Blended Learning Approach

Blended learning approach has been here for a while and it is likely to have been applied by thousands of teachers worldwide. The question is whether we know everything about blended learning technique and correctly use the LMS potential to create digital spaces and reinforce face-to-face learning environments. To make sure about that we talked to an eLearning expert and Director of Curriculum and Instructional Technology at Mattawan Consolidated School - Ben Rimes

Ben, what is meant by “blended learning” and why is it more effective that traditional learning we know?

Ben:Blended Learning is an instructional mindset in which online tools are leveraged to enhance the face to face learning that already exists within a classroom. It allows educators to maintain the benefits of a physical learning space and direct student interaction, while providing resources and learning experiences that only exist in digital and online spaces. If we removed the technology from a truly blended classroom, then the learning as we know it would come to a halt in much the same way our lives would cease to function normally if we removed all technology from it.

What are the key elements of successful and effective blended learning environment and what challenges can teachers face while building it?

Ben:Many individuals and academics have tried to nail down the key elements of a successful blended learning environment, but I've observed four that seem to set teachers up for the best possible experience. Flexibility, Personal, Interactive, and Reinforcement of Good Pedagogy are the main elements I look for in a blended learning environment.

The digital environment should be as flexible and personable as a face to face classroom, allowing teachers to shift instructional methods. Rigid digital environments that have no extensibility or flexibility in the use of its tools creates a "one size fits all" model of instruction that students and teachers alike aren't interested in. Online environments that encourage multiple methods of interaction, communication, and collaboration are much more useful to a teacher hoping to create a flexible blended learning environment, and help them bring good instructional practice (reflective learning, inquiry-based activities, etc.) into digital spaces.

What advice would you give someone who wants to start implementing Blended learning approach? How can LMS help in running blended learning?

Ben:When looking for a blended learning space, including an LMS, make sure to find one that feels compatible with what you already do well in the classroom. And don't expect to jump into blogging, online discussions, and small group digital chats if you don't already have effective processes for face to face conversations and interactions. Find an LMS that has the ability to extend into those areas, but gives you a good toe-hold with features that mimic effective face to face instructional practice are a great way to start.

There are many different learning techniques out there (flipped learning, gamified learning, student-centured learning, rapid learning etc.) Do you find blended learning to be the most effective one or they need to be combined to reach the best possible outcome?

Ben:Blended learning is not a singular "method" for learning, as it merely provides an umbrella definition for a wide range of instructional practices that involve technology. You can implement Flipped Learning and Gamified Learning without having an over-arching blended learning environment, but you can't establish a truly effective blended learning classroom without good elements of instructional technology use. Thinking about a blended learning environment as the digital "classroom" in which flipped learning and other methods take place is a good framework to help make sense of it.

How to combine face-to-face, online learning and other types of students' activities on one single course so they will support each other?

Ben:There are many methods to do this, and I couldn't even begin to list them all. However, there are a couple of good resources that I tend to point people towards when looking for ways to start their journey into creating blended learning environments. The MyBlend Program is a great organization dedicated to helping teachers understand blended learning and how to develop effective strategies for teaching within one. iNACOL is another great resource for online and blended teachers that are looking to start their blended learning journey.

Where and how do you think blended learning will evolve over the next decade?

Ben:Blended learning will continue to grow until the use of technology becomes so abundant and regular in our classrooms that the term itself will become obsolete. In the future, all learning with the use of technology will likely simply be called just "learning," just as many common business practices are now intertwined with technology in inseparable ways. The level of digital interaction may move closer to having a face to face feeling with virtual reality and the further refinement of video conferencing technology, and the tools that teacher have at their disposal to create both media and interactive tools for students will greatly increase in fidelity. In the end though, effective blended learning 30 years from now will look like effective blended learning today; centered on relationships among the learners and the teacher, provide opportunities for learners to work hands on with concepts, while leveraging connections and resources from across the globe.

Ben Rimes

Ben Rimes is Director of Curriculum and Instructional Technology at Mattawan Consolidated School.
Mattawan, MI
He can be reached at www.techsavvyed.net and can be followed on Twitter @techsavvyed.