proposed in this article, is one powerful approach which could change the education game and will be around for many years to come.
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