What is Blended Learning?

A brief overview of how Blended Learning can be used effectively

What is Blended Learning actually? At a recent conference organized by Dunya Education in Antalya (Turkey). I gave a talk on blended learning. At the beginning of the talk, I asked the audience, who were all teachers, what they thought blended learning was. The answers were varied and interesting, but few could give an accurate definition. Perhaps this should not be surprising consider the definition has been changing ever since the term came into being.

According to the Innosight Institute the definition of blended learning anno 2016 is as follows:

a formal education program in which a student learns, at least in part, through online delivery of content and instruction with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace and at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home.

The key elements are: formal education, part online and part in a physical building with personal teacher contact, and that students have some element of control over their learning.

What is it?

Blended learning is not one single way of teaching, rather it is a general term that covers a range of possibilities. The diagram below gives an idea of the possibilities.

p5_blended-learning-edu-process

Courtesy Innosight Institute

In this article we will concentrate on the rotation model and in particular the flipped-classroom model.

Why blend?

For most teachers the reason to offer blended learning will be to improve results. That may first entail increasing student interest and participation, but the final goal is generally to see attainment rising. School management will also be looking at the financial side, blended learning can offer savings.

Perhaps one of the greatest advantages offered by blended learning is its ability to assist teachers with differentiation within their classes.

Flipping the classroom

p11_flipped-classroom

Courtesy Innosight Institute

Flipping the classroom comes under the rotation model of blended learning, yet the principle can be used in many of the other blended learning models. The important aspect is to ensure that students receive the instruction online prior to the lesson with a physical teacher.

Putting instruction online and before a class has many advantages. Firstly students take control of their own learning, at least up to a point. This has the advantage that students can learn in a way that suits them. Secondly classes take on a whole new dynamic because students already know the subject and are prepared to actively use their knowledge. Thirdly because the knowledge the students have gained is actively used in the class, it is easier for students to remember.

However, there are some obstacles. In order to flip a classroom it is essential to have good course material that has been designed for this. A teacher can make his or her own online material, but the work required to achieve this is generally more than can be reasonably expected of teachers. You are in effect building your own complete course.

Ensuring students’ cooperation can be a daunting task, but the right tools can simplify this. Setting out expectations to students and parents is a good start and choosing a software package that takes the strain out of student monitoring will further help. The goal is of course that students will see how their learning increases and they become self-monitoring.

Flipping in practice

Let’s take a look at how a flipped lesson would progress for a ESL lesson. The class is of mixed ability, but the teacher has allowed the students to work on their own level within the online course. This means that some students are B1 and some are B2. She also knows there are a couple that are really struggling.

The subject for today’s class is crime. The lesson plan is B1 and even the weakest students have learned the vocabulary for this topic. The faster students did this subject a couple of months earlier online, but the teacher is happy for them to now revise this in class.

After a short introduction students watch a video clip and are then put into groups in order to solve a puzzle. While the faster students work on the puzzle the teacher stops by the groups with the weaker students to help them. Despite their slower progress they are working enthusiastically on the puzzle.

Looking at the lesson we see that much is similar to traditional teaching, however teacher talk time has gone down significantly and student participation has gone up. Because students already know the subject, very little time is spent by the teacher explaining. The teacher’s role has become more of facilitator and coach. It is particularly noticeable that the teacher has more time to help the weaker students while the stronger ones are happy forging ahead. The fact that students are working on different levels in their personalized learning path is to some extent ignored. It is obvious that some are clearly superior in their abilities, yet the task set by the teacher remains the same.

Other models

Many of the aspects found in the flipped model can also be applied to other models. Whichever model is chosen will depend on the facilities available and the circumstances of the class and school. During my visits to schools in the Netherlands I have often seen teachers employing blended learning without being aware of it. Other schools actively consider the options and even go as far as to design new building around the blended learning concept.

In a future article we will look at other models and see how they can further enhance student’s learning.

Mark Holmwood

 

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