Blended Learning: Adjusting the Mix

Coming from a distance education tradition, I am always surprised by how many institutions are using online learning platforms to supplement classroom-based courses. This approach is often referred to as “blended learning.” However, if you scratch beneath the surface, you soon realize that this type of approach is not really blended at all.

What often happens is that the online elements of the course are “tacked on” to the existing classroom elements, or they repeat what happens in the classroom. But the essential nature of what happens in the classroom does not change. To my mind, this is a wasted opportunity. A truly blended solution has the two learning modes (face-to-face and online) each serving a specific role and reinforcing each other in such a way that the total is greater than the sum of the individual parts.

For example, the online elements of a course could be used for basic knowledge transfer and to properly prep students for classroom sessions that are much more interactive (e.g. debates, discussions, role plays, simulations, case studies, etc.) and focused on achieving more ambitious learning objectives (e.g. the higher end of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Objectives, such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.) I would go as far as to say that if you are still primarily delivering lectures in the classroom, you have wasted the opportunity provided by online learning supports.

Just as online elements can provide the foundation for better using classroom time, they can extend the discussion after the class session and provide continuing support, clarification and interchange of ideas. If done well before and after class, these online learning supports can also afford for less, yet better focused, classroom time.

This is how you achieve a true learning blend – when different modes support each other and when they allow for more meaningful interaction during limited and precious face-to-face meetings. It is certainly a trend that we are witnessing with our own clients.

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