Blended Learning: Rethinking Educational Delivery for Development
Devon Duhaney, Department of Secondary Education, State University of New York (SUNY) New Paltz
Blended learning is not a new concept; although many consider it to be new. Educators point to the fact that this strategy has been in use long before the increasing integration of new forms of technologies in teaching and learning. Hall (2003) sees blended learning as dating back to the time of Socrates. Moore (2005), on the other hand, observed that blending classroom and mediated delivery of instruction by correspondence was a common practice in American schools during the 1920s and 1930s became a standard practice of the world's open universities in the 1970s. Recently, there has been a renewed focus on blended learning, both in the education and corporate sectors (Duhaney, 2004). This renewal might be attributed to the pervasive use of technology throughout the society and its integration in the classroom environment. According to Oliver and Trigwell (2005) blended learning has gained considerable currency in recent years as a description of particular forms of teaching with technology.
Blended learning has been referred to as distributed, hybrid, flexible, or multi-modal learning (Duhaney, 2004; Gibson, 2006) and is described as the combination of classroom instruction with self-paced online materials (Cennamo & Kalk, 2005). This learning strategy may include a variety of combinations such as real time collaborative interactions, either online or face-to-face, and self paced (Cennamo & Kalk, 2005). Collis and Moonen (2001), cited in Rovai and Jordan (2004), depict blended learning as a hybrid of traditional face-to-face and online learning so that instruction occurs both in the classroom and online, with the online component becoming a natural extension of traditional classroom learning. Driscoll (2002) perceives blended learning from four different perspectives: a) the combination of modes of web-based technology; b) the combination of various pedagogical approaches; c) the combination of any instructional technology with face-to-face instruction; and d) the mixture of instructional technology with actual job tasks. Although the definition of blended learning may be regarded as being somewhat nebulous, it is generally thought of as a mixture of different modes of delivery for teaching and learning (see Oliver & Trigwell, 2005; Thorne, 2003; van der Westhuizen & Krige, 2003; Driscoll, 2002; Irons, Keel, & Bielema, 2002).
Many within the educational community have long advocated for blended learning as a preferred teaching and learning strategy (Duhaney, 2004, Kriger, 2003; Waddoups & Howell, 2002; Chamberlin, 2001; American Federation of Teachers, 2000), and others have offered specific reasons for the increasing focus on blended learning as a teaching strategy. Bersin and Associates (2003), for example, posit that this strategy might well replace electronic learning or e-learning which became popular with the growth of the Internet, particularly, in the 1990s. Others have stated that blended learning provides for a more effective learning experience (Driscoll & Carliner, 2005). Driscoll and Carliner (2005) also cited a 2003 study by the eLearning Guild which found that the top three reasons for using blended learning were that (a) it is more effective than classroom alone (76%); (b) it has a higher learner value and impact, and greater effectiveness than non-blended approaches (73.6%); and (c) learners like it (68.6%). These are significant findings, which also speak to the impact that the blended learning strategy is having on the teaching and learning environment.
This paper will examine blended learning and its use in enhancing education, training, and development. Consideration will be given to strategies for planning and implementing the blended learning approach. Attention will also be given to how blended learning might help to foster development in developing nations.
BLENDED LEARNING AND THE EDUCATIONAL PROCESS
The blended learning approach offers many advantages, including the fact that it encourages and allows more persons to benefit from further educational opportunities. The approach helps to ensure that individuals can engage in lifelong learning pursuits, which might not otherwise have been possible in a purely traditional learning environment, as it is not necessarily bound by geographical location. Additionally, the many information technology resources now available can help to facilitate pedagogy and learning in a variety of configurations. McDonald et al. (2004) observed that the increasing application of information and communication technology to create rich learning environments is at the centre of the growth of distributed learning.
The increasing use of the blended learning strategy might be considered as an aspect of the transformation, which is slowly taking place in higher education. Rovai and Jordan (2004) describe this as the shift from providing exclusively traditional classroom instruction to reaching out to students by delivering courses at a distance using technology. They consider blended learning as a strategy that offers students flexibility and convenience, important characteristics for working adults who decide to engage in studies beyond the secondary level.
