How to make Blended Learning possible: Challenge and Opportunities
Blended learning refers to learning design that effectively and systematically integrates multiple delivery modes such as face-to-face, online, and mobile across physical and virtual environments. The blend should be informed by student needs, educators’ preferences, curriculum, availability of resources, learning and teaching outcomes instead of being a mere technology drive. When designed and implemented properly, it offers students and educators with benefits such as flexibility, improved accessibility, and better-collaborated activities. Further, it encourages learning designers, programme managers and educators to revisit curriculum and course designs regularly to maintain the consistency of content and delivery.However, designing and delivering blended learning come with some challenges. Boelens, De Wever, and Voet (2017) identified four key challenges as,
- How to incorporate flexibility?
The increasing flexibility in blended learning triggers learners’ control over time, place, path, and pace of learning (Horn & Staker, 2014). The online component of blended learning may offer flexibility in terms of time by using asynchronous communication. The flexibility of place as learners can be anywhere in the world and no longer must be co-located in classrooms. Further, learners may have control in terms of the path by determining the order in which the content is provided in the course (Van Laer & Elen, 2017), and pace by progressing at their own speed (Horn & Staker, 2014). Further, learners have the option to choose between face-to-face or online learning (Owston, York, & Murtha, 2013). Therefore, the first challenge in designing and implementing blended learning is how to incorporate flexibility without compromising the robustness of the learning design (Boelens et al., 2017).
- How to facilitate interaction?
The increased flexibility of time and space in blended learning environments leads to enlarging psychological and communication space called the transactional distance (Moore & Keegan, 1993). As the transactional distance increases, social interaction becomes challenging. The second challenge, therefore, is “how to facilitate interaction in blended learning environments”. When the transactional distance is high, instructors cannot immediately notice when learners face problems, or they may not notice struggling students (Chen, Wang, & Chen, 2014). Therefore, the second challenge is “how to facilitate meaningful interaction between, learner- instructor, learner- leaner and learner -content”(Boelens et al., 2017).
- How to facilitate students’ learning processes?
Consistency and regulation become a challenge in blended learning environments due to increased flexibility and autonomy of learners (Barnard, Lan, To, Paton, & Lai, 2009; Van Laer & Elen, 2017). Therefore, several self-regulation skills such as organization, discipline, time management, skill in using technology to support learning, and self-efficacy effective for successful participation in blended learning courses (McDonald, 2014). Several researchers have found that increased flexibility and learner control are especially beneficial for high achievers or students that possess self-regulation skills while low achievers may not yet possess the required skills for independent learning (Boelens et al., 2017; Owston et al., 2013).
- How to foster an effective learning climate?
The increased transactional distance in online environments causes learner isolation (McDonald, 2014). This potentially causes a lack of motivation and resulted in higher drop-out rates. Therefore, it is important to foster a motivating and effective learning climate where learners feel safe, accepted and valued (Mazer, Murphy, & Simonds, 2007). This will increase the learner- instructor, learner- leaner and learner -content engagement and improve the learning and teaching outcomes (Mazer et al., 2007). Educators can foster an inclusive and engaging climate by showing empathy, having a sense of humour, providing encouragements, directing attention to task-relevant aspects, and attending to students’ individual differences (Boelens et al., 2017).
Due to the above-identified challenges, design and implementation of blended learning methodical and pedagogically robust. Porter, Graham, Spring, and Welch (2014) developed a framework for institutional adoption and implementation of blended learning where they have stressed the importance of strategy, structure and support. Design and implementation strategy includes the purpose of implementation, depth and scope of implementation. Structure entails technological, pedagogical and administrative issues. Support involves the institutional help for technological, pedagogical and administrative issues for both learners and educators. Therefore, it is important to understand the challenges blended learning may pose for both learners and educators, in order to get the best learning and teaching outcomes through blended learning.
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