Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Fluid Definition of Blended Learning

"93% of higher ed instructors and admin say they are using blended learning strategies somewhere in their institution. 7 in 10 expect more than 40% of their schools’ courses to be blended by 2013."Bonk, C. J. & Graham, C. R. (Eds.). (in press). Handbook of blended learning: Global Perspectives, local designs. SanFrancisco, CA: Pfeiffer Publishing.

Blended Learning is a very popular phrase these days in education, but what does it really mean? It seems to have a really varied definition depending on who you talk to and where you look. 

There seems to be three main types of courses these days:
  • face-to-face
  • online
  • blended
Face-to-face are courses where the instructor and students meet regularly for classes. Online classes have all of the content delivered online. Blended courses feature some sort of blend between the two. In most cases it would be a course that offers some face-to-face interaction and then other portions online. 

This is where the questions creep in about Blended Learning. What do you have to do online for it to actually be a blended class? Is posting course notes online for students to read blending? Is posting videos blending? Is having an online discussion board blending? Is having students explore content through computerized simulations blending? What about having students complete surveys and questions online? What if you only do one of these things, would it be considered a blended course? I don't think there is one definition that you can find and use to discern whether or not something is blended. 

The lines between blended and not blended will also be dependent on the person who is defining it. For example, someone with a high level of media literacy or experience teaching with technology may not consider delivering a course face-to-face and then using an online discussion board sporadically to be blending, whereas someone who is using a discussion board for the first time in an educational setting will undoubtedly say they are blending the course.
As an educational technologist, I think I need my definition of blending to be fluid as well. To educators who are just beginning their journey with blended learning, I do not want to portray blended learning as something that must contain a discussion board, online content delivery and synchronous online elements. If I start with that definition it will likely scare them away from the idea entirely. I want to begin with a smaller definition to allow them to begin the journey. I want them to step outside of their comfort zone just enough to discover the benefits of blended elements and then we will work to push the boundaries even further. As they move along, I will fluidly change my definition of blending to continually raise the bar. 

A friend passed along an infographic from on blended learning that explores even more types of blended learning. Click HERE to get a good look at it.
One of the models described on the infographic that stood out to me was the Flex model. This model of blended learning has all of the content delivered electronically, but the instructor is available for extra support as-needed. I don't think that fits most of our definitions of blended learning, but goes to show how widely-used the term is.

In summary, blended learning means many different things to different people, but that is OK. As educational technologists we need to support any use of "blended learning" and work to bring educators along on our journey of using blended environments to improve the learning experiences of students.

Do you agree or disagree with this? Should we have one clear definition? Please, leave your thoughts below.

1 comment:

  1. Shared definitions are helpful when you're trying to communicate in shorthand with other people what it is you intend. It just saves some space and time you would need to devote to spelling out the details of your intentions. I'm guessing Curt Bonk realized this as a hole in his 93% figure -- If almost everything can be classified as blended learning, then almost everyone is doing it! Not surprising.

    But do I think we need a shared definition. Not really. I've found that murky concepts are sometimes better left murky. We can spend a lot of time arguing over what definition would be right or best, and in the end, very few people would pay attention to it anyway.

    I agree with you that our time may be better spent in creating innovative and significant ways to make learning environments come alive.