In this chapter, we begin to focus on the implementation of blended learning, providing central principles for planning blended learning in keeping with the ideas and theories presented in Chapters 1 and 2. Chapter 4 will provide more concrete instructional design examples to use when actually creating blended courses.
The most effective blended learning design offers a learner-centered approach that is personalisable and accessible (Baldwin-Evans, 2006), with the best designs integrating a range of learning opportunities that allow learners more control over their formal and informal learning actions. The most impactful blended learning:
- follows training for teachers in using in-person activities and technology, and creating the right blend of activities for deep, meaningful learning, and
- Includes opportunities for students to adjust to the online learning environment, and new principles for teachers to consider when thinking about teaching and learning, both online and in person.
Here we will look at each of these factors in turn, outlining a design process grounded in a set of principles and a theoretical framework to guide you in developing an appropriate blend of online and in-person activities and an effective learning environment.
Preparing for Blended Learning
For several decades, technology has been purchased and provided to schools and classrooms, often without careful planning for usage. Technological developments and opportunities raced ahead of our ability to understand how to use the devices so that both students and teachers could engage in collaborative deep and meaningful learning.
However, blended learning is more than technology in the classroom. According to Beams (2017) and others, “introducing technology for the sake of technology doesn’t work.” She suggests a specific process, one that includes the following:
- Focus on the pedagogy, and identify the benefits of blended learning design and delivery in your specific situation. In this way, the design and delivery may provide excellent outcomes and high student engagement and satisfaction. No technology for its own sake; no blended learning without benefits. Start by defining exactly what blended learning means for you and your students, based on the type of course, the subject and the students’ background, and as you decide what activities to offer in person and what activities to offer online, keep these things in mind. See the Blended Learning Design Template in Appendix 2.
- Choose your technology carefully so that all learning activities that are not in person are well- suited to the needs of the subject matter and the students. The technology and the activities must support the blended environment. Comfort and competence with the technology has to be demonstrated before the learning activities commence. Technology that supports blended learning will support (1) flexibility and personalization for students, allowing them to learn in their own way at their own pace, and (2) activity monitoring by the teacher through learning analytics and electronic assignment submission. What the students do in person must be linked to what they do online and vice versa. Well-timed feedback balanced with supported learner independence is a keystone of successful blended learning.
- Remember the curriculum. What are the outcomes of the programe and the course? What outcomes are in the hidden curriculum (writing skills, language, social skills, etc.)? Remember the lab rotation model, station rotation model, flexible model and virtual model. Ask yourself whether this course in this programme is appropriate for blended delivery. Do any of the common models work, or will you design your own? This is a key consideration: in all blended models, flexibility, student choice and opportunities to learn about learning should be included.
- Create a detailed syllabus with documented learning outcomes, descriptions of technology devices, clear delivery methods, explicit engagement opportunities, and assignments aligned with learning outcomes. Have the syllabus reviewed by experienced colleagues and blended learning experts. Blended learning can be expensive and time consuming, but particularly so when errors are made; this detailed planning makes errors less likely.
We summarise this section with a quotation from Beams (2017):
Start the process by looking at what type of digital programmes and resources will support your curriculum, instruction, and vision for blended learning. What devices or what type of technology are you going to use? What does the related professional development look like? And, how are we going to support teachers and students through the transition? One of the great things about a blended learning environment — though it’s probably the hardest part — occurs when teachers can let go of the control in their room and let the students thrive. (n.p.)
Consider the Creation of Individual Blended Learning Designs
Given this emphasis on context-specific design, there is clearly no prescription, no one size that fits all for the creation of blended learning. Rather, it requires careful analysis of the in-person, classroom teaching and learning with which you may already be familiar, along with the additional flexibility, access and new modes of learning made possible through the use of technology, particularly the Internet.
The delivery of a course using both in-person and online activity for the student must be designed with reference to the students taking the course, the amount of experience they have with different types of learning and their access to technology. “Instructional design considers the learner, learning outcomes, the content of what is to be learned, instructional strategies, and results of instructional interventions” (McGee & Reis, 2012, p. 17).
As teaching and learning experts, you will engage in the following activities to create an appropriate “blend” of in-person and online activities for your courses (McGee & Reis, 2012):
- Start by writing student-centered learning outcomes. These can influence the environment of the content delivery and learning activities and how these are connected together and assessed (online or in person).
- Create a syllabus with a course schedule that clearly communicates when and where students will engage with content and learning activities. Blended learning requires the development of self-directed learning and time-management skills, so students need to know what the expectations and deadlines are.
- Consider what you will do and what your students will do, and when and where. Blended courses are most effective when both online and in-person activities are intense, engaging and challenging. The two modes of delivery must link to and complement each other.
- Avoid creating a course and a half. Just adding online activities to a traditional course will increase the workload for teachers and students. Creating a blended course should be viewed as a complete redesign where the time and place of each component is carefully selected.
- Consider what is to be accomplished by using learning technologies in person or online: sharing of course content, group work, peer assessment, question facilitation, fostering community. Make sure to choose technology that fits the level of technical expertise of you and the students and supports course objectives.
