Blended Learning in Higher Ed: Best Practices for Getting Started
Student engagement is a potential problem for all educators. If students are not engaged with the material, are they learning as effectively as possible?
When you picture engagement at the K-12 level, you may picture students moving around the room completing tasks or activities, or instructors guiding a student-centered classroom versus a "stand and deliver" style lecture.
However, what does student engagement look like at the university level and how is it best facilitated?
Click here read the article (and study) about why blended learning in higher ed is a necessity, not an option.
Blended learning, which is a mix of traditional classroom presentations and online material, may offer a key for instructors who want high student engagement in their courses. Students often become passive passengers in their university education—they are content to sit and listen to a lecture, not ask questions, and take in what their instructors are presenting without truly interacting with the material.
Blended learning aims to have students become more active participants in their classes by mixing online instruction with face-to-face contact to deliver a more well-rounded and engaging class experience. For educators looking to increase student engagement, as well as student performance, let's examine some of the ways blended learning can be implemented in the classroom.
Key Elements of Blended Learning
If increasing student engagement at the university level is a priority, how can educators implement blended instruction into their classrooms?
As with every new technology-based initiative, it is important to note that quality pedagogy and a clear, defined focus of student-based outcomes is still the first priority behind any teaching method. Reliable assessments to foster feedback on performance as well as creating a community of learning within the classroom are equally important in implementing blended instruction.
If these portions are not well-balanced and well-connected, then students will see the online portion of the course instruction as essentially another piece of a heavy workload instead of an important portion of the course's structure.
What's the Best Mix of Online and In-Person Material?
Even experienced educators may struggle with the correct balance when first incorporating blended learning into their classrooms. Deciding which portions of your curriculum are right for independent learning and which portions need more time for discussion and collaboration may take some trials and errors before finding the correct mix. Overhauling an entire course and its delivery takes an increased time commitment.
For educators who are just beginning to implement this approach, one technique is to have students preview material or concepts online before coming to class, so that a discussion can be centered around a common knowledge base. The in-person class discussion is the place where higher-order questioning and checks for understanding can take place based on the material presented during the online portion. Listening to student feedback, as well as examining their assessments, is perhaps the best gauge for educators to see how well blended learning is working in their instruction.
Potential Challenges and Solutions to Incorporating Blended Learning in the Classroom
The Time Investment Up Front
For educators who are not tech savvy, creating a blended learning environment can seem like a daunting challenge. While edtech is increasingly become more user-friendly, you will be the one to create the online content (unless you take advantage of OERs) as well as pinpoint any technical issues that will arise.
Seek out professional development in these areas and reach out to colleagues who may also be interested in this form of instruction or who are already implementing it in their curriculum. By creating a professional learning community focused on blended instruction, you will be working with a team of professionals who are equipped to assist with questions and concerns as you begin shifting your content delivery.
Setting Expectations for Students and Your Course
Direct, explicit instruction at the beginning of the course on how to find online material and conduct one's self online in an academic setting are also critical to the success of blended learning. Do not assume that just because students tend ot thrive in tech-driven environments that they know how this translates into an educational setting.
Student accountability, as well as classroom relevance, are also potential issues that may arise. If there is no accountability for completing the online assignments, or if students do not see a point in doing the online work, then the purpose of a blended learning environment is lost.
Based on an action research study by Jane Kenney and Ellen Newcombe from West Chester University, assigning a grade based on the complexity of the online assignment, as well as making sure that the content connects to in-class work, are critical in this format.
Making the Shift to Blended Learning is Worth It
Any pedagogical shift in the classroom takes time, patience, and proper resources in order to succeed. Blended learning prepares students for using technology in a purposeful way and not simply for uploading selfies, checking social media or playing games. It also allows students the time to engage with material at their own pace and make connections both with their peers and instructor for deep, meaningful learning.
While there are challenges that come with this pedagogical shift, the benefits of effective blended learning far outweigh the risks. So whether you're in higher education, K-12, or even in the corporate sector, finding meaningful ways to incorporate technology into the learning process to some degree should more of a priority than just a consideration.