To blend or not to blend?

Blended learning isn’t a new concept in the Higher Ed world. Everyone knows blended learning can provide massive benefits to student learning outcomes and experience – and many universities across Australia are already knee-deep into the process of filtering blended learning practices throughout their courses.

At Blended Learning 2014, it was pretty clear that everyone there was aware what blended is all about. But the big question educators in the room were wrestling with is how to actually design an effective blend.

“The question is not whether to blend or not to blend. It’s how do we design an effective blend which is the big question we are trying to grapple with,” said Professor Amanda Carbone from Monash University in this morning’s keynote address.

So what goes into designing an effective ‘blend’?

According to Professor Carbone there are two major considerations:

  1. How do you decide on the proportion of online to face-to-face components to incorporate into the blended course?
  2. How do you decide on what is the most appropriate delivery method?

When it comes to deciding online versus face-to-face learning, Shane Jeffery, A/Manager New Learning Technologies at TAFE New South Western Sydney Institute says online must be developed first to get the best results – for both students and teachers.

“The reason that we strive for an online first mentality is because it gives us the most options for our customers. Build online once as best as possible then use that core resource as many ways as you can. It’s then up to the skill of the teacher to take that online resource and make it meaningful for students in different locations,” he said.

Another concept which has been explored over the course of the conference, is ‘learning design’ as a tool for creating a good ‘blend.’

James Dalziel, founder of LAMS at Macquarie University, believes learning design can play a big role in helping to determine how to incorporate online and face-to-face learning into a course.

“Learning design has a lot to offer as a blended learning as an area, but what really matters is what is the key thing you want to achieve with students? When is technology most useful and when is face-to-face contact most useful? That’s the decision that determines which bits of the learning design will be online or face-to-face,” he said.

Overall it’s clear blended has a bright future in Higher Ed, but it will come down to the way we design blended that will have the real impact on student learning in the future.

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