Key Strategies for Getting Started with Blended Learning
Blended learning— a combination of traditional classroom instruction and online material—is a hot topic in education. Educators know student engagement is critical for students to acquire, retain, and master new information. Blended learning can offer a potential solution to the problem of low engagement by giving students more ownership over their learning and allowing time in class to discuss issues that may have come up during the independent learning assignments.
However, how does an educator who is new to the practice of blended learning begin to integrate this strategy with a high level of fidelity and success? Let's examine a few different strategies in action that have been shown to foster high student engagement and successful assessment results.
Beginning Steps: Changing the Narrative
As with all major curriculum decisions, it's important to keep the end goals of increased student engagement and performance in mind. Plan out learning objectives from the student's perspective—what should students know and be able to do by the end of your course? By shifting the focus of the course from the instructor's goals to the student’s, the educator is in the correct frame of mind to implement blended learning practices.
Now that student objectives are set, examine your content to determine how students can achieve these goals. More than likely, there are multiple ways. Here is where you’ll find areas that are perfect for blended learning opportunities, in which students can have more autonomy to work with your content in a way that may work best with their learning preference. Again, this focus on student-centered learning is key when looking to increase student engagement.
Key Pieces of Blended Learning Format
According to the University of Florida's Blended Learning Toolkit, true blended learning is not a small supplement to an existing course—it requires a shift in curriculum design. What elements need to be in place for a course to be seen as a model of blended learning?
Live events—this covers the "in-person" portion of blended learning. Classroom lectures, live video chats, in-class debates or whole group discussions all fall under this heading.
Self-Paced Learning—activities or assignments where students guide themselves. An online tutorial, practicing math problems, or annotating a chapter in a textbook are all examples of self-paced learning.
Collaboration—students communicate with each other through online discussion forums on your LMS or in-class during structured activities.
Assessment—how an educator determines whether or not students have mastered concepts and content. While traditional tests and quizzes are fine, students can also demonstrate what they know through completing a project or presentation.
Support Materials—any additional materials that supplement the course and its content, either online or in paper form.
The combination of these five essential elements is the recipe for overhauling a course's design and structure to make it a true model of blended learning.
Focus on Meaningful Implementation, Not Just Extra Work
Changing the format and delivery of a course is not an easy undertaking—be prepared for it to take up to three to six months to completely overhaul an entire course. Some educators add even more to their already busy workload by planning assignments and activities that make the course a lot of extra work on both ends. If students see this as a "course and a half," your attempt at blended learning will actually decrease student engagement. Simply adding online assignments is not the sole purpose of blended learning.
The goal of blended learning is to increase student engagement and enhance students' classroom experiences. Working with these objectives in mind, it's time to examine the class schedule, structure, alignment, and assessments that are required. What elements would you like students to do independently in the form of online assignments, and what topics would benefit from in-person discussion and collaboration?
For example, if a student learning objective for your course is that they will be able to analyze and criticize the works of Shakespeare, looking closely at the unit will reveal areas that work well for self-guided study, and places where a lively discussion will benefit student understanding. Assessments can also be formatted so that students have a chance to demonstrate their knowledge in more than one format, perhaps through an online discussion, video, piece of artwork, or in-class debate.
Evaluate and Adapt
Feedback from students will also be a critical component as you begin your journey to implement blended learning. You can set up quick surveys for students to take at a few points throughout your course or one larger one at the end.
Focus survey questions on the processes and format of the course and how students felt it helped them succeed. This will help as you move forward with pacing, time allotted for in-class activities, and the amount of work required outside of class.
Anytime educators face the prospect of "reinventing the wheel," it seems like a daunting task. However, if the goal of this reinvention is to create self-sufficient, motivated, and active learners, the objective outweighs the amount of work required to get that wheel rolling. Blended learning leads to increased student engagement and achievement, which is enough to influence colleagues who may step into your office and say, "Tell me more about what you're doing right!"