Sunday, March 5, 2017

Understanding Blended Learning

One sentence summary

An effectively designed blended course combines the strengths of face-to-face and online learning and offers new learning opportunities for students and development opportunities for faculty. 

(Kudos to the UCF team for a great chapter! I used the eBook version for note taking and highlighting on my iPad.)


Many years ago I taught face-to-face when online was only by dialup (LOL) but have not taught blended or fully online courses. As an instructional technologist I have worked extensively with faculty who are new to Canvas and teaching blended or online for the first time. As a starting point for my reaction I thought it helpful to think of blended/online courses that reflect lack of experience and expertise in teaching online.

Blended courses that tack on F2F courses typically offer in-class sessions first and last weeks of the course. The last week often is used for in-class presentations, proctored exams, or other methods of final assessment. The remaining traditional part of the course is converted to learning management objects: PowerPoint slides, readings (PDF’s or links), online assignments (drop boxes), and discussion forums to replace in class conversations.  Such courses often lack objectives, integration with the F2F and online components, student outcomes, and an environment that promotes active online engagement and assessment. The focus is often on mastery with the LMS and not how  

Re-designing a (blended) course from scratch, not knowing where to start, and how to define course components is challenging. In Educause’s Report on Blended Learning lists competencies (with example behaviors) and guiding principles that help guide faculty through the development of a blended course. For example, the active learning competency involves planning and implementing tasks that engage the student in an active role (e.g. the instructor encourages students to interact with each other by assigning team tasks and projects where appropriate) and the emulate the student experience principle: use the blended learning model to teach instructors how to teach blended learning courses. 

The Quality Matters Rubric is a useful tool for assessing course design through 8general standards organized into 43 review standards. But this article: What Faculty Need to Know About ‘Learner Experience Design’ puts into perspective such checklists (with points) as the QM rubric by focusing on three big ideas: relationships matter, tech should increase - not replace - social interaction, and walk in students’ shoes. 

Web sites such as UCF Examples of Approaches and U Waterloo examples of blended courses provide concrete examples that instructors can refer to as they design their course.

Most important takeaways

“There is clear consensus that the best strategies for design begins [sic] by clearly defining course objectives before coming up with course activities, assignments and assessments”

"A superficial understanding of blended learning is that it simply adds non-F2F elements into the traditional course structure. But this most often results in a dysfunctional phenomenon known as the“course-and-a-half.”

Meeting with students (in-person, by phone, by conference) before the course starts can help instructors assess student competencies and needs in advance, especially important if F2F are few. 

My favorite quote

In 2002 Troha asked “why do so many blended initiatives turn into frustrating boondoggles, consuming far more time... than anyone anticipated?” 

Helpful links

Not so helpful


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