Blending learning experiences
Principal, Amity International School, Sector 46, Gurugram
Educational Institutions must use a blend of learning approaches in their strategies to get the right content in the right format to the right people at the right time.
An advocate of the usefulness of knowledge in human endeavors, Sir Francis Bacon had professed way back in the 16th century that, knowledge itself is power, indicating that a man of knowledge during his lifetime can make people obey and follow him and he is praised and venerated after his death. But the times have moved on, and so has the definition of power changed. The immediate availability of data, information, and knowledge to the Millennium generation, much more than their own Professors, is astounding. According to a study by Hindman and Cu kier, Google and Yahoo (or entities using their technologies) handle 95% of all Web searches in the United States. Google, with more than four billion Web content pages, handles hundreds of millions of searches each day. Integrating technology with the teaching pedagogy has helped the faculties develop Blended Learning designs and it can be said that it is the ability to use knowledge effectively, rather than knowledge, per se, that has emerged as power.
As it is now proved that mere possession of knowledge, now available at a click of a mouse, can even leave students as blank as a slate or reduce faculty to mere oracles and educational institutions to ivory towers. It is pertinent to understand that to connect well with “digital natives,” we need to reach out to them in the form that they enjoy the most. A brick and mortar classroom session is a passé. ‘A harmonious blend’ of physical and virtual environment in order to supplement traditional chalk & talk method is the order of the day. The blended learning model, which combines face-to-face and online learning, is now the preferred model for online course design. Blended learning is a combination of offline face-to-face, traditional learning complimented with online learning. It provides individuals with the opportunity to enjoy the best of both worlds. For example, a student might attend classes in a real-world classroom setting, and then supplement the lesson plan by completing online multimedia coursework. As such, the student would only have to physically attend class once a week and would be free to go at his own pace (and without worrying about scheduling issues). We are ready in this millennium to provide the learner, a number of ‘choices’, for he can opt for distance learning mode, learn in active collaboration with others, at the time of the day that is convenient or suits him. A single mode of instructional delivery may not provide sufficient choices, engagement, social contact, relevance, and context needed to facilitate successful learning and performance. Anecdotal evidence indicates that blended learning not only offers more choices but also is more effective. Some educators define blended learning approaches as “finding a harmonious balance between online access to knowledge and face-to-face human interaction.” It is also defined as “thoughtful integration of classroom face-to-face learning experiences with online experiences.” Preferences and learning requirements of each learner tend to be different. Educational Institutions must use a blend of learning approaches in their strategies to get the right content in the right format to the right people at the right time. Multiple delivery media that is designed to complement each other and promote learning is combined under Blended Learning. It’s also been suggested that students who complete online coursework followed by interactive, face-to-face class activities have richer educational experiences and better retention.
Today a blended learning program may combine one or more of the following dimensions, although many of these have over-lapping attributes and application-learned behaviour.
Blending offline and online learning
It is important to know that a blended learning experience combines offline and online forms of learning where the online learning usually means “over the Internet or Intranet” and offline learning happens in a more traditional classroom setting. We assume that even the offline learning offerings are managed through an online learning system. An example of this type of blending may include a learning program that provides study materials and research resources over the Web, while providing instructor-led, classroom training sessions as the main medium of instruction.
Blending self-paced and live, collaborative learning and self-paced learning
Self-paced learning implies solitary, on-demand learning at a pace that is managed or controlled by the learner. Collaborative learning, on the other hand, implies a more dynamic communication among many learners that brings about knowledge sharing. The blending of self-paced and collaborative learning may include review of important notes or concepts on a regulatory change or a new perspective followed by a moderated, live, online, peer-to-peer discussion of the solutions to a problem or a debate.
Blending structured and unstructured learning
Many forms of learning include structured or formal learning with organized content in specific sequence like chapters in a textbook. Most of the learnings of students that happen through a conversation in the classroom or over a Skype conference or an e mail combined with the structured bit from the text books, supports the way knowledge workers collaborate and work.
