Saturday, April 16, 2011

30. On Blended Learning

Blended Learning: Uncovering its Transformative Potential in Higher Education
D. Randy Garrison, Heather Kanuka
The Internet and Higher Education 7 (2004) 95-105

The paper aims at eliciting the beginning of a discussion about the potential of blended learning. The key perspective it brings to our attention are some of the challenges that higher education faces today. Even though the article deals with college and university level contexts and not specifically with ESL learners, some lessons can be drawn as a parallel to the topic of discussion of this lit review blog.

  • It is an obligation of higher education institutions to promote life-long learning. This means meeting new educational patterns that are emerging across the globe, where learners are not as strictly classified and labeled into stiff and non-flexible pre-determined learning "boxes". Online learning can meet this challenge.
  • Some institutions have adopted the idea of blended learning (online and traditional settings) as the winning option to expand and open doors to more flexible learning environments.
  • ICT is changing society and the education systems within society. This seems inevitable. (This is actually something that appears as a recurrent theme across the board, when talking about ICT and especially Social Media. Clay Shirky tells us this in a Ted Talk: the "revolution" is here to stay for at least the next 5 years - we might as well learn how to make the best of it! -).
  • The paper briefly describes Blended Learning - 
"a thoughtful integration of classroom face-to-face learning experiences with online learning experiences" (p. 96)
  • This does not come void of complexities.
  • Also, blended learning is the in-between model from enhanced learning and fully online learning. The trick is to define all three and be aware of the choices made to adopt blended over the other two. The paper indicates that the options are limitless, but that blended learning seems to be placedin the middle as one way to take advantage of the best characteristics of both approaches (F2F and fully online) in a blend that optimizes the environment for the best results. 
  • Asynchronous technology can facilitate and enhance collaboration, reflection and independent learners to make very considerate and well-thought out choices. This is an important idea. We often think of asynchronous as a distant and ineffective tool to facilitate actual collaboration, while if well planned and structured, this characteristic of online tools expands the walls and the schedules of the traditional classroom and allows learners to build bigger and stronger connections with each other and the construction of knowledge.
  • Asynchronous technology also allows less noise to be the source of distraction when building new knowledge. Learners can be more focused and communicate with each other at deeper levels.
  • Blended learning seems to be highly suitable for the facilitation of communities of inquiry.
  • these consist of 3 elements (according to the paper): Cognitive, Social and Teaching Presence. (p.97)
  • Communities of Inquiry are the basis for the very social constructivist approach to learning: thinking and new knowledge happen through discussion, dialogue and socially constructed contexts where ideas create meaning. In blended learning the teaching presence affirms and guides these communities to confirming the construction of such meanings.
  • Blended learning is different from any other model - it is not a simple addition of online tools to traditional setting. As a new medium it changes the message and creates a new experience.
The paper then briefly discusses some challenges in adopting blended learning which are listed below:

  • Policy
  • Planning
  • Resources
  • Scheduling
  • Support
  • Leadership
These elements have become a re recurrent feature of literature and research. Yet, one can easily find in any current institution considering to offer or adopt online-based solutions to learning, that the complexities of the models are either ignored or only superficially included in the conversation, seeking for fast-based approaches which, unfortunately, rarely bear real solutions and positive outcomes.

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