Blended Learning

Blended Learning
Photo Credit: @craftedbygc

Three years ago, I was approached by my dean and asked to pilot blended learning in one of my classes for the fall semester. I am always up for a challenge and so I agree; however, I was not very familiar with blended learning or what it entailed. I had experience teaching in the online setting as well as in the traditional classroom environment. How hard could this be? I imagined blended learning to just be a combination of the two modalities. While some components from both modalities are incorporated into blended learning, I quickly came to realize, through the research, it was not as simple as just combining the two modalities.

Blended learning is a combination of traditional classroom methods and online digital media and technology; however, it is also consideration of how to present material in a way that allows student the flexibility to tailor and customize their learning. Students are asked to explore course topics outside of the traditional classroom setting. Instructors are responsible for determining strategies and activities that students can participate in. Lessons that are designed provide students the freedom to incorporate learning strategies that they prefer. This type of learning supports students from Generation Y and Z, who tend to be highly connected and driven by technology.

Blended learning challenged the way I planned lessons. I had to creatively consider how I could present material and assess student learning.

Some things I had to consider:

  1. Will students work independently?
  2. Will they work in groups?
  3. Will they do a project? Research? Presentation?
  4. What types of technology can be used to enhance the learning process?

I had the summer to prepare for my first blended learning experience. First, I had to determine how I would ensure students were learning when they were not in class listening to lecture or participating in activities. What types of activities could I implement to verify they were still exposed to and engage with the material? This took a bit of consideration, research, and time on my part. But the overall outcome was modified lectures and inclusion of activities that allowed students could take part in independently and in small groups. Each week, there was some type of deliverable or assessment technique to ensure students gained the necessary information. The end result was that they were learning the material just as effectively as when I lectured. This was evident by quiz/exam scores, assignments, and end of course grades which were similar to classes that I did not blend. The only difference between the classes was the mode of delivery of the material. This was SO exciting!

Please note, I was still responsible to plan. Planning felt very much like preparing for a new class. even though I had been teaching this particular class for several years. I had to work to incorporate experiences that students could not participate in if they were in a classroom. What types of resources could they access? How would I ensure that they were actually completing the work and not just treating the blended learning day as a “day off”?

Through the blended learning experience, I have become a more dynamic teacher. My classes have evolved from passive environments where I lectured and students took notes to classes where students are actively involved and engaged. Students still take notes, but they also participate in activities to help to apply the information that is being covered. In all of my classes, I have incorporated more active learning activities and less lecture. In addition to lecture, I incorporate videos, case studies and scenarios, presentations, technology, and independent and group activities to present and apply the course content.

Blended learning can be applied to many different subject areas. It is up to you to determine what you want students to learn and how they will obtain the information. Perhaps, lectures are the most appropriate for your subject matter. However, I still challenge you to consider alternatives to lecture. Would students in your class benefit from taking a field trip, volunteering in the community, conducting research, participating in research, participating in mock interviews, creating presentations, or interviewing professionals in the field? Consider all of the activities a student could participate in if they were not confined in the classroom. Would they learn more from those hand-on, applicable activities? It is important to remember that students have access to information on your subject matter. It is at their fingertips. They can read the material in the textbook. They can use the Internet to access information. It is no longer simply your job to be the subject matter expert, but also to make the subject matter come alive. Provide an experience that students are not able to obtain simply by reading the textbook. The key to understanding is applying what they are learning. And applying it in situations that they will encounter when the are graduates working in the field.

Since the semester that I piloted blended learning three years ago, I have continued to use this method of instruction. I have increased the number of classes that I blend each semester. This opportunity has been beneficial and has helped me to grow as an instructor, because I reconsidered my style of teaching, made adjustments, started to lecture less, and allow students greater freedom and choice over their own learning. This has been a positive experience for me and the students who are enrolled in these classes. Here are some comments from former students who participated in blended learning:

I really enjoyed coming to class on Tuesdays and getting the information I need then being able to apply it on my own on Thursdays.”
“I enjoyed the freedom and flexibility it gave me with my learning.”
“I appreciated the options provided. I liked choosing activities that I wanted to participate in to apply what I was learning. I also liked working with other students in the class to complete blended day work.”

Any additional ideas for using blended learning. Share them below.

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