Blended learning: The shape of things to come
Blending learning would emerge as the new pedagogical normal for teaching & learning, wherein education is imparted to students using a mix of electronic & online media as well as face-to-face teaching in traditional classrooms.
The world is changing at a phenomenal pace with massive disruptions across multiple sectors & industries. The COVID pandemic (and consequent government interventions) has emerged as a watershed event which has transformed our lives in multifarious ways! It has also catalysed changes in various sectors, bringing to the fore multiple technologies and developments that have been waiting in the wings for a few years now!
The educational sector too has witnessed transformations with educational institutes having been shut down and teachers as well as students alike having been fast tracked into virtual classes. Schools, colleges and universities alike have adopted online classes as the primary mode of imparting learning, at least for the interim period of closure and restrictions. While conventional classes would definitely stage a comeback as soon as the government restrictions are eased and scientists find a plausible solution to saving mankind from the deadly virus, the fact remains that the use of technology in education would definitely not diminish to pre-pandemic levels. In fact, institutions and individuals alike would definitely like to continue with the use of technological facilitators in education. In other words, blending learning would emerge as the new pedagogical normal for teaching & learning.
Understanding the concept of blended learning
Blended learning can be defined as a pedagogy wherein education is imparted to students using a mix of electronic & online media as well as face-to-face teaching in traditional classrooms. Needless to say, this hybrid method aims to exploit the advantages of both conventional teaching as well as technological enablers. Accordingly, a portion of learning is teacher-led which can be done in regular classes or even virtual classes wherein the teacher engages the learners. The remaining portion of learning takes place using online content and it is regulated by the learner. In other words, while conventional teaching continues, albeit at a reduced scale, educators supplement it by using online content to augment the effectiveness of teaching and learning.
An idea whose time has come
For close to two decades now, Edtech companies have been designing multiple products with phenomenal content and providing diverse services to make teaching and learning more effective. Starting from online content to technological enablers in classrooms, a race is on amongst these companies to grab a significant slice of the colossal market potential.
The Niti Ayog came out with a discussion paper named #AIFORALL in 2018 wherein it recognized the phenomenal potential of AI in transforming the economy wherein it listed education as one of the priority areas for AI application to elevate the educational reach and standards in the country. Numerous educators, think-tanks, consultants and educational institutions have been advocating adoption of technology to enhance the efficacy of learning for about a decade now. The New Education Policy 2020 also talks about innovative pedagogy in transforming the teaching learning process wherein it endorses utilizing and integrating technology as a key facilitator. It also talks about inclusion and access to digital platforms as a means of achieving the policy objectives.
While the government and various institutions mechanisms have been trying to promote the use of technology in education, the COVID pandemic has truly accelerated the scope and utilization of online platforms to an unprecedented level. Most of the EdTech companies have reported significant growth during the current pandemic. While, technology may never be able to substitute physical teaching-learning in classrooms for multiple reasons, the role of technology in education is bound to increase and one can say with conviction that blended learning is an idea whose time has come.
Exploiting the advantages of conventional and online learning
Traditional, physical classrooms have tremendous advantages in terms of facilitating holistic, structured and guided learning. These classes enable learning for all using all four proven styles, namely visual, auditory, reading/writing and kinaesthetic learning styles. Regular interaction with peers and teachers also ensures physical, social, emotional and ethical development of the learners.
On the other hand, online learning content allows a learner the flexibility and convenience of controlling and pacing their own learning. It also utilizes audio-visual aids which can be viewed at a time of one’s choice and repeated as per the learner’s requirement to provide a more customised learning experience.
Overcoming the pitfalls
Conventional, physical classes have their obvious disadvantages in terms of infrastructure, logistics and travel involved. The time available for physical teaching in traditional classrooms is also limited and dependent on multiple stakeholders. The learner’s pace also gets affected by the pace of their peers in the classrooms, especially for children whose uptake levels are on either side of the bell curve.
On the other hand, learning using online content also has its own set of disadvantages. A learner is more prone to drifting away from the learning objective as well as losing the sense of time. Also, a learner is more prone to loss of concentration. The learning style is more audio-visual oriented, making it unsuitable for learners who learn more by kinesthetic and reading/writing learning styles. Pure online content also ignores the need for social and emotional learning, which is extremely important in developing the learners’ soft skills and emotional quotient.
Bringing together the best of both worlds
Needless to say, blended learning has to be designed in a manner that it harnesses the contrasting advantages of both conventional and online teaching while minimizing their pitfalls! While providing the learner the advantages of physically interacting with their teachers and peers, it should also provide customisation as per the learner’s pace of learning as well as learning style.
Blended learning can provide a more comprehensive learning experience when it is designed & implemented in a comprehensive & customizable manner. This has to factor in the needs of students with different learning styles as well as varying levels of aptitude and uptake.
Challenges in implementing blended learning
Developing and implementing blended learning is definitely challenging, way more than it seems in the first instance. Technological literacy & keeping pace with technology can be challenging for teachers and learners alike. The workload of teachers enhances significantly as they have to work not only for planning the physical classes as well as developing the online content, but also in synchronising both of them. Customising online content for learners with different learning styles is also extremely demanding. The efforts, costs and logistics involved in having a mix of traditional and online learning can also emerge as impediments in implementing blended learning. Developing age-appropriate styles of blended learning as per the learning needs of early year, middle year, senior school and university students also is a huge challenge. We would also need to customise the styles and content as per the cultural and social realities of the society.
The way ahead
Technology would continue to play an ever-increasing role in education in the days ahead. It is definitely inconceivable that this trend would reverse, at least in the near foreseeable future.
While increasingly adopting technology in teaching-learning, we must remain mindful that we go about it in a structured, progressive and nuanced manner. The temptation of fast-tracking the adoption of technology & changing rapidly without evaluating its nuances would need to be curbed.
Development of online content and its amalgamation with traditional classroom teaching is an arduous task and should be undertaken systematically. As we develop more and more content for the online component of blended learning, there is a need for strict quality standards and controls. We must also remain cognizant of the time-tested and proven advantages of traditional classrooms which need to be fully exploited as we progressively graduate onto a blended pedagogy.
(Alpana Baveja is Principal at Manav Rachna International School, Sec-51, Gurugram)