Blended Learning – What it is and how it can work for your online course

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Blended learning is also known as hybrid learning. It is a form of e-learning and an approach that has become more and more mainstream in education and training in recent years. However, blended learning is not a new idea.

Having been around since the 1960s, when videos helped students learn at home. In the 1990s, with the advent of CD ROMs (anyone remember those?) and computers in the home being a new normal, blended learning was even more accessible.

Now, blended learning is everywhere. From short courses, to longer, educational degrees. It seems that if blended learning works for your course, then there is the option for it to be provided via blended learning.

So what is blended learning exactly?

Blended learning combines the best of both worlds of learning. Your students can learn through both physical classroom attendance and online activities.

How can bloggers’ courses be delivered via blended learning?

In this post, we will explore this answer in more depth. But in short, if you deliver some parts of your course in person, and some via self-led student activities, you are delivering a blended learning course.

All too often bloggers think that their courses need to be reams of writing and how-to guides and nothing else.

This is simply not true.

In reality, bloggers have the means and tools available to deliver high quality, blended learning courses to their students.

And it isn’t just bloggers. As I’ve mentioned, blended learning can be used to deliver an array of programmes. My second MSc was even delivered via blended learning! I would attend a teaching session at the university once or twice a term and the rest of the time I would complete my learning online, at home.

Whilst this may not work for everyone, for me this meant that I could study whilst still working and raising a family.

The advantages of blended learning

Blended learning has a whole host of advantages. And if you get these things right, you can also reap the advantages of happy students.

Here are the top 8 advantages of blended learning. Also included is how this approach could benefit you and your students.

Students still maintain face-to-face contact with others

One of the biggest advantages of blended learning is that students can still maintain face-to-face contact with others. For some students, such contact is vital for their learning style.

Online learning is great, it’s fast, convenient, and can be self-paced. However, online learning can be lonely and it can feel isolating if you are stuck with a task or learning point. In such instances, having face-to-face contact with others ensures that social isolation is kept to a minimum. Also, students have a chance to interact with their teacher and peers in real-time and so can ask questions and exchange ideas.

Students can also use the face-to-face time to interact with each other. This could be through swapping contact details to meet up in person or virtually to help each other with study at a later date.

Face-to-face contact with others doesn’t have to mean sitting in the same room. Face-to-face contact can be achieved through online webinar software such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, or Webex.

Enables students to learn at their own pace

The next advantage of blended learning is that it lends itself to enabling students to learn at their own pace.

Many adults can find learning difficult. Either because they have limited time due to work or family commitments, or a range of other reasons. Because of this, blended learning helps students to fit their learning around their busy lives.

Allowing students to go through learning activities at their own pace empowers them to take ownership of their own learning.

With the exception of scheduled face-to-face meetings, students can go through online content at their own pace. To aid learning at their own pace, recording face-to-face meetings and posting them online for students to view later also aids with learning. Students can then revisit the face-to-face session at a later date.

Saves on cost

Hiring out premises to host face-to-face classes can be pricey. A cost which is usually passed onto students attending the course.

Blended learning can help solve this issue.

By putting some learning materials and activities online, less classroom time is required, meaning costs are saved on hiring a physical venue for your students to attend. Likewise, this can make the course cheaper for your students to attend.

If you offer two versions of your course; one blended and one face-to-face, you may want to think about your pricing structure. Students may feel short-changed if they can study most of their courses at home and not see any financial compensation for this.

Cuts down on face-to-face teaching time

Cutting down face-to-face teaching time can be a bonus for students and teachers.

Everyone is busy and so when time can be saved, it’s a blessing for most.

Students can complete programme elements at anytime

Probably one of the biggest contenders for blended learning is that students can complete their courses at any time and anywhere.

This is great for the digital world we now live in. Students can attend courses whilst on holiday, in a different time zone, and generally when their circumstances allow.

Blended learning can be fun and engaging, inclusive of a range of learning styles

Blended learning has been shown to help increase student satisfaction, success and retention of a course. This is because a blended learning course often integrates a host of learning activities that lend themselves to a range of learning styles.

Therefore, the variety of a course keeps students engaged. Engaged students are more likely to rate their courses better, which in turn could lead to more course sales.

Better contact with course teacher, as needed

Because students know when they will be having face-to-face contact with their course teacher, students can feel encouraged to ask questions and ask for help as needed.

Some students can find it hard to reach out to a course teacher, worrying if their email will be picked up, or if their query is silly.

Blended learning can break down these barriers. Face-to-face teaching lends itself for students to have easier contact with their course teacher and therefore be more likely to ask for help when needed.