Purposefully Integrate In-Class and Online Activities
One strategy to structure a purposeful and effective mix of in-person and online activities as outlined above is to use the teaching, social and cognitive presences of the Community of Inquiry theoretical framework to assist your design.
The Figure 3.1. lists the three presences and their sub-categories, with bolded elements suggested as particularly suitable to each modality. Selecting the elements you may wish to highlight from each modality will help you design a blend of activities appropriate for your own teaching and learning situation.
In addition to the design of activities, the framework above introduces us to the second main factor of impactful blended learning design in this chapter: the design of opportunities for students to adjust to online learning, as well as new principles for teachers to consider when thinking about their teaching and learning.
Figure 3.1. Activities in blended learning
Preparing Students for Blended Learning
Although it might not normally be a teacher’s job to help students adjust to changes in society, it does normally fall to the teacher to support students when moving online in blended learning environments
In a study by Cleveland-Innes, Garrison and Kinsel (2007), five areas of adjustment were noted by novice online students: a different type of interaction or communication, a new role for the instructor, a new identity as a learner, challenges with the technology, and a unique design for learning. In keeping with the Community of Inquiry framework, we noted the following adjustments in reference to the three presences.
- Cognitive Presence: Learners voiced concern regarding their adjustment to contributing to online content discussions that lack the visual cues available in face-to-face interaction. Some mentioned their fear of being misunderstood or saying something wrong. First-time online learners also reported an adjustment to assuming more responsibility for their own understanding of the material without direct instruction from the professors. Concern was voiced that without more direction from the instructor, it became necessary to rely on fellow students for interpretation, and this could lead to uncertainty or dissatisfaction with learning outcomes.Several learners commented that their participation in online discussions was greater than in a traditional classroom, where they were often shy and reluctant to speak up, while others re-ported a feeling of intimidation when they perceived that classmates had a greater understanding of the concepts or dominated the forum discussions.
- Social Presence: First-time online learners need time to get comfortable communicating via text and to adjust to expressing emotion and communicating openly where no visual or other non-textual cues are available. Some appreciated connections with other learners in small group activities, while others found this difficult. Being real and sharing their ideas and personalities takes practice and support for novice online learners.
- Teaching Presence: Many indicated that a more visible teacher presence at the beginning of the course would ease their adjustment to the online environment, as the instructor is more of a facilitator than a purveyor of knowledge. Some reported that they needed to assume more responsibility for their own learning outcomes. Others expressed concern that the students were left to discuss content on their own without assistance from the instructor to let them know whether they were on the right track.
Teaching Principles that Support Blended Learning
Blended learning is more than just a combination of delivery methods; it includes a new way of thinking about teaching and learning. First, new information and communications technology means that it is much easier to support student engagement and collaboration. Based on the Community of Inquiry theoretical framework introduced by Garrison, Anderson and Archer (2000), active learning by the student is part of the design. In addition, there is an active role for the teacher to work toward active cognitive and social presence in person and online. Different from the lecturer role as expert in traditional face-to-face teaching, or the role of tutor or facilitator in traditional distance education, a “blended” teacher is actively and collaboratively designing, facilitating and directing learning.
Second, teaching presence in blended learning environments is guided by specific principles of practice. These seven principles build on long-standing teaching requirements. However, they include principles that address connecting with students via new information and communications technologies. Be aware that “just blending face-to-face learning with information technologies cannot provide effective teaching and efficient solutions for learning” (Hadjerrouit, 2008, p. 184). It takes a new approach to teaching and learning to create a successful blended learning environment. The following principles, in support of all three elements or “presences” in blended learning, are presented as a foundation for design, organization, facilitation and direct instruction in blended learning environments
- Design for open communication and trust. This principle refers to one-on-one interaction between teacher and student as well as communication to the whole group and between students. Open communication means all matters related to the course and course material are available for discussion. Concerns are raised openly by teachers or students. Agreeing at the start of the course what the rules or norms are for communication is helpful in making the learning environment open and trustworthy. For example, one rule might be “we respect everyone’s opinion” or “everyone gets the chance to talk.” Trust in a learning environment comes from knowing the rules,having teachers who are responsive and timely when needed, and treating everyone politely and fairly.
- Design for critical reflection and discourse. In contemporary society, it is important that students learn to think carefully about what they believe to be true, and to share their ideas carefully and thoughtfully. First, students need the opportunity to reflect during the course. This means being able to identify their thoughts and feelings when responding to course content in relation to their own experiences, opinions, events or new information. It is a way to consider their own learning and the amount and type of knowledge they are gaining. To do this critically means to carry out the reflective exercise with purpose and care, asking themselves whether what they are thinking and feeling is accurate.
