Blended learning refers to the use of multiple methods and instruments in education and training. It is most commonly used to refer to a hybrid model of instruction that combines face to face instruction in a classroom setup along with digital learning systems. Blended learning as an education strategy has rapidly infiltrated the sector and several institutions are looking to employ multi-channel learning systems to enhance learning, student performance and making learning more personalised and customised. The applications of blended learning are not limited to any stage of education and are employed from elementary school stages till higher education. With technology permeating all arenas of life and being a vital part of our daily lives, incorporating it into educational streams makes learning easier and more accessible.
There are several models through which blended learning takes place. The most popular ones are the Rotation, Flex, A La Carte, Enriched Virtual Model and the Self-blend Model.
Rotation Model – a program in which students rotate between learning modalities as per a schedule or based on the instructors’ discretion. This incorporates both modalities of learning and can be employed in several ways. A Station or Lab Rotation requires students to move to particular stations or labs to complete a certain component of the course. A Flipped Classroom model has an online learning model as the primary mode of instruction and students refer to face to face interactions with the tutor for guided practice, hands-on learning or experiential projects. An Individual Rotation model sets customised learning schedules and outcomes for each learner and scheduling is individualistic rather than in groups. The student may also not rotate between all modes of instruction.
Flex Model – these models constitute online learning majorly with face to face teacher interaction as supplementary tools. Students study online, scheduling the content themselves and work on their own pace. Teacher interaction is conducted in terms of additional individual tutoring, group projects and practical work. The time allocated to on-site learning can vary.
A La Carte Model – this model allows students to pick and choose their location of learning. The same tutors are available online and offline and the students can choose which courses they wish to do online and which ones offline.
Enriched Virtual Model – this model primarily uses e-learning tools as the major mode of instruction with few face-to-face sessions with the tutors. Most Enriched Virtual programs are initiated as complete e-learning models but start blended programs to provide students with brick and mortar classroom experiences too. Unlike the Flex Models, these include very few in-person offline sessions with the tutors. This program has been highly successful in cases where students are situated in remote locations and also benefits students suffering from chronic illnesses.
Self-Blend Model – The self-blend model allows students to supplement their offline learning by taking additional related courses online. Studying these is up to the students’ discretion and is particularly useful accommodating those students who wish to study and learn further and more in depth.
Models such as the ones above provide several benefits to both learners and teachers. They allow easier management of larger student groups. With online learning systems in place, it is easier to accommodate students who may need additional help or reinforcement. With assessments and self-studying the workload for tutors is greatly reduced. It also lowers costs as fewer rooms and fewer tutors are required. Commuting expenses are also saved as blended learning models are not location or time specific. Students can set their own pace of studying and can also decide the level of depth they wish to explore the subject till. Tutors are also able to track and monitor students’ progress well and are in a better position to understand the problems students may be facing. The curriculum can then be redesigned in a way to minimise the problem areas and optimise learning.
Where it has numerous advantages, blended learning also poses some disadvantages that make the adoption of such models unfeasible. Creating or acquiring technological solutions for multichannel education models is expensive. Tutors and students also must be technologically competent enough to be comfortable with the systems in place and utilise them to their full potential.
While there are benefits associated with such models, several stakeholders are also sceptical of its success and benefits reaped from these programs have not been proved making some individuals hesitant in adopting this strategy.
Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools - Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2014).
Blended Learning; The New Normal and Emerging Technologies – Charles Dziuban, Charles R. Graham, Patsy D. Moskal, Anders Norberg, Nicole Sicilia (International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education 2018)
Blended Learning versus Traditional Learning: A Study on Students’ Learning Achievements and Academic Press (2017 International Symposium on Educational Technology (ISET))
What Do We Mean By Blended Learning? - Stefan Hranstinki (2019)