Saturday, February 28, 2015

Blended Learning

Blended learning is a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through delivery of content and instruction via digital and online media with some element of student control over time, place, path, or pace. While still attending a “brick-and-mortar” school structure, face-to-face classroom methods are combined withcomputer-mediated activities. 
Proponents of blended learning cite the opportunity for data collection and customization of instruction and assessment as two major benefits of this approach. Schools with blended learning models may also choose to reallocate resources to boost student achievement outcomes.
The terms "blended," "hybrid," "technology-mediated instruction," "web-enhanced instruction," and "mixed-mode instruction" are often used interchangeably in current research literature. The concept of blended learning has been around for a long time, but its terminology was not firmly established until around the beginning of the 21st century. One of the earliest references to the term appears in a press release in 1999, when the Interactive Learning Centers, an Atlanta-based education business, announced its change of name to EPIC learning. The article mentions that “The Company currently operates 220 on-line courses, but will begin offering its Internet courseware using the company's Blended Learning methodology.” The meaning of blended learning widely diverged to encompass a wide variety of synthesis in learning methods until 2006, when the firstHandbook of Blended Learning by Bonk and Graham was published. Graham challenged the breadth and ambiguity of the term's definition, and defined 'blended learning systems' as learning systems that "combine face-to-face instruction with computer mediated instruction."] Currently, use of the term blended learning mostly involves "combining Internet and digital media with established classroom forms that require the physical co-presence of teacher and students.
The Definition of Blended Learning
Defining hybrid or blended education is a trickier task than one might think–opinions vary wildly on the matter. In a report on the merits and potential of blended education, the Sloan Consortium defined hybrid courses as those that “integrate online with traditional face-to-face class activities in a planned, pedagogically valuable manner.” Educators probably disagree on what qualifies as “pedagogically valuable,” but the essence is clear: Hybrid education uses online technology to not just supplement, but transform and improve the learning process.
That does not mean a professor can simply start a chat room or upload lecture videos and say he is leading a hybrid classroom. According to Education Elements, which develops hybrid learning technologies, successful blended learning occurs when technology and teaching inform each other: material becomes dynamic when it reaches students of varying learning styles. In other words, hybrid classrooms on the Internet can reach and engage students in a truly customizable way.
The definition of blended learning is a formal education program in which a student learns: (1) at least in part through online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace; (2) at least in part in a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home; (3) and the modalities along each student’s learning path within a course or subject are connected to provide an integrated learning experience.
Blended Learning Models
Although there is little consensus on the definition of blended learning and some academic studies have suggested it is a redundant term, there are distinct blended learning models that have been suggested by educational think tanks and some academic studies.
Blended Learning can generally be classified into six models:
·         Face to face driver - where the teacher drives the instruction and augments with digital tools.
·         Rotation - students cycle through a schedule of independent online study and face-to-face classroom time.
·         1. Rotation model — a course or subject in which students rotate on a fixed schedule or at the teacher’s discretion between learning modalities, at least one of which is online learning. Other modalities might include activities such as small-group or full-class instruction, group projects, individual tutoring, and pencil-and-paper assignments. The students learn mostly on the brick-and-mortar campus, except for any homework assignments.
  • The Rotation model includes four sub-models:
    • Station Rotation — a course or subject in which students experience the Rotation model within a contained classroom or group of classrooms. The Station Rotation model differs from the Individual Rotation model because students rotate through all of the stations, not only those on their custom schedules. Lab Rotation
    • Lab Rotation – a course or subject in which students rotate to a computer lab for the online-learning station.
    • Flipped Classroom – a course or subject in which students participate in online learning off-site in place of traditional homework and then attend the brick-and-mortar school for face-to-face, teacher-guided practice or projects. The primary delivery of content and instruction is online, which differentiates a Flipped Classroom from students who are merely doing homework practice online at night. Individual Rotation
    • Individual Rotation – a course or subject in which each student has an individualized playlist and does not necessarily rotate to each available station or modality. An algorithm or teacher(s) sets individual student schedules.
·   Flex - Most of the curriculum is delivered via a digital platform and teachers are available for face-to-face consultation and support.
  • Flex model — a course or subject in which online learning is the backbone of student learning, even if it directs students to offline activities at times.
  • Students move on an individually customized, fluid schedule among learning modalities.
  • The teacher of record is on-site, and students learn mostly on the brick-and-mortar campus, except for any homework assignments.
  • The teacher of record or other adults provide face-to-face support on a flexible and adaptive as-needed basis through activities such as small-group instruction, group projects, and individual tutoring.
  • Some implementations have substantial face-to-face support, whereas others have minimal support.
  • For example, some Flex models may have face-to-face certified teachers who supplement the online learning on a daily basis, whereas others may provide little face-to-face enrichment. Still others may have different staffing combinations. These variations are useful modifiers to describe a particular Flex model.
