Blended Learning is yet another new phrase that we have been hearing more and more of over the past 8 weeks or so. Its not a new phrase, it has been around since the 1960s, but back then it was confined to the US colleges with mainframe computers. So why during the covid-19 pandemic has it suddenly become a potential central pillar in our education system?
There is a lot of debate as to the exact definition, but the consensus is it is an approach to education that combines online educational materials and interaction online with traditional place-based classroom methods. All agree that it MUST include physical face-to-face interaction between teacher and student.
Researcher Norm Friesen suggests that, in its current form, blended learning “designates the range of possibilities presented by combining Internet and digital media with established classroom forms that require the physical co‐presence of teacher and students”.
It is this physical requirement that differentiates blended learning from online learning.
It is reasonable to expect that as blended learning grew organically there are different ways in which it is applied, here are a few:
Teacher Driven – the teacher is the main provider, mostly physically teaching face to face, backed up with online supports
Rotation – the students rotate through a combination of classroom based teaching and independent online study
Flex – students mainly learn on an online platform, but teachers are available to meet physically to provide support or if the student needs to talk through or consult with them.
Blended learning models can even be blended together! Many institutions use a combination of models to best provide for their students’ needs.
The blended learning model can be made of many different digital components including teacher-delivered content, e-learning, webinars, conference calls, or live or online sessions with teachers. The advent of social media has expanded the options to include Facebook, Instagram, e-mail, texts, WhatsApp, blogs, podcasting, Twitter, YouTube, Skype, Zoom and no doubt more will develop over the years.
The Irish National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) is a 10-level, single national entity through which all learning achievements may be measured and related to each other. Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) is responsible for developing, promoting, and maintaining the Irish NFQ. In 2018 they issued guidelines applicable to all types of providers providing blended learning programmes leading to awards recognised within the NFQ.
Since March, online learning has become the norm! With the prospect of social distancing remaining in place in the medium to long term, blended learning will become part of the school experience. Students, in reduced numbers will attend class physically part of the time as well as doing schoolwork remotely using technology. Work will need to be done by the Department of Education and Skills to ensure uniformity of deliverance by teachers and to prevent a two-tiered system of education evolving. Disadvantaged children cannot become even more disadvantaged through a lack of access suitable technology. Access to strong, reliant broadband is a need shared by all students and the swift completion of the National Broadband Plan must now be prioritised.
Interestingly, research has shown that blended learning tends to have better outcomes than either purely online courses or traditional face to face teaching! It allows students to work at their own pace, making sure they fully understand new concepts before moving on replacing the model where a teacher stands in front of the classroom and everyone is expected to stay at the same pace. However, this may be more appropriate to secondary and college students. A classroom environment that incorporates blended learning naturally requires learners to demonstrate more autonomy, self-regulation, and independence to succeed. Good study skills will be essential.
That said, younger children are digital natives and are better than most adults in using laptops, phones, and tablets to access information. They have no hesitation in going to You Tube and watching/learning how to do something new. Perhaps with blended learning, the learning experience will go both ways, with adults and children learning from each other!
To learn more about how Hummingbird Learning Centre can help with the study skills needed for blended learning, contact Elaine on 087-2996054 or through their website www.hummingbirdlearning.com