Blended Learning in Practice
The blended learning approach offers the opportunity for an interesting blend of the traditional classroom experience with the use of different technologies to facilitate teaching and learning outside of the formal classroom structure. An important aspect to be considered when planning to use this approach has to do with the different elements to be included and the proportions of each element to be used in the blend, to ensure an efficient teaching and learning environment (Duhaney, 2004; Christensen, 2003). In order for this to be effective, however, one needs to employ the instructional design principles. By so doing, proper focus will be placed on the learners as well as the purpose and expected outcomes (i.e., objectives) for which the teaching and learning activities are designed. The use of the instructional design principles will help to determine the pedagogical strategies/techniques to be used, the technologies and other materials to be employed in the process, and the assessment of students' learning (Duhaney, 2004),
Blended learning practices are already in use in a variety of ways in the education and training environments. In many instances online activities are being used to supplement face-to-face-classroom activities. The widespread use of course management software such as BlackBoard and Moodle is very evident in many of these teaching and learning settings. Course materials (e.g., assignments, reading materials, tests, and links to appropriate online information) are provided online for use in or out of a formal classroom structure. With this arrangement, instructors are able to offer some class sessions purely online and within a face-to-face setting. It should be noted that instructors do not need to introduce the blended elements all at the same time. They can choose to begin in a face-to-face environment and gradually introduce other elements of the blended learning approach as they become comfortable with the flexible method of teaching and learning. This can also be done as instructors gain more facility with the use of different technologies and how they can help to achieve the expected objectives (Duhaney, 2004).
BLENDED LEARNING AND DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
Blended learning holds particular promise for individuals in developing countries. As these countries seek to educate their populace, many are finding that they can make better use of the resources provided by local educational institutions, year round. Many developing countries already have local institutions with different forms of blended learning programs (e.g., The University of the West Indies Distance Education Centre (UWIDEC) which provides programs across the Caribbean). Local institutions are collaborating with overseas institutions in providing blended learning programs (e.g., Jamaican Council for Adult Education (JACAE) and Canada's Mount Saint Vincent; Church Teachers' College and Temple University out of the United States of America; among others in Jamaica). Additionally, other overseas institutions provide a variety of blended learning programs to persons in many developing countries (e.g., University of London and Athabasca University).
An expansion of blended learning programs can help to expedite growth in many developing nations and encourage a culture of life-long learning. However, this will require a rethinking of the delivery of education, training, and development. The United Kingdom's Open University, which has been around for quite sometime, might serve as the thrust for a model of how developing countries can use the blended learning approach to provide greater access to educational opportunities to more persons. The use of the blended learning approach might also serve to help in restructuring the delivery of education and training programs, particularly, to drive the process of development in these countries.
The Internet and its resources, which have already pervaded many developing countries, offer numerous prospects for educational activities. Teleconferencing (videoconferencing, desktop conferencing, etc.) and even existing broadcasting facilities (cable, television, and radio), some of which have been and continue to be used for educational purposes, can be used to help in the expansion and strengthening of educational opportunities. The quality of these services -- teleconferencing, cable, Internet -- continue to improve, especially with the proliferation of fiber optic technology and increasing bandwidth, thereby making these media ideal tools for providing further educational opportunities. Additionally, the growing use of wireless technology presents further possibilities for institutions to engage in blended learning activities.
Invariably, access and costs are two issues that arise whenever thoughts of distance/blended education or technology integration in education are proffered. These concerns become even more important when raised in the context of developing countries. The lack of access and the costs of providing the necessary resources for more students are often exacerbated by inadequate funding. To address these concerns higher education institutions in developing nations need to start considering innovative ways of providing their programs in order to allow more people to benefit while making more effective and efficient use of available resources.
There are however great imbalances among institutions and nations regarding their ability to provide the appropriate technologies and the requisite technical and instructional support to teachers and students (Duhaney, 2005). These factors and the changing `landscape' of the educational environment might require institutions to establish more partnerships or consortial arrangements (Duhaney, 2005; Mason, 2003; Foster, 2001; Hawkins, 2000) between and among institutions from developing and developed countries to allow a larger number of students and teachers to benefit from the maximization of the use of available resources. These arrangements will require much work which include solid cooperation between/among the various institutions involved, particularly as it relates to accreditation, quality, cost sharing, the setting and collection of fees/tuition, the transfer of credits, scheduling, maintenance, and upgrading of equipment.
The increasing use of the new information technologies have made the blended learning approach an ideal way for persons in many developing countries to make use of education and training opportunities for developmental purposes. Although this approach is not new, the different ways in which it can be employed will pose certain challenges to the educational status quo. Educators and trainers must now seek to identify these challenges and examine how they might be effectively addressed to ensure that the use of this mode of learning which can provide educational and training opportunities for more persons in developing countries which will go a far way in aiding the process of growth in these countries.
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