·  Labs - All of the curriculum is delivered via a digital platform but in a consistent physical location. Students usually take traditional classes in this model as well.
·  Self-Blend - Students choose to augment their traditional learning with online course work.
·   Online Driver - All curriculum and teaching is delivered via a digital platform and face-to-face meetings are scheduled or made available if necessary.
·   Iincorporating the "asynchronous Internet communication technology" into higher education courses serves to "facilitate a simultaneous independent and collaborative learning experience", and this incorporation is a major contributor to student satisfaction and success in such courses.
·      The use of information and communication technologies have been found to improve access to as well as student attitudes towards learning. 
·      By incorporating information technology into class projects, communication between lecturers and part-time students has improved, and students were able to better evaluate their understanding of course material via the use of "computer-based qualitative and quantitative assessment modules".
·     Students with special talents or interests outside of the available curricula use educational technology to advance their skills or exceed grade restrictions. 
·      Some online institutions connects students with instructors via web conference technology to form a digital classroom. These institutions borrow many of the technologies that have popularized online courses at the university level.
·      Blended learning has a strong dependence on the technical resources with which the blended learning experience is delivered---these tools need to be reliable, easy to use, and up to date in order for the use of the Internet to have a meaningful impact on the learning experience.
·      IT literacy can serve as a significant barrier for students attempting to get access to the course materials, making the availability of high quality technical support paramount.
·      It has been observed that the use of lecture recording technologies can result in students falling behind on the material---in a study performed across four different universities, it was found that only half of the students watched the lecture videos on a regular basis, and nearly 40% of students watched several weeks' worth of videos in one sitting.
Does Blended Learning Work?
Not all students learn the same way. This is not a particularly novel concept, but it is an important one. The tech publication PFSK notes that even early childhood education programming, like Sesame Street, recognizes this, and therefore design programming in a way that reaches auditory, visual and kinetic learners alike. Students never outgrow their learning styles, so why do traditional college classrooms fail to engage all of them?
This is blended learning’s real strength: it transforms a largely transmissive method of teaching–say, a professor lecturing for what feels like an eternity–into a truly interactive one. It sounds ideal on paper, but does it work? A 2010 meta-analysis published by the U.S. Department of Education suggests it does. According to the report, students exposed to both face-to-face and online education were more successful than students entirely in one camp or the other.
Benefits of Blended Learning
Often there seems to be an “either/or” approach to taking online and face-to-face (F2F) classes. Some students may want the full campus experience of pursuing a degree at a traditional brick and mortar institution, while others want the convenience and flexibility of eLearning. Some programs also offer a blended format in which classes are a mixture of both modalities. There may be a classroom meeting once a week, for instance, with much of the course taking place online. Students may also find that their F2F professors make use of available technology for various activities as well.
Given that both options have advantages for learners that potential employers will find appealing, college students should take both online and F2F courses. Here are four benefits college students can obtain by blending these two modalities.
1.    Enhanced Communication Skills
  Meredith Findling, Resource Manager at Kavalir, provided a list of the “top ten skills employers are looking for” (12 June, 2012). At the top of the list are communication skills, and Findling stated, “Being a clear, concise and effective communicator is critical in the workplace.” In fact, she explained, being able to demonstrate such skills will place college graduates ahead of other applicants. However, virtual and traditional education emphasize different aspects of communication skills that can be harnessed for improvement and gainful employment after graduation.

           Many businesses and professions are becoming increasingly global, necessitating the need for holding telephone conferences, online meetings, and other such activities perhaps among a diverse group of people spread across the globe. Online courses provide an opportunity for students to develop increasing skills in this virtual communication context that almost has no boundaries; therefore, better preparing them for the workplace. Furthermore, online classes require a lot more reading and writing than F2F ones by their very nature. As students complete their assignments, they also increase their skills in written communication. For example, students must read and navigate the course site, follow directions, compose responses, and other such activities.
However, students should keep in mind that even jobs that are remote typically require some in-person events. Employees may have to interview at a company’s home office in person or attend and present at meetings. A F2F course will provide you with practice interacting with others, presenting using the latest technology to share your ideas, and honing your speaking and listening skills.
By combining the benefits of both online and brick and mortar classes, students obtain the communication skills employers are seeking and demonstrate that they can function in either world, the electronic and the human.
2.    Increased Digital Fluency
Findling places “technical skills” at number five on the list of skills employers are looking for. She explained that “most jobs require an understanding of computer hardware and software; including e-mail, word processing and spreadsheets” (12 June, 2012). To see how important this is, review the World Economic Forum’s Global Information Technology Report 2012: Living in a Hyperconnected World. The report covers in detail how rapidly technology is “deeply redefining relationships between individuals, consumers and enterprises, and citizens and governments.” From the individual country sections, you will notice that there is almost no way to avoid needing to become digital fluent in the global economy.
