The Promise of Blended Learning in Higher Education

MC  laptops001.jpgThe information revolution has provided many avenues for acquiring access to education and has made it possible to experiment with different learning modules.

As the vast web of global and local information networks grows, several new skills and forms of literacy will become available for anyone who wants to reap the full educational benefits of the information age.

One new pedagogical approach to teaching is blended learning, defined as a combination of multiple approaches to teaching and learning.

A typical example of this would be a combination of technology-based materials and face-to-face sessions used together to deliver instruction.
Researchers Heinze and Procter have developed the following definition for Blended Learning in higher education.:
Blended Learning is learning that is facilitated by the effective combination of different modes of delivery, models of teaching and styles of learning, and founded on transparent communication amongst all parties involved with a course.

Thus, it is convergence of two learning environments, the traditional face-to-face learning environment that has been around for centuries, and electronic learning that have begun to grow with the advent of the information revolution.

These two learning environments have remained separate in the past.
“Blended learning” can also be used to describe arrangements in which “conventional”, offline, non-electronic based instruction happens to include online tutoring or mentoring services.

It should be noted that some researchers and writers have used the terms “hybrid learning” or “mixed learning” to refer to blended learning.

Over the past few years, a number of academic and corporate institutions are increasing resorting to this model of educational delivery. Experts predict that blended learning will be the educational model of choice for most institutions over the next couple of years.

For example, the American Society for Training and Development has identified blended learning as one of the top ten trends to emerge in the knowledge delivery industry.

Also, a recent edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education — one of the leading publications in higher education – quoted the president of Pennsylvania State University as saying that the convergence between online and residential instruction was “the single-greatest unrecognized trend in higher education.”
Traditionally, the two learning environments have been viewed separately.

This is partly because the two have been viewed as addressing the needs of different audiences. For example, traditional face-to-face learning has been with us since the days of Socrates when direct democracy was practiced in ancient Greece.

It is instructor-directed with face-to-face interaction in a live synchronous environment.

On the other hand, blended learning has evolved as supplements and an alternative to the traditional classroom lecture style learning. The number of academic institutions resorting to this method of learning has been growing, and will continue to grow.

In a blended learning environment, the emphasis is on self-paced learning and learning materials interactions that typically occurred in an asynchronous environment, for the most part. Educators have used the terms “tyranny of proximity” and tyranny of distance“ to describe the two learning environments.

Blended learning can provide instructionally effective, highly interactive learning experiences that are flexible, equitable and responsive to individual student’s learning styles. It has the potential of addressing challenges inherent within higher education around the world.

Using blended learning strategies as well as traditional or conventional instructional methodologies to facilitate and enhance pedagogical, curricular, research and instructional development will open up new frontiers to learning; enrich collaborative research among institutions of higher learning, as well as with academic institutions in other parts of the world.

In most institutions of higher learning, however, this transformation to this new educational paradigm has been very slow. This is due to a number of factors:

  1. There is resistance on the part of educators and educational institutions to change existing classroom session formats.
    b. Most leaders of educational institutions–vice-chancellors, rectors, presidents, principals, directors of schools — lack knowledge about the capability of new educational environments such as blended learning: they have not taken faculty and other teachers to know how to turn their face-to-face courses into this format, and thus they do not feel equipped to lead their institutions in this direction.
    c. The expertise needed for movement into blended education is expensive and rare.

What then can we do that will turn these aspirations into realities—and soon? One reasonable and practical solution to these problems is the creation of a centralized and shared service facility that will offer all of the institutions of higher learning who have made a commitment to move in this direction the training, the tools, and the staff expertise that is needed.

One possibility will be to create a “Centre for the Development of New Educational Technologies” (CDNET) to spearhead movement in this direction. Such a Centre could develop, promote, investigate and evaluate pedagogically effective, innovative and transformative uses of ICTs for teaching and learning in higher education. In addition, it could explore the use of new web tools such as “wikis” and “weblogs” as new educational tools.

The world needs to explore the best and most appropriate technology that will permit it to deliver education to the majority of its people who are looking for access to higher education.
Dr. Osei K. Darkwa

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