Also known as “hybrid learning,” blended learning is an educational model for teaching students in both a traditional classroom setting and an online learning environment. You’ve probably heard the term a lot these days as more schools and universities have shifted to blended learning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While it might seem like a newer concept, online learning was gaining traction well before COVID-19. In fact, since 2000 the online education industry has grown 900%—and that number is expected to triple until 2025. As more institutions embrace the combination of in-person and online learning, it’s likely that blended learning is here to stay. If you’re a teacher or student, it’s important to familiarize yourself with this model as you’ll likely come in contact with it in the near future.
This article will explore the ins and outs of blended learning, its benefits and challenges for the teacher and learner, and how it could change the future of education.
When done effectively, blended learning can have multiple benefits for both students and teachers. Here’s a look:
Additional educational tools.
Blended learning supports new ways of instruction. By utilizing the online element, teachers have more learning tools to work with such as gamification, video, and interactive apps. This allows for new ways to engage and motivate their students.
A blended learning model allows teachers to mix and match educational tools and course content according to the needs of their classroom. They can design lessons so that students learn some of the content independently online and then follow up with face-to-face discussions in the classroom.
More efficient grading.
Online evaluations help teachers more accurately assess and track a student’s mastery of the material when compared to traditional grading methods. For example, when students take a quiz online, the teacher is able to get immediate results and the student is able to get immediate feedback. This not only saves time for teachers, but it also helps them identify students who are struggling with the material in real time.
Blended learning model courses have proven to be more engaging for students of all ages—from elementary school to higher education. In fact, a study by the Center for Digital Education found 73% of educators who utilize this model saw an increase in student engagement.
More student centric.
Blended learning is student-centered by design. By incorporating the online learning element, students have more flexibility in when, how, and where they receive instruction. Students can access learning materials at their own pace and take time to reinforce what they learned in the classroom. Unlike traditional teaching methods, a blended model puts the student in control of their own learning experience.
In a recent study, 79% of students surveyed said they felt more autonomous in a blended learning environment. This is largely due to the fact that blended learning requires a learner to be more active in their own education and utilize goal setting and time management strategies to move through their coursework. Research also suggests this model can help students develop stronger critical thinking and problem solving skills.
While there are many upsides to a blended learning model, there are also some challenges that teachers and students may face when dealing with the online learning component of this model. These may include:
Lack of IT training.
Teachers (especially those who aren’t tech-savvy) need the right training and support for online instruction, and not every school is able to facilitate that.
Adjusting to blended learning can be a challenge for teachers who have students requiring more on-one-supervision or who have less motivation in an online environment compared to a face-face experience.
Lack of resources.
Blended learning is only effective when it’s supported by the right technology, equipment, and software. Unfortunately, not every student has access to a computer and the internet.
There may be days when the internet doesn’t work, or when programs and software are down, and students are unable to access their courses. This can be frustrating for many students, although these bugs are often fixed quickly, and students are able to continue with their work.
- Tap into different video conferencing tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Hangouts to hold live lectures. These video conferencing systems allow you to define specific times that their students will log in to view a lecture or have class, giving those who are teaching online an opportunity to help explain concepts in a way that a learner can see. They can also enable students to get together for projects or collaboration, or meet with the person who teaches them one-on-one.
- Use free applications like YouTube, Vimeo, and Microsoft Teams as a learning resource to upload videos for your students to watch. This allows you to record yourself giving lectures so then students can view that instruction on their own time. You can also use visual aides such as YouTube, Power Point, or Prezi, or learning games to add an interactive and visual element to your online classroom.
- Utilize a classroom management system to help keep you organized the learning experience. Google Classroom, Canvas, and Blackboard are all popular classroom management systems that teachers use. These systems are a great resource to allow you to send notes to your class, list lesson dates, talk about online courses and lessons, upload assignments, and have students turn in their work. They also give you the freedom to set up your classroom in an organized way, so that students know what they need to do, when.
- Provide opportunities in your learning model for collaboration. For example, create online group projects and have students meet on Google Hangouts or Zoom to connect and work together. You can also hold smaller group sessions to work with students, allowing them to talk more openly and work together in a collaborative environment.
- Allow for socialization. It's important for students to be able to build relationships with their peers, especially when they’re not seeing each other face-to-face every day. Chat channels can give students a chance to discuss things with their online class and connect. It might also be a good idea to provide a “recess” or a break that lets students simply socialize. This is important for creating a happy, positive classroom for students.
- Set clear expectations. Not just for your students, but for yourself. This definition is especially important for those days when you’re working from home. Make sure to talk to other members of your household and define clear expectations about respecting your need for quiet time to prepare learning tools, lessons, teach, or grade papers.
- Create a consistent learning schedule. When you’re at home, it’s easy to sleep in, lounge around, and not get a good jump on the day. Instead, set the time that you’re going to get up in the morning, and define a rough outline of when you’d like to get learning work done, when you’ll take breaks, etc.
- Have a study space. Set yourself up for success by creating a designated work station that will allow you to charge your computer and phone and give you easy access to any school supplies, study materials, or other learning necessities you need.
- Set up your tech. Make sure your internet connection is strong to avoid issues. It’s also smart to have another location with internet that you can use as a resource if your home internet is acting up. You may want to order a new router or cables for a hard-wired connection to really ensure you can get all your schoolwork done.
- Eliminate distractions. Keep things such as social media, entertainment, or news apps and tabs closed so you can focus on your coursework. This might mean putting your phone in another room or silencing apps so they don’t send you notifications while you’re busy studying.
- Address stress head on. Experiencing stress is inevitable when you’re in school. Do your best to understand what kind of stress you’re feeling, what’s causing it, and how you can respond to it productively. If your busy schedule is making you anxious, sit down and see what you can change. Or if you feel overwhelmed by all that you need to do, take a break to get outside, go for a walk, or do something you enjoy before returning to your learning environment.
The future of blended learning looks strong, and all signs point to its continued growth as more educators and students realize its benefits.
New tech advances are paving the way for online education options that support a blended model—including 5G connectivity, more game-based learning, and easier communication methods within a digital classroom setting. With these advancements, blended learning is proving to be an increasingly effective model for providing a modern education that meets traditional learning standards.