Implementing online and blended learning designs

The majority of the courses that I teach are offered as both campus and distance courses. The standard for dealing with these courses in my department has been to teach the same course twice in parallel. On one day, you might have one lecture for campus students, and later that day, you might have the same lecture delivered online for distance students. Typically, online-based courses have been taught exactly the same as campus-based courses, with limited thought given to the differences between them. I have found this to be an inefficient, and often misguided, way of implementing a course which has both in person and online learners. Although not without its challenges, embracing true hybridity in these types of courses has the potential to be much more efficient, as well as more pedagogically varied and sound, which I will explore further in this blog.

A difficulty in moving away from more traditional-based pedagogical models may partially be due to a desire to continue with tried and tested means of university teaching. Traditionally, a university course would be rather fixed in that the students are told when to come to class, where to come to class, what to read and in what order, as well as hierarchically fixed in that the teacher occupies the role of ‘master’ while the students are the ‘apprentices’. Spanjers et al. (2015) found that moving away from these traditions, redefining instruction, and implementing blended learning environments brings new opportunities for optimising learning. However, four key challenges in implementing such environments have been indicated by Boelens, De Wever and Voet (2017), namely, incorporating flexibility, facilitating interaction, facilitating students’ learning processes, and fostering an affective climate.

Incorporating flexibility requires the teacher to first consider that flexibility is a desirable quality in a course. The students that I teach are quite different from the average student of twenty years ago. These days, the proportion of people going to university is much higher, and what can be expected from these students is different. Many of my students have jobs or other serious life commitments, such as looking after children, and would appreciate a greater amount of flexibility within their education. I believe that this reality should be embraced, and therefore providing “a flexible environment that includes a variety of learning modes, and opportunities for students to choose where and when they learn” (Chen et al., 2014) is a desirable outcome. Most obviously and simplistically, this could be done through having recorded lectures which students watch at their own convenience. This would also lead to the teacher not having to do the same lecture twice in the courses which I am involved in.

Within these parallel campus/distance courses, the campus and distance students more or less never interact with each other. I think this is a shame and restricts potential for working with and learning from other students. I also agree that if a student wanted to do a course on campus, and then is forced to always interact with people online, that is perhaps not the ideal outcome either. However, I think a middle ground can be found where the two environments become meshed together. Interaction between campus and distance students may also be able to foster an affective climate through promoting student engagement and motivational engagement. Online isolation is not likely to be an environment which leads to optimal learning conditions.

References

Boelens, R., Van Laer, S., De Wever, B., & Elen, J. (2015). Blended learning in adult education: towards a definition of blended learning. Adult Learners Online! Blended and Online Learning in Adult Education and Training.

Chen, Y., Wang, Y., & Chen, N.-S. (2014). Is FLIP enough? Or should we use the FLIPPED model instead? Computers & Education, 79, 16–27

Boelens, R., De Wever, B., & Voet, M. (2017). Four key challenges to the design of blended learning: A systematic literature review. Educational Research Review, 22, 1-18.

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1 Comment

  1. Thanks for the very interesting input! Indeed I have a similar experience, but in my case the distance and on-campus courses cannot be run in parallel in order to avoid students jumping from a course to another. Moreover, another important problem is that for some institutions, at least in Sweden, courses need to have a clear time frame for the delivery, so if flexibility means that students do not have a clear conclusion for the course it is an issue. Anyway, my personal experience is that flexibility comes at the price of more work for the teacher(s); this would still be fine if you are only a teacher, but if you are mainly a researcher that also teaches it represents a huge issue.

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