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Blended/Remote Learning. Who cares When We're Back in the Classroom?

Have you been using a blended learning approach in your classroom?

If not, it would be my suggestion and recommendation that you do. The benefits to your classes will be huge!

You may have taught remotely, but do you know what Blended Learning really is?

Well, I suppose first of all, I should clarify the question and say that remote learning is not blended learning. They overlap in terms of technologies used, but remote learning is non-classroom based, whereas blended learning has a classroom-based approach while using educational technology for outside of the classroom learning.

Blended learning can be a difficult concept to define precisely because of the blended element. Blended learning (also known as hybrid learning) is a method of teaching that integrates technology and digital media with traditional instructor-led classroom activities, giving students more flexibility to customise their learning experiences. It is a mix of traditional in-person learning with a teacher in a classroom and interactive learning activities using digital technologies, often from home. Blended learning combines:

  • classroom-based activities with the teacher present
  • digital materials provided by the teacher
  • independent study using materials provided by the teacher

Wikipedia offers this as a definition:

“Blended learning is an approach to education that combines online educational materials and opportunities for interaction online with traditional place-based classroom methods. It requires the physical presence of both teacher and student, with some elements of student control over time, path, or place.”

That last bit is the scary part – giving students “control over time, place, path or place.”

How can we be sure they will access the material and complete the work and more importantly, understand it?

Quite simply, we can’t. But that is why our learning material needs to be more structured than what it would be in class.

Where we would present information with explanations – via exemplar material or contextual explanation – in class and sometimes by planned improvisation, online, we need to plan learning more definitively and explicitly.

I am an IT teacher, so if I was teaching object oriented programming, I would normally introduce the topic by looking at a car and dicussing how there are different jobs performed within the actions of the car and these are controlled specifically by certain parts of the car (accelerator makes the car go faster, break pedal makes it slow down, ignition key/button turns the car on etc.). In class I can do this by way of explanation and through discussion with the class. The point I am highlighting is that the car takes data and moves it to a point of action (pushing the accelerator causes the engine to work harder to make the car go faster and so more fuel is made available to the engine).

But online? I need to plan this differently. It’s not enough to just explain it. I would add video content of a car highlighting the different areas of the car and how objects take instructions and carry them to different areas of the car to fulfil the instructions.

Teaching this concept online has changed my method of delivery and the content I am using in order to ensure understanding takes place. Where I would normally use visual feedback clues from the class over understanding, I need to now enure that learning can happen by scaffolding the learning more directly.

All of the above happens in that way because I might not be able to ensure when a student accesses the learning material and so I need prepare my material for that moment when they choose the time of learning. Equally with the path – a student may access my lesson material on a different device (i.e. phone) and so I need to plan the material to be accessible by multiple methods.

There are Benefits

  • Blended learning offers the learner convenience and flexibility; they have the ability to control their learning pace and learn remotely.
  • Academic research suggests that blended learning gives learners a more comprehensive understanding of the course content.
  • Because blended learning allows learners to interact with instructors and fellow learners, social learning is supported.
  • Blended learning reduces face-to-face training costs, such as travel, accommodation, and printed training materials.
  • Companies can use varying eLearning methods, such as webinars, gamification, etc., which result in better learner engagement.
  • Because blended learning is a more efficient and cost-effective way to train, you’ll see a quicker and greater return on investment
  • It’s also easier to track exactly who has, or hasn’t, completed training

There are Limitations

  • One of the most crucial pitfalls you’ll want to avoid is using an LMS that doesn’t meet your needs. You’ll need an LMS like LearnUpon or Moodle to manage and deliver your blended learning strategy, including the integration of webinar software.
  • Keep in mind that what works for classroom instruction may not necessarily work online. You should not automatically assume existing courses are ready for online distribution. And your online content should not simply be a mirror image of what you do in the classroom ‘but online.’
  • If switching from solely face-to-face learning, take your time when incorporating blended learning into your learning strategy. Starting slow not only enables you to assess what is and is not working from a content perspective, but also gives your learners time to adapt gradually to the blended learning concept.

We will never get back to what once was. We can only move forward.

The Reality

The reality is, that as we enter 2022, we don’t know if or when another lockdown might happen. Political statements maintain that schools will not be closed, but infection rates might demand a different approach.

Blended learning is going to form part of our pedagogy for the foreseeable future and I believe it should become a permanent part of school teaching formats. The benefits to the students make it so important that we cannot ignore it. If we are to develop our pupils into lifelong learners, using a blended approach will not only achieve this, but also raise pupil grades, enhance life chances and develop confident learners in our classrooms.

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