coffee beans - sorry if that is tad predictable

Understanding Blended Learning

This post is my first as part of the USF BlendKit 2014 Course  on Canvas – see for more details. For this assignment I have been asked to review materials in the first chapter of the toolkit accompanying this course:

Blended Learning Toolkit

by-nc-sa Materials in the toolkit have been shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license


Participants have been asked to reflect on the nature of blended learning and consider four questions:

  1. Is it most helpful to think of blended learning as an online enhancement to a face-to-face learning environment, a face-to-face enhancement to an online learning environment, or as something else entirely?
  2. In what ways can blended learning courses be considered the “best of both worlds” (i.e., face-to-face and online)? What could make blended learning the “worst of both worlds?”
  3. As you consider designing a blended learning course, what course components are you open to implementing differently than you have in the past? How will you decide which components will occur online and which will take place face-to-face? How will you manage the relationship between these two modalities?
  4. How often will you meet with students face-to-face? How many hours per week will students be engaged online, and how many hours per week will students meet face-to-face? Is the amount of student time commitment consistent with the total time commitment of comparable courses taught in other modalities (e.g., face-to-face)?

Each of these is addressed in turn below:

What is Blended Learning?

My first experience of blended learning was from courses that were originally taught face to face and which have gradually been “adapted” for blended delivery.  I think many others may be the same (even in a MOOC, much of the materials may have come from a f2f course). The key I think is the degree of adaption. Simply putting files online (the ‘document dump’ – sensu Horrigan and Clark) isn’t really blended learning in my book. Whilst I am no fan of trying to set a required threshold of online vs. face to face activities, for me, to be truly blended, there must be at least some activities that need to be carried out online. That implies some conscious design of these activities and so aligns with the thinking of McGee & Reis (2012) cited in the paper.

Is it really the best of both worlds?

Face to face is surely the best, but only if the timing works for both parties. That’s not saying it is the most cost-effective, the most scalable  or the most flexible. Done well, blended learning should help address some of these restrictions, particularly as it may allow learners to repeat sections until they achieve that ‘Eureka moment’. That was certainly something that hit home in a presentation I saw by Sal Khan, where it took one man over 50 plays of a video before he finally grasped a particular mathematical concept. His point was that blended learning allowed the lesson to be replayed 50 times with equal patience and in the absence of judgement. That may be true but I couldn’t help wondering if a real teacher couldn’t have changed the instruction and got him there more quickly.

The risk though is that what is delivered in a blend is a confusing pastiche, lacking the consistency of a fully online or face to face course.

Managing the Modalities

One phrase that worried me in the kit was “Context is king”. If that was true then surely MIT’s OpenCourseware project would have been a case of online suicide. It also didn’t fit well with the rest of the discussion, which reassuringly focussed on the activity of the learner, examining course planning approaches on a spectrum from teacher-centred to learner (or learning) centred.

Getting the Timing Right

I think translating learning activities from the classroom to online is one of the hardest things to do (and I admit to occasionally still getting the timings of my lectures wrong). I’m not sure there is a magic formula for getting it right first time, but I think online components should provide teaching staff with a better idea of  just how long students spend on a task – e.g. the number of edits on a blog post.

by-nc Featured Image by  Rob Sutton shared on

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