Blended learning

What is it?

Blended learning is essentially
the thoughtful integration of classroom face-to-face learning experiences with online learning experiences
(Garrison and Kanuka, 2004).
While the details could be contested (e.g., what about online face-to-face learning?) this definition is generally used throughout research and scholarship.

What are the benefits?

The main affordances attributed to blended learning are:

  • Communities of inquiry: blended learning can help to create a community of inquiry by providing space where reflection, dialogue and interaction can take place at any time and via diverse media.
  • Student responsibility: students take responsibility for engaging with learning materials and with active learning (e.g. shared responsibility for construction of meaning and understanding during an online discussion).
  • Access and flexibility: students and tutors have more choice in when, where and how they will interact with materials, discussions and activities; accessibility can be built in (e.g. transcripts, screen-reader-friendly text, documents that can be reformatted).
  • Long-term efficiencies: digital resources can: replace repetitive face-to-face instruction, allow students to review information multiple times, test students on their understanding, provide reusable learning objects and templates, etc.

Garrison and Kanuka (2004), Vaughan et al (2013)

Bernard et al (2014) and Means (2013), in their quantitative reviews of research comparing blended learning with face-to-face, found significant improvement in student performance correlated with the former. In their literature review and primary research, Owston et al (2013) found that student satisfaction was consistently higher in blended courses versus face-to-face.

What are the drawbacks?

As with most learning innovations, time is the main issue for those wishing to implement blended learning. It can be time-consuming to develop a blended module, create the resources, design assessments, inculturate students into their new community of inquiry, and evaluate the results. If designed carefully, however, blended learning’s short-term losses could lead to long-term time savings.

How can I implement blended learning?

We recommend that you:

  1. Have a look at the case studies and research provided here, and perhaps find some scholarship in blended learning applied to your particular subject area.
  2. Make sure that you are clear about the purpose of implementing blended learning; this could involve learning outcomes, key skills, developmental goals for your departments’ students, university strategy, accrediting body requirements, etc.
  3. Have a chat with your faculty’s learning technologist about what you are trying to achieve, and the pedagogical and practical aspects of achieving it.
  4. Develop a plan (however general or specific) for designing your blended learning, taking into account any new resources, guides for students and/or digital spaces that you need to create.
  5. Think about how you will evaluate the learning at the end.

References and further reading

Bernard, R.M., Borokhovski, E., Schmid, R.F., Tamim, R.M. and Abrami, P.C., 2014. A meta-analysis of blended learning and technology use in higher education: from the general to the applied. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 26(1), pp.87-122.

Garrison, D.R. and Kanuka, H., 2004. Blended learning: Uncovering its transformative potential in higher educationThe internet and higher education, 7(2), pp.95-105.

Means, B., Toyama, Y., Murphy, R. and Baki, M., 2013. The effectiveness of online and blended learning: A meta-analysis of the empirical literature. Teachers College Record, 115(3), pp.1-47.

Owston, R., York, D. and Murtha, S., 2013. Student perceptions and achievement in a university blended learning strategic initiativeThe Internet and Higher Education, 18, pp.38-46.

Vaughan, N.D., Cleveland-Innes, M. and Garrison, D.R., 2013. Teaching in blended learning environments: Creating and sustaining communities of inquiry. Athabasca University Press.


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