Blended learning programs may include several forms of learning tools, such as real-time virtual/ collaboration software, like Skype for business, Google hangout, WhatsApp video call or self-paced Web-based courses, electronic performance support systems (EPSS) embedded within the curriculum environment, and knowledge management systems. Blended learning mixes various event-based activities, including face-to-face classrooms, live e learning, and self-paced learning. This often is a mix of traditional teacher-led teaching, synchronous online webinar or training, asynchronous self-paced study, and structured on-the-task training from an experienced teacher or mentor. The learning approaches and choices available are:
1. Synchronous physical formats
- Instructor-led Classrooms & Lectures
- Hands-on Labs & Workshops
- Field Trips
2. Synchronous online formats (live e-learning)
- Online Meetings
- Virtual Classrooms
- Web Seminars and Broadcasts
- Instant Messaging
- Conference Calls
3. Self-paced, asynchronous formats
- Documents & Web Pages
- Web/Computer Based Training Modules
- Assessments/Tests & Surveys
- Electronic Performance Support Systems (EPSS)
- Recorded Live Events
- Online Learning Communities and Discussion Forums
- Distributed and Mobile Learning
There are different models for implementing blended learning, and the method used will vary depending on one’s classroom. I recommend starting with one method–if you see positive effects, that you have more time to collaborate in class and your students are more engaged then it could be continued. If not, then use this opportunity as a way to learn more about your students and their needs. As teachers, we need to constantly reflect on our methods and encourage self-assessment with our students, all part of learning and growing together. Getting started can take some risk and exploration, and definitely time.
Ways to use technology
Here are some different ways to use technology to “blend” or “flip” learning that in my experience have worked well. These tools can offer innovative or creative learning methods in our classroom, opening up the time and space for where and when the learning occurs.
1.Flipping and blending with videos
Flipping the class involves before class, in the class and after the class learning, wherein before and after the class is with the help of internet resources like provocations in the form of videos and on-line assignments. The benefit of having students watch a video outside the class is that it reserves the class time for discussion and peer collaboration and moves the teacher to more of a facilitator in the classroom. There are video tools such as Flip grid, EDpuzzle and Play Posit, through which students interact with the video.
By responding to questions throughout, they are held accountable for the material and can show what they are learning. The teacher has instant feedback and can better understand how the students are learning and provide more personalized instruction. Either of these tools are great for the teacher to create lessons, but also provide the opportunity for students to create lessons that can be shared with other students.
In my experience, these tools have both provided a lot of authentic learning, problem-solving, critical thinking and collaboration. There are websites like ed.ted.com and zunal.com which offer opportunities for teachers to collaborate with students on line. More importantly, they create an opportunity for students to move from learners to leaders, and from consumers to creators in the classroom. This is one of our main goals as teachers–to provide opportunities which empower students to take more control and drive their own learning. These leadership opportunities also help the students to feel valued because of the work that they are doing.
2. Game based learning and “practice” as homework alternatives
Perhaps you want students to simply play a game or have some practice beyond the school day. There are lots of options available, some of which enable students to create and share their games as well.
A few of these that you are probably familiar with are Kahoot, Quizizz and Quizlet. Creating a game with any of these three apps is simple. There are many public games and Quizlet flashcards available to choose from, and it is simple to create your own or for students to create something to share with the class. These can be used to differentiate homework and have students create something more personalized and beneficial for their own learning and then share these new resources with other students and classes.
3. Discussion beyond the school day and space
There are tools available for having students brainstorm, discuss topics or write reflections which can be accessed at any time and from any place. For example, Padlet is a “virtual wall” where teachers can post discussion questions, ask students to brainstorm, post project links and more. It is a quick and easy way to connect students and expand where and when learning occurs. Take the posts and use them as discussion starters in the next class. Wiki spaces can also be used in the same way. Create a Wiki for students to build profile pages, share information and respond to discussion threads. The idea is that students can do some of these activities outside of the classroom period, and then teachers can plan activities which provide opportunities to engage students with their peers. Even though all of these involve technology at some level, they are interactive tools to engage students, to expand and “flatten the walls” of the classroom and offer students an opportunity to do more than just sit and learn; to become more actively involved, giving them a voice and choice, through more authentic learning.
By giving the students a chance to do more than absorb information, but instead to create, design and think critically, we not only give them the knowledge to be successful, we encourage them to create their own path to success. And hopefully, in the process, they learn to better self-assess and reflect, both of which are critical skills they’ll need for success in school and in their careers.
