My learning partner, Shahla, and I decided to focus on blended learning as a trend in education and research the way it is affecting the role of the instructor.
Blended learning, also known as hybrid learning, takes into account the best of traditional, face-to-face learning, and the newer form of online education. It leverages the strengths of each of these learning strategies and can be carefully crafted based on each course to determine how and what is delivered online versus through face to face instruction.
"Blended learning is a method that has proven to be not only effective in terms of learning outcomes, but ranks high on ratings of satisfaction with students and instructors." (Dzuiban, Hartman & Moskal, 2004, as stated on https://onlinelearninginsights.wordpress.com/2013/01/17/is-blended-learning-the-best-of-both-worlds).
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Blended Learning has been gaining popularity and seems to be garnering a lot of investment especially by Universities in both training for their educators, as well as facilities on campus. This trend is helping to meet the needs of students in terms of flexible learning options. It can allow less time away from work or their family in order to complete a course. It also offers opportunities for universities and other facilities to reduce the amount of time spent in house therefore allowing for more access by more students, and better management of facility space.
While there is time spent in the classroom, the amount of time varies by course and instructor. One model of blended learning is the "flipped classroom”. This model has lectures uploaded online for students to watch prior to class time. They can also be provided assignments and readings that take place prior to the class in order to prepare them with the knowledge needed to engage in small groups with their peers, and do what was classically asked of students to do as homework, to be done instead during class hours. The benefits to this include having instructors able to interact and understand what students are understanding. They become less of a talking head to their students, and more of a facilitator of their learning experience.
The blended learning model seems to be effective as it allows for engagement of students with their peers and their instructor, and while somewhat surprising; it seems that most students find they have a closer relationship with their instructor than that of traditional face to face classroom. Where they may have felt more lectured at, rather than communicated with by their instructor.
In a blended learning model, instructors are facilitators, usually using a constructivism approach to their classroom planning. They have the benefit of seeing the interaction of students that they might not have had participation from before due to online discussions, or in class small group work. This in turn allows for a more personalized approach to supporting students in their learning.
A flipped classroom, which can be done for a part of or an entire course, can offer great advantages built around a students learning abilities. For example some students can watch a video lecture several times in order to understand the concept. While others can watch it while they are waiting for someone at a bus stop. The instructor is able to resuse the video lectures in their classrooms not just for the one run through of the course, but for many years quite often.
The time spent in class is focused on student interaction, and allows the instructor to facilitate small working groups or discussions. "This opportunity for “just-in-time” intervention is important because providing students with immediate feedback has a positive impact on student learning" (https://uwaterloo.ca/centre-for-teaching-excellence/teaching-resources/teaching-tips/planning-courses-and-assignments/course-design/course-design-planning-flipped-class)
A caution that is highlighted is the understanding of instructors not to add technology into their courses in addition to what they would have expected in a face-to-face classroom. Instead, it is recommended that they utilize these tools to replace something that they would usually do face-to-face. This challenge to rethink how they are designing the course, what the student outcomes are going to be, and what tools they can access to ensure the course and material is interactive can involve a number of skills that go beyond the traditional teaching training. That said, when instructors utilize one to two tools in their design and delivery of course material they are generally learning a new skill, and gaining understanding of the benefits of this method.
In my career as a manager and trainer of volunteers I am working with adults who have come from all walks of life and experiences. They may/may not be working at the moment, they have varying levels of interest and commitment to learning, and often their time is very limited. They also cover an entire province while our staff all reside in the lower mainland, and therefore have limited face-to-face time with each of them. I can see the opportunity to employ blended learning practices into our current orientation and training programs. Utilizing tools such as YouTube for explaining concepts, background about the Foundation, while introducing our staff and Foundation structure. A model of this type could allow us to better use our staff resources by having videos as living items that volunteers can access as they come on board and based on their time allowances.
We could then focus the limited face-to-face time on group activities, facilitation or presentation skills, and deepening the learning and relationship with the Foundation. I believe this would be a better use of our time together, and is the aspect of training where we receive the strongest feedback from our volunteers currently.
Working with my learning partner
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My learning partner, Shahla, and I met to discuss our research on blended learning. I would like to give Shahla credit for first suggesting this topic. Her previous work experience in the medical teaching field in her home country had led her to think this might be a best practice that her students would enjoy. I had just touched on it recently in our class readings, and enjoyed the opportunity to dig deeper into the trends and research occurring to think about how this might be a trend that I could utilize in volunteer management.
Shahla’s research mirrored mine in many respects in terms of themes in both trends and roles. However she had found some great resources that described blended learning in more list like forms “from lecturer to facilitator, and from Explain to intervener” for example which helped to simplify much of what I was also describing. She has an excellent way of using her scientific side to capture what is being said, and find research which can summarize the ideas clearly.
During the session we each had a chance to share another form of blended learning which we had just come across. In Shahla's case it was blended learning in a course completely face-to-face, and I had found an article about how blended learning can be done using only an online model. Essentially blended learning can be used regardless of the format or amount of time spent face-to-face, the importance is in how the time is spent in terms of activities. The blended concept and principles is the key to the change in the learning model and the amount of time split between an online world and face-to-face world are secondary. How and where people view it may differ by course or institution which is what allows it so much flexibility.
Shahla's blog can be found at https://zahirishahla.wordpress.com