The Case for Blended Learning
The opportunities for eLearning are growing immensely. It really is amazing to have eLearning opportunities that we can choose from to benefit student learning. In my experience, different learning situations require different levels and types of online learning opportunities. The level of eLearning really depends on the learning environment, and the people that you are instructing. There is no doubt about it however, regardless of your teaching position, eLearning skills and eLearning pedagogies are highly important for our ever-evolving digital world. Online learning is not necessarily for everyone and every situation, but it does meet a lot of needs.
Kassop’s article, though written in 2003, has stood the test of time. It highlights 10 ways that online matches, or surpasses F2F learning.
Kassop’s top 10 benefits of online learning included:
- It is student –centered.
- Students write more often.
- Interactive discussions.
- Tthe autonomy in an online course is self-motivating to many. In everyday life, people don’t have a teacher at their side to direct how they gain new information. It is important to know how to do this.
- Amazing resources can be shared 24/7. Virtual and physical resources can be linked together.
- On-demand support. There are interactive learning aids, and email so that students can ask for help at the click of a button.
- Feedback is immediate. Comments are returned more promptly.
- Flexibility. This fits in with busy lives.
- Can create an intimate community of learners. Students will therefore be more likely to open up.
- Faculty Development and Rejeuvenation. It is more work than a classroom. It has the same instructional goals, just in a new format.
With Kassops top 10 in mind, I have had 3 separate experiences that I want to reflect upon in terms of this information.
First, as an instructor of Additional Qualifications courses for teachers, I have to agree with many of Kassons’s to 10. It is easy to teach in an online course, but it is not easy to do it well. Giving feedback well and supporting candidates is an important skill that needs to be done well. It takes a lot of work to effectively set the course up with all of the information for candidates in a variety of places and formats. In addition, providing spaces for sharing resources, and engaging in different conversations are also important. Modelling effective responses, and using prompts and new questions to help candidates deepen their learning. Ongoing feedback is given to candidates, in addition to detailed feedback given at the end of each module, with next steps for moving forward.
Second, as a Teacher-Librarian, I had the autonomy and flexibility to implement technological practices, curate and share with staff. I could run an interesting lesson involving technology for students, but I would not have to pick up and continue to reinforce in person, and make sure that they mastered the skill for report cards. Even if I was helping with assessment. Therefore, I could promote the tools and skills, even if I wasn’t solely responsible for integrating this into the classroom.
Finally, the most difficult situation for implementing blended learning, for me, is in the role of classroom teacher. There are MANY constraints to deal with when trying to implement blended learning with younger students.
This is my top 10 list of concerns when implementing online learning with younger students:
- Whether it is genius hour or makerspaces, math class, guided reading, you name it, it is still needs to be run and facilitated by the teacher for the bulk of the time in the classroom. Therefore the online learning can sometimes feel like an add-on, because you still need to reinforce everything in person.
- Yes students write more often, but I have found that it takes longer and is more difficult for them to write online, even if they are blogging with an app, or using audio recording.
- Students still need the teacher at their side while working with an online LMS or Google Drive.
- Asynchronous discussions are difficult, because younger students need explicit skills each and every time they log on. They don’t use it at home if the parents don’t yet understand. Further to point, the parents know what high school looks like, and wants the kind of traditional teaching in elementary school that will prepare them for high school. Discussions online are difficult anyway – younger kids want to be silly and have fun with the technology first before they can really get into it.
- The kinds of games and activities provided are not necessarily more enjoyable for students. Further, if you have too much choice, it is way too overwhelming and really taxes working memory. When chunking information, keep it small as there are severe limitations to how much younger students can process.
- On-demand support for eLearning with younger students needs to happen with a teacher right next to them. Otherwise, they will forget. Also, the process of sending an email will take so long that the student will forget what they were doing in the first place.
- Younger students have difficulty reading and processing information online, particularly when chunked with too many visuals and other stimuli.
- Students have very busy lives. If they are not in class working online with a teacher, they are unlikely to go on it at home. Kids need a break too after a long day of learning.
- For younger students, a community needs to be built in person. The eLearning environment should just be used to reinforce special skills, ie., creating ePortfolios.
- eLearning is definitely a new way of presenting instructional goals to younger students, but you will still have to present them in person, sometimes many times over. Especially online. Therefore, blending the learning can feel like it is a completely new task that is added on to the program you are ‘expected’ to run.
To this end, my own conclusion is that it is imperative to know your students and implement blended learning depending upon your unique communities of learning. Also, be brave. If it is not yet part of the culture of the school, be ready to put in extra time and effort to explain, share and implement.
What are your experiences with blended learning?
Ten Ways Online Education Matches, or Surpasses, Face-to-Face Learning by Mark Kassop Ten Ways appears in the Technology Source Commentary for May/June 2003 at http://technologysource.org/article/ten_ways_online_education_matches_or_surpasses_facetoface_learning/