The Rise of Blended Learning and How to Make it a Reality
The rise of new pedagogies such as blended learning, flipped classrooms, and engaged classrooms have been the talk amongst faculty and administrators for some time. How faculty embrace or don’t embrace these concepts may depend on a variety of issues such as unwillingness, steep learning curve, and lack of understanding.
Despite the reason for resistance, embracing blended learning is increasingly less of an option and more of a necessity in higher education.
Higher education is changing. As institutions seek to better meet the needs of a student population with increasingly high expectations of their education, many faculty are finding that not embracing such changes in pedagogy is leaving them behind.
Because of this, faculty across disciplines may be feeling pressure from institutions to increase productivity, however it is measured on different campuses. This productivity may take the form of teaching more classes, teaching larger classes, teaching different classes, increasing administrative duties, or increasing research.
An industry that dates back to 1150 has remained virtually unchanged—until now. The way content has been delivered and assessed is being challenged on every front. Universities filled with faculty who stand in front of a room filled with students and lecture on his or her subject of expertise are gone. Institutions assessing these students through oral or written essays are fewer and fewer in number.
For many reasons—from technology having changed the way we live and learn to accrediting agencies pushing for further justification of learning—faculty and administrators have to address teaching and learning differently. Further, as competition from online providers, MOOCs, and international institutions increases, faculty are feeling the pressure to remain relevant to prepare for the changes that are here today and for those coming soon.
Why Blended Learning? Why Now?
For faculty, the shift from traditional lecture-based teaching and test-based assessment to a more blended style of learning may occur for a number of reasons. These faculty are seeking a more efficient way to do their job, a way to increase productivity without increasing effort. Faculty may also seek ways in which to innovate delivery of materials to maintain relevance to their customers.
The push for innovation is also being strongly encouraged by accreditation agencies across the world. For these faculty, the shift to a blended style of learning often proves harder than it may appear on the surface.
Faculty are often unfamiliar with learning management systems (LMS), many having never taught or learned through one. The challenges they face can be thought of in the old adage: “The more we learn, the more we learn we don’t know.”
Simply transferring notes or slides to an LMS does not translate to learning. Colleges and universities that have embraced online learning generally understand that the frameworks for delivery are different and take a considerable amount of time to think through, develop, build, and test prior to “going live” with a course. Further, they provide faculty with the resources to be successful. Without support, some faculty find this a daunting task.
Making Blended Learning a Reality
If you’ve ever attended a workshop, professional development session, or conference presentation on the topic of developing online courses, you are aware of its complexity. The transition to a blended classroom needs two resources: time and an easy-to-use LMS. Without either, the process of blending teaching styles will be increasingly challenging.
The main difference with blending classes hinges on a thoughtful consideration of how to develop materials to meet course learning objectives while also supporting different learning styles of students. Development of a fully online course should be allotted a full six months for construction, revision, and review, which can be problematic for faculty already tasked with a full workload.
The solution? Take one objective at a time. Consider how your students actually learn, the ways they prefer to gather information, and give them a try. Throughout the course of the year, keep a log of notes, thoughts of inspiration, and suggestions from peers to use in the following year. Use the summer as time to create. Although the summer doesn’t provide a full 6 months, it is the closest time outside a sabbatical that many faculty can secure.
On the other side of a blended classroom is the learner. While some faculty may resist the need to change for many reasons, it is undeniable that the student is changing. Faculty should consider meeting the student where he or she is, understanding his or her needs and learning style. Although the use of a singular technology may not produce the golden ticket for learning, the advantage of a blended classroom is the flexibility to offer a variety of learning environments to match the variety of students.
With some time, patience, trial, and error, the use of blended classrooms affords a number of opportunities to improve teaching pedagogy and student learning.
About the Author
Dr. Cate Loes is an Assistant Professor of Management at the Jack C. Massey College of Business Administration at Belmont University in Nashville, TN, where she has been a faculty member since 2004. She is also an instructor for the Center of Executive Education at Belmont, specializing in business communications, listening and writing, generational issues, and time management.
She graduated from North Dakota State University with a BS in Mass Communications and Speech Communications. She earned an MBA from the Jack C. Massey Graduate School of Business and her Doctorate of Management from the University of Maryland.
Dr. Loes uses the Schoology LMS to support a blended learning model in her courses.