The demands of the 21st century have created an interesting tension in the world of education. The growing workforce calls for highly skilled individuals who have been prepared to respond to these demands. This preparation is not always possible in a traditional classroom setting. The students of today need class time devoted almost solely to hands-on, collaborative experiences, leaving little to no time for other necessary types of learning. These demands can be successfully met, however, through blended learning courses.
What is Blended Learning?
Blended learning is the combination of different learning approaches. This learning environment allows for both online and face-to-face activities, with the latter focusing on the most important concepts and ideas. This setup provides an immense amount of flexibility in many aspects: the how, when, and where students are learning and studying material.
A number of schools and programs have already taken the plunge into blended learning. Programs such as biomedical science and biochemistry require more hands-on learning experiences, making them ideal for a primarily face-to-face setting, while the other material can be completed outside the classroom. Take, for example, courses in medical assisting, audiology, or medical diagnostics. These courses require a large amount of reading and memorizing. Students can complete that work outside the classroom and then apply those ideas in the face-to-face setting. This combination creates a student-centered learning environment while encouraging students to develop problem-solving skills, resulting in quality outcomes. Many of these programs are focused on allied health for good reason. One example is the University of Minnesota. Their programs have seen a dramatic increase in the number of allied health professionals entering the workforce. Better still, the program has been financially sustainable while also providing a student-centered experience.
Benefits and Drawbacks
The return on investment in blended learning courses is massive. With multiple platforms available, students and teachers see a number of great benefits:
- Personalized guidance on problems
- Increase in course material review
- Variety of delivery methods
- Increase in practical real-world situations
The main drawback is the increase in preparation time. The workload outside the classroom will increase for students, but this work is not in vain. Students will be working through reading material and other individual assignments to prepare for the collaborative face-to-face setting. With this type of work completed outside the classroom, students will be able to unpack these ideas and create deeper levels of understanding.
Four Tips for Development
The first decision to be made is which aspects of the course will be online and which will be taught in a face-to-face setting. It’s important to analyze the concepts or skills being taught or discussed in each assignment. Based on that analysis, assignments can be more easily and effectively categorized. Also remember that students will have to take on more ownership and responsibility in a blended learning course, and it is important to set them up for success. Create a detailed syllabus and calendar for the course, including expectations for both platforms as well as due dates for all classwork.
Structure and Time
Make sure to structure the course so the materials in both platforms work together. The work completed outside the classroom should complement what is discussed at face-to-face meetings. Additionally, allow ample time for completing online work. Any work completed online should be available at least two weeks before the final due date.
Credit students for completing the online activities. These scores don’t always need to be accuracy based. Giving credit for completion of activities will encourage students to engage in the course material. Another way to build in accountability is to include feedback in coursework. Allow for an open dialogue between the instructor and the students to encourage student participation and buy-in.
Use of Technology
Blended learning courses provide a unique opportunity to integrate technologies. Including a wide range of technologies encourages students to get engaged and provides a higher level of flexibility.
If you are thinking of adopting a blended learning approach for your curriculum, consider the benefits and see if it’s a good fit for your students. Check out our resources page for curriculum and content development tips.