Blended learning approach changes students’ perspectives
The educators have to spend a lot of time in gaining the needed qualifications for proper use of technology. Not all online resources are safe to use in the classroom and students need to be trained on safe surfing too. For the students too learning in collaboration entails an interplay of real life skills like compassion, tolerance, learning about sharing learning platforms and using devices to an optimum advantage. In addition, teachers need to drastically change their academic delivery program and adapt to a completely different method of teaching, wherein they are more of facilitators and the real doers are students themselves. Despite the problems that are involved in the blended learning model, e.g., the need to master a range of digital cognitive skills, loneliness and social detachment when learning online, constraints in reading academic text in a digital format etc., as of today, it is considered the most effective model for online learning. It is really worth going in for it because the advantages outweigh the drawbacks.
1. Greater flexibility with the blended learning
Through this concept, learning becomes a two-way process. There is an interaction with the teacher in the classroom. The students are not expected to sit quietly through a 40-minute lecture. By the end of such a traditional lecture, they would forget all questions they had on mind while they were actively listening during the first ten minutes, as students are known to focus for no longer than ten minutes at a stretch. Blended learning is convenient because it gives them freedom to participate in the process. They are not afraid to ask questions and be critical about some of the concepts they learn about. So, teachers-
- Encourage them to discuss!
- Don’t judge their questions and opinions.
- Stay open for free-minded interpretations of the concepts you’re teaching;
That’s how the students will understand how the knowledge they gain helps them understand the world that surrounds them.
2. Opportunity to explore online resources
The web is a source of endless knowledge. As a teacher, you have an opportunity to teach them how to find the best online sources and make sure they are reading up-to-date, reliable information. When you teach them how to research the web, you know you have done a good job. You helped them gain a skill they will definitely use in life.
- Teach them how to check and verify facts and how to take the things they read with a healthy dose of doubt. Choose a topic. For example, you can search for information about Socrates in class. You’ll find several online sources of information, but not all of them will be reliable. Show them how to check the facts and how to recognize authoritative sources of information.
3. Blended learning leaves more time for reflection
Let’s say you’re teaching a history lesson to high school students. You ask them to research as much as possible about World War II, and they all present facts in the classroom. You compare those facts with the coursework material, and you take the time to reflect.
- Since you’re not wasting time on the standard lecturing process, there’s enough space for you to respond to questions and make learning interesting for all of them.
4. Students get more feedback
When you save time for more discussions in the classroom, it means that you’ll be listening to what students say. That’s a great way to evaluate their understanding of the coursework concept. You will see how many of them participate in the discussions, and you’ll realize how much they are interested in the concepts.
- You will give them feedback through your response.
- You’ll have a chance to give such feedback every single day, by encouraging them to keep up with the good work or inspiring them to get deeper into the research process. There’s no need to wait for tests when you evaluate their knowledge on a daily basis.
5. Even the anxious students can relax
Some students don’t like discussions. They are the ones who usually stay quiet throughout a heated argumentation, although you know that they have a lot to say. It seems like they are too afraid to speak up. The traditional classroom teaching method doesn’t give these students a chance to overcome this anxiety.
- Try to involve these students in the discussion. Instead of waiting for them to take part, ask what they think.
- You’ll notice they are getting anxious. Their voice may start trembling and you’ll notice the confusion on their faces. Try to get their answers through a conversation and involve them fairly in all class discussions.
- Over time, they will start getting more comfortable. In a way, you’ll be forcing them to face their fear of speaking up, and the only way to overcome a fear is by facing it.
The concept of blended learning is rooted in the idea that learning is not just a one-time event—learning is a continuous process. Blending provides various benefits over using any single learning delivery medium alone. The Stanford research strongly suggests that linking self-paced material to live e-learning delivery could have a profound effect on overall usage and completion rates—enabling organizations to radically increase the return from their existing investments in self-paced content. While learning technologies and delivery media continue to evolve and progress, one thing is certain: Organizations (corporate, government, and academic) favour blended learning models over single delivery mode programs.
Arti Chopra, a dedicated Educationist with over 28 years of experience in the field of education as a teacher, mentor, trainer, planner, skill developer, and a tireless worker for the cause of children is a firm exponent of amalgamating modern skills and teacher empowerment in education.
She is an alumnus of Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University, and has been associated with leading institutions like Bal Bharti Public School, Delhi; Sawai Man Singh Vidyalaya, Jaipur and Lawrence School, Ooty in her sparkling career. Her repertoire also includes Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Amity University, in Economics from PU and in Education from MDU.
Besides her teaching experience of 15 years in the field of education, Arti has administrative experience of 13 years as Principal in promising schools like Sunbeam School, Varanasi, Indraprastha International School, Dwarka, New Delhi and presently at Amity International School, Sector 46, Gurugram.