Blended Learning : The Way Forward

As several colleges and universities are planning to continue online learning into the spring, thousands of students are now looking at over a year of learning from home. In the current scenario, remote learning is slowly moving towards becoming a long term mode of instruction, experts believe that the mental, emotional and academic impacts of that shift are likely to be more than just challenging. It thus becomes worthwhile to understand the different methodologies that are actively being adapted in the education space as a coping mechanism.

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Several studies have been conducted to understand the efficiency and effectiveness of this teaching strategy. According to the 2013 report from the Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology, students in blended learning classes outperformed those in fully online or fully in-person classes.

A study conducted by The University of Central Florida (UCF) indicates that students taking blended courses performed as well or better than those in face-to-face classes.
Furthermore, research by EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research showed that a significant percentage of undergraduate students favor a blended learning environment. Details of this research are accessible here.

As per statistics put out by UNESCO, over 190 countries faced disruption informal learning and teaching impacting nearly 1.5 billion learners at some point. However, despite the scale and impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, private education enterprises across the globe were swift in putting out resources for the benefit of learners. There is no dispute about the rise in the consumption and demand of e-learning and digital ways of learning and teaching in the last few years. Covid-19 has only further accelerated the rate at which digital is being adopted. Therefore, sooner rather than later, it is most pertinent for students and teachers to adopt solutions that adapt well to this mixed teaching-learning environment, where print and digital coexist. A blended approach is something that will take care of the need to incorporate audio-visual elements, online assessments anytime, anywhere access for students and teachers, ensuring their continuing interest, and engagement.

As per many experts, a technique such as a blended learning method has the ability to combine the best of both worlds in a manner that is less costly, time-saving, and much more personalized for both the universities and students.

So, what is blended learning?

As we tread deeper into a digital world, our learning modes are rapidly changing. Blended learning is a combination of online courses and face-to-face learning techniques together. It requires the physical presence of both teacher and student, but with some elements of student control over time, place, path, or pace.

Imagine having the best of both worlds for your educational needs. Blended learning provides students with the enriching experience of lecture videos combined with real-world teaching/mentorship to create a more wholesome and beneficial educational experience.The idea behind blended learning is to create a more integrated approach for both teachers and students and utilize the resources available via digital technology for a more personalized and flexible learning experience.

Blended learning is also well known as a filled classroom technique, in which students get the materials through internet sources and assignments are done in the classroom through team-based or project-based work in presence of respective teachers who actually act as a guide or a mentor additionally. It includes the usage of activities, such as online assessments, automated grading systems, and collaboration tools, to facilitate easier management and execution of learning processes.

This particular technique of learning is not new. It has been there for a while but with the pandemic, it has been added into the limelight of a new context. Being able to swap seamlessly between in-person and online learning, or even run the two simultaneously for a student body that is geographically split, means that blended learning is now a top priority for many schools.

Understanding the importance of the application of technology especially in education, colleges, and universities around the world have combined online courses and lessons with regular in-person classroom types in order to keep up. The shift towards blended learning in higher education has presented itself as an ongoing process that is continually reshaping the learning process. As a result, several blended learning trends are defining higher education today.

The impact of Covid-19 has brought the education landscape to an interesting inflection point, where print content alone will not suffice our requirements in the new normal while a 100% digital approach might be inappropriate given our unpreparedness. Blended and Integrated Learning Solutions are today’s need of the hour and only the way forward towards a robust educational system that will reach all stakeholders at any time or at any point.

Blended learning solutions seamlessly combine print and digital resources to create a consistent learning environment not just for the student but also for the teacher and the parent. These solutions provide a teacher with the tools for ongoing and formative assessments, to identify learning gaps for individual learners, enabling them to provide remedial content specific to a learner’s needs. Solutions such as these will help in letting the learner be at the very heart of the teaching-learning process.

From a professors’ perspective, a digitized setup offered through blended learning solutions provides a rich repository of print and online resources that allows the professors to collaborate with students to create a more interactive and engaging learning environment. A blended approach to learning and teaching also makes it possible to justify the concept of interdisciplinary teaching.

Blended learning models

The Clayton Christensen Institute, a non-profit, nonpartisan think tank dedicated to improving education, founded seven models of blended learning to help institutions structure their approach.

Blended learning models include:

  • Station Rotation Model: In this particular model of blended learning, students rotate through stations on a fixed schedule, where at least one station is a distance learning station. Stations typically include at least one for direct, teacher-led instruction, one for online learning, and one for collaborative activities or independent work. The tasks at each station are personalized to each student’s learning needs.
  • Lab Rotation Model: Like the Station Rotation Model, but the distance learning station occurs in a dedicated computer lab.This model typically includes online instruction, face-to-face instruction with a teacher, and experimental or exploratory learning in a laboratory or a hands-on environment
  • Individual Rotation Model: Students rotate through stations based on individual schedules determined by the instructor or software algorithm.This model provides individual students with a unique learning plan tailored to their specific needs and learning pace. The rotation sequence may include online learning, individual study, group activities, and face-to-face teacher-led instruction.
  • Flipped Classroom Model: Students complete online coursework and lectures outside of the classroom so instructors can use class time for guided practice and projects, encouraging deeper learning.
  • Flex Model: Instructors provide support, as needed, while students work fluidly through course content.
  • A La Carte Model: In this particular model of blended learning, students choose to take online courses alongside face-to-face courses for increased flexibility in their schedules.
  • Enriched Virtual Model: Students complete most of their coursework online, but attend required face-to-face sessions with an instructor.

Benefits of blended learning

  • Ease of access: a blended learning system provides several learning models that could easily meet the needs of any personal student requirement. Therefore, students can easily choose from various methods of digital or face-to-face instructions in order to have access to good quality education with their time and space resources. Regardless of geographical location or time constraints, students can learn at their own pace and revisit course materials whenever necessary. This flexible access to education reduces physical boundaries and provides numerous opportunities for personalised learning.
  • Interactive Pedagogy: this approach to learning has managed to cause better student engagement which is difficult to achieve in a traditional classroom. It results in various means to encourage students to take a more active role and employ an individual approaches in the process of knowledge acquisition, thus creating opportunities for better student collaboration.
  • The rise in the development of functional Learning features: With the more cost-effective alternatives to enterprise Learning Management System software, such as WordPress web development tools and availability of free resources for setting up an education website, it is becoming easier for local schools and individual tutors to build a great site with minimum investments.
  • Cost-effectiveness: One of the most significant qualities of this particular trend in blended learning is that it works both ways. Students could benefit from reduced transport costs. Particularly for the universities, cost-effectiveness is achieved through much faster and more effective access to the global market as well as by reductions in the physical space requirements.
  • Improves academic achievement: with the benefits of blended learning methods such as time and space flexibility and a variety of appropriate learning models which result in better academic achievement, more interaction is being created constantly. Online resources and digital tools can provide real-time feedback and individualized instruction that fosters student engagement, adaptability, and active learning.

Blended learning has infinite possibilities of improving learning and achieving tremendous benefits both to the teacher and the learner. Nevertheless, successful implementation of blended learning requires adequate technological infrastructure and training for educators. However, it is essential that blending requires the right mix of online and offline learning for attaining desired outcomes. It is purely the discretion of the course designer, who is usually the teacher or the university, to chalk out a strategy for combining relevant pedagogy with efficient technology to get just the right mix of both. Most of the learning in the future has been forecasted to incorporate blended learning.

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