What exactly is a blended course? And should I consider taking one?
As educational technology and online learning become more mainstream, increasing numbers of colleges and universities are adding online or “blended” course offerings. As both a teacher and a student of blending courses, I’ve seen it from all angles, and done my homework.
A 2011 Pew Research Study on the future of higher education, surveyed over 1000 academic stakeholders and found that 60% expected dramatic change in higher education by 2020 including “a transition to ‘hybrid’ classes that combine online learning components with less frequent on campus, in person class meetings” (p.14). Given the increased use and availability of blended (also referred to as hybrid) courses, students should have the information needed to make an informed decision regarding the selection of a blended course. Following are some items for consideration:
1) What is blended learning?
According to Blended Learning in Higher Education: Framework, Principles and Guidelines, “blended learning is the thoughtful fusion of face-to-face and online learning experiences”. However, not all blended courses are created equal. The OnlineLearningConsortium.org conducted an extensive literature review and concluded that blended learning consists of between 30% and 79% online content and activities, with the remaining taking place in traditional face-to-face format. When you register for a class make sure you know how the course is structured. For example, here at Fisher College, blended classes use a 50/50 ratio and include one face-to-face class session each week.
2) Why choose a blended class?
There are many benefits associated with the blended model, including the ability to use diverse instructional strategies, as well as improved flexibility and convenience for the students. In many ways, the blended model supports the concept of the “flipped classroom”, where students complete the passive learning outside of the classroom (reading, video/audio lectures) and the classroom meetings are used for application of knowledge (discussion, group work, projects). Some reasons that students choose a blended model are:
- Blended learning includes a combination of the best of face-to-face and online learning strategies which offers a diverse assortment of teaching and learning activities.
- Flexibility (time and place), only one class meeting per week (in the Fisher College model) with remaining work completed at a convenient time and place. This allows students more flexibility in their own work schedules as well as saving commuting time (even if is just across campus).
- The online activities create a different level of engagement and communication with faculty and other students. Many students who are uncomfortable speaking in a classroom setting find the online forums more conducive for participation and to express themselves. This creates a level of connection between the student and faculty as well as student to student that might not happen in class
3) What type of students should consider blended courses?
Successful students are self-motivated. If you rely on the face-to-face classroom time to motivate you or remind you to complete assignments, then blended may not be for you. You must also be good at managing time. Online components of the course have deadlines for assignments that you will know about ahead of time. It is up to you to set aside enough time to do your work. You must complete these online components to ensure you are prepared for the face-to-face class meeting. Students do not do well if they don’t have the time and/or energy to complete the online portion of the course or who think that blended courses are easier than regular courses. Although the in-class portion of a blended class is less than a traditional class, the time and work associated with the course is the same.
Having been both a teacher and a student in blended courses, and having conducted my own research, I believe it is an important and effective teaching modality. My research, a small quasi experiment, found no statistically significant difference in student learning or satisfaction when comparing a traditional face-to-face class with a blended class. Another recent study by the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning entitled A Virtual Analysis also found promising results. Although I believe any student can be successful in a blended course (given the appropriate effort), that doesn’t mean that this modality will be best for everyone. The student must understand their role in the learning process and have the self-motivation to engage in the blended component of the course. In addition, the college or university must ensure that faculty are properly trained in best practices associated with this course delivery format. The Blended Learning Toolkit provides some valuable resources. Given the right combination of training and resources, blended courses will provide an excellent learning experience.
Do YOU have any experience with blended learning environments? Let us know below! Maybe you just have a question? Ask away!