Blended learning has been necessary for survival over the past year. The good news is, it is providing educators with a way to enhance student experience and engagement as well.
The incremental trickle towards blended learning in education turned into an unstoppable dam break in 2020. Now, educators are rethinking the role blended learning will play in the future, while discovering first-hand the added advantages it has for student experience and engagement.
What does blended learning actually mean?
Blended learning is the integration of online and face-to-face learning as part of a student’s holistic journey with an education provider. Also known as hybrid or mixed mode learning, it aims to make the best use of both place-based learning and new technology to support student outcomes.
This means a lot of different things in practice. For example, it could mean ‘flipping’ a classroom so students consume lecture-style material before meeting for a face-to-face workshop, or group project work online using an LMS to enhance peer-to-peer learning outside of contact hours.
How blended learning enhances the student experience
Though traditional modes of learning are proven and powerful, educators looking at the student experience realise the layers of advantage blended learning can provide. These include:
1) Learning flexibility and access
Blended models offer flexibility to students of all ages entering into and undertaking learning. Whether a student is a full-time undergraduate in higher education or is fitting study in mid-career at an RTO while working part-time and raising a family, blended learning models allow portions of learning to be consumed via online technologies in a time and place that suits the learner. Reinforced through self-directed or group activities in curated online environments, students can then further their understandings with face-to-face discussion and discovery when face-to-face.
2) Communication and collaboration
Students can expand and deepen their communication and collaboration with peers and teachers. Leveraging technologies like Learning Management Systems, educators can enrich contact among peers online through the duration of a course. While extending the sense of belongingness and camaraderie that comes with enrolment in a cohort in any course to the online world, students also gain access to enhanced levels of support, feedback and access through connection to teachers.
3) Personalisation and intelligence
Blended learning can be more personalised. Through the curation of quality learning resources and extension of the ‘flipped classroom’ in an online environment, students could be encouraged to follow their own curiosity, and even consume them at their own pace. This activity can also generate data with a range of benefits, including guiding students to new insights, reinforcing learning in areas of weakness through reminders, or showing student progress to facilitate targeted support.
4) Digital learning and engagement
Blended formats enable learners to consume and consolidate learning in a variety of ways, including graphic, audio, video and interactive or ‘gamified’ learning content. With the growth of even more advanced digital learning technologies like VR (virtual reality) into the future and the ubiquity of digital technologies outside of education, it is becoming increasingly expected among both students and teachers that digital learning technologies and assets become a part of the learning journey of students, to further learning outcomes but also to engage the students themselves.
To blend or not to blend?
A meta-analysis of 40 years of blended learning research found in 2015 that it achieved better outcomes for students. “Essentially, all selected studies concluded that in situations where students experienced blended learning instruction, student academic achievement was higher than that of students who experienced a fully face-to-face or fully online learning mode.”
While blended learning is not for every course or education provider, the advantages and evidence supporting the future blended learning is only increasing over time, even while the technologies supporting this effectiveness continue to improve. In the end – for the reasons outlined above – this can only serve to enhance the student experience, supporting success and outcomes.