The Complete Guide to Blended Learning

In this article, we’ll cover what blended learning is, and isn’t, we’ll look at the pros and cons of different approaches and finally, how you can begin to develop a more comprehensive blended learning strategy based on the latest research.

The world of education is an ever-changing entity. Over the last two decades, the way students and teachers engage has transformed. One of the most ground-breaking changes has been the inclusion of digital technology in a class setting. But what is blended learning and can it work for you? Let’s delve into this interesting and modern approach.


What is blended learning?

First things first, let’s deal with the core question here: What is blended learning?

The staggering rise in modern technology has made way for a completely new approach to learning. Combining face-to-face classes with digital activities, blended learning is an effective way for teachers to engage with students on a multitude of levels.

Blended learning is not to be confused with remote learning. In a blended learning setting, most of the teaching takes place in a classroom. However, digital technology, such as laptops, computers, devices, and smart TVs, may be used to support the lessons.

With that in mind, a teacher may begin with an introduction to a subject matter and set the students a group discussion task relating to it. Later in the same class, the teacher may introduce the use of tablets and ask the students to complete a quiz on them to test their knowledge. That means that the students will have a well-rounded lesson.

Embracing the use of digital technology in the classroom is a must for the educators of today. 96% of teachers say that using technology has a positive impact on education, according to research conducted by Smoothwall. What’s more, 54% of respondents said that digital technology allowed them to plan more varied and exciting lessons for students.


Blended learning vs. hybrid learning

Blended and hybrid learning are often uttered in the same breath. It’s not hard to get baffled by the new terminology out there. In June 2020, the Quality Body for Higher Education has released a guide to explain the various learning approaches that teachers are using in a response to the pandemic and will continue to use in years to come.

According to the guide, blended learning and hybrid learning can be used interchangeably. However, the term blended is more commonly used and you will find more learning materials associated with this name. The QAA noted that they have found no ‘fundamental difference’ in what the two names describe. Put simply, they are one and the same.

For that reason, should you see a course or pathway that refers to either of these terms, you can assume that they are the same approach. However, it’s important to note that these terms cover a variety of models, and so it’s worth checking out the fine print.


Types of blended learning approaches

We’ve answered the question ‘what is blended learning’, so let’s dig deeper into the subject here. Beneath this umbrella term, there are a few different methods that teachers may choose to teach their students and each has its merits. Here are some of the approaches that are encompassed by this term:

Supplemental blended learning

The supplemental blended learning approach is what it says on the tin. There is no reduction in face-to-face class work within this method. Instead, the teacher sets students additional digital activities that they can do at home, such as tasks on a tablet.

Station rotation blended learning

The station rotation blended learning approach means that students start classes with face-to-face interaction, but then move stations to try some digital activities. For instance, in a media class, the teacher may explain an audio editing method and have students practice it on their computer stations, offering both practical and theory learning.


What are the benefits of blended learning?

Now that you know the basics of blended learning, let’s take a moment to look at the benefits of this approach. There’s a reason that this type of learning is becoming more and more popular. Here are three times that you should know about blended learning.

Prepares learners for the technological world

Let’s face it, we are living in a technological world. While educational institutes are embracing the use of digital technology, so are businesses and companies. When applying for roles, recruiters expect candidates to have a high level of computer literacy. Introducing a digital element into the classroom prepares students for this. It means that students will become accustomed to using modern tech in every aspect of their life.

Allows teachers to track and improve results

Thanks to the rise of machine learning and analytics, there’s increasing pressure on teachers to monitor results, and intercept students falling behind. One of the biggest advantages of blended learning is that it allows educators to track and manage students’ progress. Many of the programs that teachers will use can save individual students’ results and even analyse the data. Teachers can use this information to keep on top of which students are excelling. It’s a simple way to manage the process and keep things moving.

Personalised teaching materials and modules

Students learn at different paces. One student may come to a class with an underlying body of knowledge on the topic, while another walks in without that advantage. Since teachers can use digital technology to track students’ results, they can also individualise materials for each learner. For example, if one student needs extra time on a specific module, the teacher may be able to set them additional activities on their tablet.


What are the drawbacks of blended learning?

Needless to say, no learning approach is perfect. Whenever teachers and students adopt a new method, there will be some obstacles. Blended learning is no different. Here are three drawbacks of using the modern-day approach in any given learning setting.

Adopting new technology can be a challenge

For some, adopting technology in a learning environment is simple. Most young people take to this like a duck to water. However, grappling with digital technology can be an obstacle for others. Older adults typically experience more barriers when it comes to approaching technology, according to research published in Frontiers in Psychology. These challenges include feeling inadequate and a lack of proper instruction.

Creates extra work for already-busy teachers

It’s no secret that educators are overworked in the UK. For instance, 57% of secondary school teachers say that their workload is unmanageable, according to a survey from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Adopting new technology and using it as part of a blended learning program adds extra work to teachers’ already-busy schedules. However, it’s worth noting that once the infrastructure is already in place, it may have the opposite effect and free up some teaching time for educators.