Online classes provide students with full immersion into this virtual world. Students must be able to access the course, utilize its features fully, and perform a host of other tasks on-line. As students advance through the curriculum, they also continually augment their technical skills, becoming increasingly fluent. Elearning offers students a chance to demonstrate what they can do utilizing technology.
On the other hand, F2F classes clearly don’t offer students as much time to hone their skills online. However, they, too, offer some advantages. For example, there has been a tendency to stereotype students into two groups: 1) digital natives, or those born after the start of the Information Age in the late 1980s; and 2) digital immigrants, those born before the start of the Information Age. The assumption is that because the digital immigrants grew up with technology, they are more tech savvy.
However, recent research indicates that the natives may not be as fluent with technology as assumed (c.f. Perez, S., “So-Called ‘Digital Natives’ Not Media Savvy, New Study Shows.” The New York Times. 29 July, 201). The reverse also may be true. The brains of the so-called digital immigrants may rewire themselves for better utilization of technology (e.g., Small, G. et al., “Your Brain on Google: Patterns of Cerebral Activation during Internet Searching.” The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. 17(2), February 2009).
Therefore, one of the advantages of a F2F course is that it provides students some in-person, real time guidance on developing tech skills, such as number two on Findling’s list, “electronic research and analytical skills.” A F2F gathering also provides students with the opportunity to utilize the technology synchronously as a team rather than in isolation from a home computer.
Taking courses in both modalities will help students increase their level of digital fluency.
3.    Expanded Networking
Another basic but important distinction is in professional networking. Online courses often have a student make-up from a large, possibly even global area. For example, students in virtual classes may come from locations around the United States, soldiers stationed overseas, foreign students residing in other countries, etc. These students may have opportunities to participate in class activities with businesses around the nation and the world as well. Therefore, they are already learning how to connect with others globally and virtually.
Traditional brick and mortar courses tend to be more localized or regional. Students may be taking classes with a fairly homogeneous group of peers who come from the same town or state. There may be no interaction with others beyond this area. However, this does have some advantages as students will be getting to know others in or near their own communities.
By blending the online and F2F courses, you will be better networked at the local, regional, and global levels. This should increase your odds at finding gainful employment.
4.    Strengthened Professionalism
         Finally, last month, Forbes contributor Meghan Casserly reported on a study in which 86% of 1,200 large                       companies said they look for “professionalism” in potential employees. The remaining traits on Findling’s list                       explain what this means. Employers want college graduates who can work alone or within a team, possess a                       good ethical compass, be consistently flexible and adaptable, and demonstrate planning and project                                     management skills.
Because students must be self-motivated and disciplined to succeed in an online course—there is no professor standing over them to help them stay on task, virtual learning provides an excellent way to build these skills and demonstrate them for employers. Students must be able to plan their time and course projects in order to do well. In short, online classes demonstrate that a student can be a professional who can work independently and without direct supervision.
On the other hand, F2F classes show potential employers that a student has learned the attributes of professionalism as part of a team. Students may work in-person with others to plan, manage, and complete a project. Students should be able to explain what their role on the team was and how the workload was balanced to accomplish their goal.
While individual professors and programs may blend F2F with electronic delivery of a course, it remains important for students to opt for a mixture of both modalities. Doing so will bring you the skills that potential employers are seeking at a high level. By mixing both online and F2F courses, students can develop the skills of professionalism that employers are looking for in an employee. Therefore, this should help increase their chances of finding gainful employment after graduation.
8 Trends, 8 Opportunities, and 8 Concerns about Blended Learning
The directors of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning are an amazing group of system heads, school operators, philanthropists, and advocates. On Sunday we spent an hour discussing trends, opportunities and areas of concern for the rapidly world of online and blended learning. Following is a quick recap:
1.     Student centered personalized learning—the meta trend and opportunity of our time
2.     Common Core: new expectations and new ways of learning
3.     Eruption of innovative learning tools including adaptive learning systems
4.     Blended learning is catching on with more philanthropic support
5.     Financial picture won’t get much better in most states anytime soon
6.     Interest in performance-based funding—and not just for online classes
7.     Competency-based progress and testing out
8.     Self blending off campus
1.     Common Core implementation that leads to deeper learning
2.     Online assessment starting in most states in 2014-15
3.     Competency based systems that make it easier to manage individual progress
4.     Learning environments and adaptive systems that get better as students learn
5.     De-risking the shift to blended learning
6.     Big data: real time dynamic information for teachers and students
7.     Scaled proof points to drive policy change
8.     Public engagement and elevating the debate
1.     Need to provide a better decision support—a change roadmap
2.     Need to build leadership and support capacity rapidly
3.     Tool set is still 2-3 years behind demand
4.     Variation in virtual school results and the disaggregated data to understand what’s working and not
5.     Potential to confuse failure and iterative development (micro innovation)
6.     Need to better understand how systems change
7.     Some schools will use blended learning as cover for more tech

8.     Insufficient and narrowness of efforts to promote equity