Think – February 2016

Blended Learning – A Dangerous Idea?

“The good news is that [blended learning’s] flexibility permits individual institutions and collaborative groups to tailor the concept to maximize it’s potential while being responsive to a new generation of students.  Blended learning can increase access within the scope of existing resources while maintaining or enhancing quality. … In addition it can increase opportunities for faculty members to design more effective teaching and learning environments.  This approach has potential for fostering a much more reflective student population and extends far beyond the boundaries of traditional classrooms.”

Patsy Moskal, Charles Dziuban, Joel Hartman, Blended learning: A dangerous idea?, The Internet and Higher Education, Volume 18, July 2013, Pages 15-23

When reflecting on the possible role of blended learning at Wake Forest, several questions should be considered.

Lightbulb icon, Red(1) What is it? A Frequently Asked Questions page from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee offers a simple but reasonably flexible definition including the use of web based learning activities that are designed to interact pedagogically with activities in the classroom and that result in a reduction in the normal amount of time spent in a face to face classroom. (The last requirement, reduced “seat time,” can also be flexible.) In the featured paper, the authors emphasize that any operational definition is inextricable from the institutional context in which it is developed and the institutional objectives driving decision making. The College here at Wake Forest has established an approval process for blended courses, which they have defined as courses in which face-to-face instruction has been reduced by 25-50%.

(2) Why do it? For an institution like Wake Forest, which is highly respected for its face-to-face teaching, the “why” is of particular importance. Another page from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee offers up both advantages and challenges encountered in blended learning. Elsewhere, Putting the Learning in Blended Learning proposes that blended learning experiences might, in fact, provide the best of both face-to-face and online classrooms. One possible benefit at a residential campus like Wake Forest’s may be the opportunity for faculty to make more active use of the time they have face-to-face with students, while maximizing learning outside of the classroom by leveraging digital environments and tools (similar to a ‘flipped’ classroom). As the quote at the top suggests, blended learning might open up new pedagogical opportunities for both faculty and students.

(3) Can it be done well? One might unpack this question in multiple ways. For instance, does student learning in blended environments compare favorably to that in face-to-face courses? And, if so, what are the defining characteristics of “doing it well?” A 2010 meta-analysis by the U.S. Department of Education found that studies looking explicitly at student learning outcomes (as opposed to satisfaction) indicated that blended learning resulted in a statistically significant higher level of learning than either entirely face-to-face or entirely online. A meta-analysis like this one can act as a spring-board for imagining ways in which blended instruction might improve learning in your own context. The featured article continues this exploration by discussing both institutional and course design characteristics that represent some of the best practices for implementing blended learning.

We hope that you are able to read about, reflect upon, and let us know what you think with regard to blended learning.


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