Credibility and plagiarism can be issues

Online resources can be remarkable tools but the internet can be a murky place. When finding online programs and materials, teachers have to be extra vigilant. Credibility and plagiarism are both issues here as anyone can publish information on the internet in mere minutes. That means that the materials used in an educational setting may not always be 100% accurate. Ahead of using any given system, teachers should always validate it.


4 tips for students adopting blended learning

Are you a student hoping to embark on a blended learning program? If so, taking the time to prepare yourself is a savvy move. You may not have experienced this type of learning before now and you want to be ready. Here are four tips you can use in your studies.

1. Dedicate time to learning about new technology

If you have identified that modern technology is a barrier for you, it’s time to take action. Dedicate some time to getting to know the devices you will use in your blended learning classes. Getting started can be easy enough. Fortunately enough, Career Toolbelt has a helpful guide on how to improve your computer literacy. Why not try it for yourself?

2. Speak up should you have any issues

Of course, when you’re in a learning environment, you may be tasked with using certain technology that you’re not familiar with. Don’t pani. If that’s the case, you should feel free to speak up and let the teacher know that you’re having some difficulty. Failing to do so could mean that you fall behind or otherwise slow down your learning progress.

3. Keep track of your own progress

As we have already discussed, one of the major advantages of blended learning is that teachers can track your progress. However, you can be a self-starter and monitor your own learning activities. Many of the programs and resources you will use will have a system in place that allows you to manage your progress. Use it to ensure that you are on the right track and that you’re learning at the right speed for your personal skills.

4. Use digital technology in your free time

When you’re undertaking a blended learning course, you should stay in touch with digital technology in your free time. You may have access to the class resources when you’re at home, which can be useful when it comes to studying. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that however you choose to stay in touch with the world of tech will be an advantage.


4 tips for teachers adopting blended learning

If you’re an educator about to start teaching a blended learning program, understanding how to make it effective is key. Changing the way that you engage with students is never easy, but it could be worthwhile. Let’s take a look at four of the ways you make it work.

1. Start by experiencing blended learning yourself

Whenever you’re setting your students tasks or activities using technology, you need to know that it is effective. One of the best ways you can do that is to experience it for yourself. It may be useful to go through the program in your own time. Doing so will mean that you have an understanding of the challenges students may come up against.

2. Ensure your content is accessible and engaging

Blended learning programs only work when students are engaged in the content. Whenever you’re choosing materials for your students, ensure that they are informative and will pique their interest. You should also make sure that they are accessible for all. To get started, you can read this accessibility guide from EdTech specialists, Jisc.

3. Prepare to do some foundational teaching

The truth of the matter is that some students will not be familiar with digital technology. Ahead of your first class, you may have to teach students basic computer literacy skills. While this is the worst-case scenario, you have to plan ahead for it. You may want to create an introductory lesson plan that will cover the basics before you get started.

4. Always check materials for accuracy

Relying on pre-made digital learning materials can have a major drawback. These resources are not always accurate. To get around this problem, you can use the CRAAP test to evaluate the materials. Developed by the Meriam Library at California State University, Chico, the system allows you to measure any material against key criteria.


Workshop’s top 5 papers on blended learning

Looking for some additional information? Why not do some independent research on the topic of blended learning? Fortunately enough, there are plenty of papers on the subject from which you can choose. Let’s take a look at five stellar resources to get you started.

1. The Handbook of Blended Learning: Global Perspectives, Local Designs

By Curtis J. Bonk and Charles R. Graham, 2006

Taking a critical look at blended learning, this comprehensive guide covers the main talking points of the timely education issue. From blended learning models that teachers can incorporate into their approach to future trends in the sector, it gives an in-depth overview of the method and how it may be applied in various environments. Read more

2. Building Effective Blended Learning Programs

By Harvey Singh, 2003

If you’re looking for a guide to help you apply blended learning approaches to your teaching, this article is a savvy place to start. Covering a comprehensive view of blended learning, the paper discusses the learning delivery methods that can be used in these types of educational programs. Read more

3. Blended Learning: Uncovering its Transformative Potential in Higher Education

By D. Randy Garrison and Heather Kanuka, 2004

Next up, this paper looks at the transformative effect that blended learning can have within the setting of higher education. The analytical and comprehensive article also delves into how blended learning can support deep and meaningful education practices while also enhancing the effectiveness and efficiency of processes. Read more

4. Success Factors for Blended Learning

By Elizabeth Stacey and Philippa Gerbic, 2008

This in-depth review looks at the available literature based on blended learning and provides some of the research-backed success factors for the approach. The paper includes institutional factors as well as methods that can be used by educators. Aside from that, the document also points to areas of interest for future research. Read more

5. Blended Learning: the New Normal and Emerging Technologies

By Charles Dziuban, Charles R. Graham, Patsy D. Moskal, Anders Norberg and Nicole Sicilia, 2018

Blended learning and technological advancements are intrinsically linked. As the emerging technologies change, so must the way that educators utilise these tools. This research article looks at the overall effectiveness of blended learning and the possible future directions of this educational approach. Read more


The takeaway!

As technology becomes more prevalent, blended learning will become a classroom staple. Getting to grips with this new-wave method is essential for both teachers and students. Within this guide, we’ve covered the basics that everyone should know. Now that you understand the blended learning definition and how it works, why not do some additional research into the ever-changing and developing method?

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