Blended learning – a combination of face-to-face and online learning that reduces “classroom contact hours” while incorporating “computer-mediated activities” to form an integrated instructional approach – is getting attention as a solution to a range of academic and financial challenges in education today, particularly in higher ed settings.
Reports dating back to the US Department of Education’s “Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning” (a meta-analysis of 1,100 empirical studies of online learning) indicate that blended learning modalities could be at least as effective as traditional, face-to-face instruction, while offering a range of perceived benefits:
- Reduced attrition rates (presumably especially in remedial/required courses) versus online courses
- Improved student learning outcomes versus online-only classes
- The potential to develop some self-directed learning skills and web research skill versus classroom learning, without the “you’re on your own” feel of some online classes
- More convenience and flexibility for students due to reduced in-classroom time
- An improved ability for instructors to respond to dynamic student demands as the course progresses, presumably by supporting more students online
Reducing in-class time could also enable institutions to potentially save money and/or teach more students, by managing instructional resources more efficiently. But blended learning classes take more work on the part of the organization than online-only classes. As pointed out in online learning insights, blended courses are “transformational in nature” and require multiple groups within the organization to interact effectively to make them work.
The ideal mix of in-person and online instruction – as well as the nature of the online instruction – is likewise a matter of much debate. Indeed, in some cases the “ideal” model might be more about convenient delivery than optimal learner support; e.g., an essentially online class with instructor office hours. In other scenarios, digital materials could play a supplementary role in supporting face-to-face instruction.
A model that some colleges are trying has classes meeting once per week instead of two or three times, with other learning activities moving online. Others are looking to make blended learning options more “personalized” to meet individual learning needs.
The book Blended Learning and Online Tutoring (2nd edition published in 2008) is one source of anecdotes from students in both distance-based and campus environments. Based on practical experience, it is intended to support course development and good-practice instruction.
Why should tutors care about blended learning? I can think of 3 reasons:
- Because of its greater convenience, it could enable in-home tutors to tutor more students more efficiently – and possibly more effectively – than face-to-face sessions alone.
- For tutoring companies with limited classroom space, it could offer a way to expand without incurring greater facilities costs.
- For tutors who are currently online-only, it could offer a way to build a local business without having to spend all day away from your home.
Has your organization tried blended learning? What do you see as the benefits and challenges of this mode of instruction?
Featured image courtesy of Make EdTech Happen.
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