- Create and sustain a sense of community. The opportunity to learn together, and even teach each other in a peer-teaching setting, is an example of social learning. According to theory by Vygotsky (1978), learning is enhanced through collaborative engagement of learning with others. As learners review and share the course material through online postings, the ensuing dialogue (whether in person or online) is where knowledge is constructed and assimilated. However, support from expert others (the teachers) supports this interaction among students, allowing them to proceed with confidence and realise learning that may not have occurred if the dialogue was limited to amateurs (the students themselves). Community supports this kind of activity. Teachers can support the development of healthy community relations by allowing for and encouraging open communication, setting norms or working together early in the course, and ensuring connections are made among all in the learning group.
- Support purposeful inquiry. Inquiry-based learning refers to active intellectual processing during learning. This is meant to be in contrast to passive acceptance and memorisation of presented facts and information. The inquiry originates with an issue, problem, question, exploration or topic that provides opportunities to create or produce something that contributes to the world’s knowledge. Just like the blended learning environment, inquiry teaching and learning requires a variety of roles and perspectives. Teachers provide more facilitation of learning than direct instruction. Students are offered multiple, flexible ways to approach the problem, issue or question under study that use methods of inquiry central to the underlying discipline. The inquiry leads students to build knowledge that brings about deep understanding.
- Ensure students sustain collaboration. Sustained collaboration in the development of new knowledge for learners is a recent addition to education practices. The need for students to work collaboratively refers not only to new ways of learning and remembering course material, but also to skills required for graduates, who must live and work in a complex, interconnected social and economic world. This can be difficult to accomplish in large classes, but technology provides new opportunities for project-based group work. Blended learning presents more ways to offer connections and communication among students as ways to sustain collaboration, both in person and online.
- Ensure that inquiry moves to resolution. The components of the CoI presences will be explained further in Chapter 4. Resolution is one of these components, the end of the practical inquiry process that defines cognitive presence. Facilitation becomes more directive and the teacher moves students to complete, or resolve, the inquiry under study. Here, the teacher is specifically tasked with ensuring systematic and disciplined investigation that moves participants through the inquiry phases in a timely manner.
- Ensure assessment is congruent with intended learning outcomes. Planning detailed learning outcomes, ensuring the design of activities that lead to attaining these outcomes and, most importantly, ensuring their alignment with learning assessment are the marks of a sound and effective blended learning environment. There are three broad types of assessment available when designing blended learning. The first is self-assessment. Students are encouraged, supported or mandated to reflect on and measure their own learning progress throughout the course. Peer-assessment can be informal and formative, with students responding to each other’s work in individual or group assignments, or it can be formal and summative, where peer evaluation is used as part of the grade for a course. Third, teacher assessment through assignments and examinations should be explicit, well-articulated in reference to learning outcomes, and rubric-driven such that students are clear as to why they received the grade given to their work. Ideally, mastery assessment is offered, whereby students may or must redo assignments or exams until they reach a level of mastery.
In this chapter, we considered two main factors for impactful blended learning design.
First, we recognized that introducing technology for technology’s sake does not work and that teachers need guidance in both using the technology and creating the right blend of activities for deep, meaningful learning. Beams (2017) provided us with a design process emphasizing the importance of defining our particular learning situation when selecting our blended model, online and in-person activities, and accessible technologies. We then considered five additional design activities based on clearly defining our learning outcomes and goals, and finally the role the Community of Inquiry framework can play in selecting design elements for each modality according to the teaching, social and cognitive presences.
We then turned to the second main factor for impactful blended learning — the design of opportunities for students to adjust to online learning — as well as new principles for teaching and learning. Moving online in blended learning environments poses a number of challenges for the novice online learner, including new forms of interaction and communication that often lack visual or non-textual cues, and new roles for both learners and teachers. Addressing these challenges requires a new way of thinking about teaching and learning in which technology is used to support student engagement and collaboration. Seven principles were presented for creating open, collaborative and reflective communities of inquiry, leading to learner resolution and assessment.
Together, these two main factors — the selection of relevant activities, both in-person and online, and the creation of learner-centered communities of inquiry — are fundamental to the design of impactful blended learning. In the next chapter, we will dig more deeply into this design process, including the development of learning objectives, outcomes and lesson plans.
- Using the four headings in Beams’ (2017) design process, describe the most important factors that should be considered when designing blended learning solutions for your own course or programme.
- Apply the CoI to reflect on a blend of design elements suitable for your own course or programme. If you like, expand on this selection by developing a syllabus to create an individual blended learning design.
- What challenges do you see your own students facing in the move to online learning? What practical steps would you take to create a learner-centered CoI that meets the seven principles described above?
Resources for Further Reading
Stacey, E., & Gerbic, P. (2008). Success factors for blended learning. In Hello! Where are you in the landscape of educational technology? Proceedings ASCILITE Melbourne 2008 (pp. 964–968). Retrieved from: https://www.ascilite.org/conferences/melbourne08/procs/stacey.pdf
These authors provide an overview of blended earning and its need in, and impact on, contemporary education. The paper identifies the requirements for successful blended learning for the institution, the teacher and the students. The authors speak of pedagogical considerations, emphasizing how important it is to provide a seamless blend of learning activities in virtual and place-based settings. They also offer good suggestions for future research.