The Challenges and Benefits to Expect When Building Blended Courses
As blended or hybrid courses increase in popularity, there are many factors to consider when deciding whether to create one. On the whole, designing a course in which the students are able to participate in class, submit assignments, and the like—either in a classroom setting or from their very own home or office—offers flexibility and the ability to push learning well beyond traditional approaches.
All the rage among both instructors and students, blended courses allow people from all walks of life to come together and learn.
While the benefits greatly outweigh any potentially negative outcomes, it’s wise to be aware of the challenges you may encounter when creating and launching a blended course.
The following is an overview of some of the benefits and challenges of crafting a blended course.
Tech-Savviness Required (Less Now Than Ever)
One of the most vital elements of creating a blended course is having sufficient knowledge of available technologies as well as the capacity to use them in the most effective manner. Luckily for you, education technologies are focusing more and more on ease of use as a core principle.
But technology is an ever-changing realm. The tools and resources available may drastically change from one semester to the next. Investing the time and energy to stay abreast of technological advances will prove to be well worth it.
Be prepared to research, uncover, and employ modern technologies to incorporate into the course, as a means of making the class more efficient and entertaining as well as generally simpler for students and professors alike.
This is why it’s so important to keep the “usability” of your edtech tools in mind before choosing them as a regular feature within your classroom or institution.
Rewarding Challenges Abound
Creating blended courses is an art that is challenging, but fulfilling. Blended courses are perfect for those who enjoy working in a profession that both challenges their skill sets and rewards their efforts.
The active research essential to creating blended courses makes it an ideal job for anyone who prefers working with innovative technologies, has goals of making the act of pursuing higher education easier and more effective, and possesses the ability to analyze and assess results as a means of revising courses and making them better in the future.
Plus, according to Schoology’s Global State of Digital Learning Survey results, digital learning (including blended courses) increases student engagement which leads to better student outcomes. Digital learning also contributes to increases in student growth and achievement, and it plays a role in increasing faculty growth and effectiveness.
Be Prepared for a Worthwhile Time Investment
Although the goal of blended courses is to allow students and professors a faster and easier way to create a learning community, the actual creation of the course takes time upfront.
You’ll need to leverage your manpower and other resources to learn updated technologies, study various methods of teaching, and fuse them together into a cohesive course that is both engaging and effective. You may find it helpful to hire an assistant or take on a student protégé in order to complete the required research. You can also team up with other instructors in a professional learning community (PLC) to collaborate on building the course.
Aside from collaborating with peers and protégés to create the content for your blended course, you can save time and effort by converting your existing static resources into engaging content. There are also many providers of open educational resources (learn more about using OERs here).
Regardless of the path you take, building blended courses takes time, but the investment up front is worth it for both you and your students.
Develop New Professional Skills
Despite having to scale a learning curve and invest substantial time on the front end, once you have learned to effectively create blended courses, this will lead to an increased level of job security.
Just as blended courses are unique collaborations geared toward making the learning process simpler, course creation also becomes simpler over time. Since blended courses are already beginning to yield demonstrably positive outcomes, it only makes sense that more of these courses will be offered in the future. Thus they will continue to become more common and more in demand. If you are creating courses that include unique ways of tackling a particular subject, your course will become a guiding light within the educational field.
Offer Cutting-Edge Education
Depending on the instructor and nature of the class, the novel nature of blended courses can often be a benefit for everyone involved. Many theories place great emphasis on actively participating in the learning process. In fact, studies have shown blended courses have the ability to increase retention by 60%.
Given the widespread push towards greener living, many also prefer blended courses because e-learning courses consume up to 90% less energy than conventional courses. Therefore, designing courses for students who are motivated to adapt to new formats and technologies may prove to be invaluable to the future of education.
For some older students and students of all ages who are less than tech-savvy, the idea of blended courses could prove to be a harder sell. Students who are not as comfortable with new technologies often fear having to use them on a regular basis.
That’s not to say it can’t be done. In fact, Ariel Margolis, Director of Online Learning at Hebrew College, designed a blended course for members of the "Greatest Generation!" And it was a success.
Overall, creating blended courses has its fair share of pros and cons. In one sense, the use of action research in creating blended courses is ideal in that it allows for the introduction of new concepts and ideas as a means for improving a course. In an age in which people are trying to simultaneously prioritize family, work, and education, finding ways to progress without making a plethora of sacrifices is essential.
Furthermore, the institutions who are in the trenches, so to speak, with regards to the creation of these courses will likely be far ahead of those who simply wait until the process is streamlined and more accessible to the world at large. This means those who choose to create blended learning courses will prove to be instrumental in the coming years.
The research is clear—well designed blended learning is beneficial for students, it’s beneficial for faculty, and it can enable other stakeholders (e.g., advisors, instructional technologists, IT, etc.) to play more critical roles in the learning process.