Offers a ‘best of both worlds’ approach to learning and teaching

Some students don’t like a completely online course, whilst others don’t like complete face-to-face teaching.

Equally, some course teachers like to deliver face-to-face teaching, but don’t have the time to deliver a whole course in this way.

Blended learning, therefore, offers a ‘best of both worlds’ approach for both students and course teachers.

The disadvantages of blended learning

As with anything, blended learning does have its disadvantages. A lot of the disadvantages are similar to those that all online courses face, but some are more exclusive to blended learning courses.

Here are 4 disadvantages of blended learning that you should be aware of before setting up a blended learning course.

Students may experience digital poverty and struggle with accessing online materials

It’s a sad truth that a number of people live in digital poverty. This can be caused by a lack of funds to buy devices to connect to the internet, not being able to afford sufficient Wi-Fi, or not having the knowledge for how to use technology properly.

Digital poverty is “the inability to interact with the online world fully, when where and how an individual needs to”.

Digital Poverty Alliance

Such issues can prevent students from accessing online learning materials and completing them.

It is also important to note that you probably won’t be able to tell which of your students experience digital poverty. Or they may be reluctant to share this information with you.

A way to help students is to give them permission to contact you to discuss any issues they may be having. Or, you could add a short how-to at the beginning of your course, explaining how to use the online course programme.

Not everyone is self-disciplined enough for online learning activities

Some students are more motivated when in a physical classroom environment, and not so much with self-led, online activities.

This can pose a big problem for blended learning courses where students need to complete certain learning tasks themselves.

Motivation in teaching can be tricky. But providing a range of learning activities to suit different learning styles can help prevent poor self-discipline from occurring. Also, ensuring that the face-to-face element of the course is fun and inclusive can help motivate students to keep on track with their learning.

Still have unmotivated students? Try creating a Facebook group so students can discuss their progress and hold each other accountable for their own learning.

Organising face-to-face training can limit students based on geography/time availability

We know that due to a range of factors, geography may limit students’ ability to access face-to-face elements of blended learning.

Issues may include:

  • Travel time to the destination
  • Covid-19 restrictions
  • Location being too far away to practically access

A workaround for these issues may be to host your face-to-face teaching via Zoom/Teams etc, as this can help with the issues mentioned.

Some students may skip face-to-face training if they don’t see how it can enhance their online learning

It’s true that there will always be students who will skip face-to-face training if they can. For some students, this will be because they cannot see the value of the sessions. Or they may think they have learned all that they need with online learning.

Therefore, it is important to ensure that students understand why showing up for face-to-face sessions is as important as online learning.

Equally, make sure that students know when they sign up for your course when and where they are expected to turn up for face-to-face teaching. This should avoid issues down the road as students have time to plan.

And remember, face-to-face teaching may also be online via Zoom/Teams etc!

Examples of blended learning

There are loads of great examples of blended learning programmes including:

Courses with practical elements

These courses will often require students to demonstrate their skills to an assessor before they can be deemed competent to pass the course and gain certification.

An example is a first aid course. Blended learning means that students can learn theory online before attending a practice and assessment session.

Courses that require formal examination

Such courses may require attendance for the examination to ensure quality assurance for the course and assessment. Prior to the assessment, revision sessions may also be set up to help prepare students for their assessment.

How to implement blended learning for your online course

Now that you understand what blended learning is, its advantages and disadvantages, you’re ready to start planning and implementing blended learning for your online course.

To use blended learning in your online course, you should:

  1. Create your course curriculum.
  2. From your curriculum, determine what can be taught online and what can be delivered face-to-face.
  3. Select a teaching platform to host your online course (if not done already).
  4. Obtain premises to host the face-to-face elements of your course. If you plan to do your face-to-face teaching online, find appropriate conferencing software to use. A lot of online course platforms now integrate conferencing software into their online courses.
  5. Advertise your course – ensure that students understand that face-to-face attendance is required for certain parts of the course. Ensure that students know where they will need to attend for face-to-face sessions. This will help them to make an informed decision as to signing up to the course, for example, if the face-to-face sessions are easily accessible for them.

Conclusion

As you can see from this post, whilst blended learning can offer many benefits to students and teachers alike, you need to carefully plan your blended learning programme before implementing it.

A poorly planned blended learning programme will likely falter. Students need to realise why some parts of the course are self-led and why some need to be face-to-face in order to successfully complete the course.

Face-to-face teaching doesn’t need to mean physical attendance. Such teaching can take place via conference software. But you need to make sure that students are aware of this ahead of time so that they can make appropriate plans for their learning in between their other commitments.

This post was proofread using Grammarly.

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