Spotlight on remote teaching: Benefits and challenges of blended learning

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In this ‘Spotlight on remote teaching’ post, Yi-Shan Tsai, research associate at the School of Informatics, talks about the advantages and challenges of blended learning design and what questions to consider when adopting this approach. These issues will be discussed in great detail in the upcoming free and online course “Making Blended Education Work” starting May 11th…

In the recent New Media Consortium horizon report (Alexander et al., 2019), experts suggest that blended learning design has yet to scale and remains a short-term trend (i.e., driving Ed Tech adoption in higher education for the next one to two years). What should we consider when designing a blended learning course, programme, and institution? The commonly perceived benefits often come with challenges that require strategic approaches to mitigate.

Flexibility and inclusiveness vs. Self-regulated learning skills and Accessibility

One major advantage of blended learning is the flexibility to engage with learning materials at a time and place most convenient for learners. For example, students on degree programmes that include placement as part of the learning design can benefit from blended learning due to the time and space limitations of placement. Similarly, part-time students can better juggle studies with work and family responsibilities in blended learning scenarios. With a wide range of online media available to utilise, teaching delivery can be better tailored to meet the needs of individual learners. The flexibility of blended learning can also support the development of a learning community made of a diverse group of learners. Moreover, when incorporating blended teaching with learning analytics, instructors can better understand learner engagement with online materials and identify the needs and timing for learning support.

However, flexible learning requires a high-level of responsibility and self-regulation from learners. Some of the key skills for successful blended learning are goal-orientation, time management, and learning strategies. However, these skills vary by students, which could affect learning engagement, learning outcomes and the overall experience of blended learning.

In addition, as the use of technology is essential to blended learning, unequal access to technological devices and Internet bandwidth among students can limit the potential of enhancing flexibility and inclusiveness of learning. This issue can be especially pronounced in rural areas.

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Efficiency vs. staff workload and pedagogical benefits

It is also noted that in blended learning scenarios, students can make a better use of classroom time for deep learning through collaborative work and face-to-face interactions with the instructor. By moving certain learning activities online, procedural efficiency can be achieved in tasks such as assessment and feedback provision. From a managerial point of view, there is also an economic benefit of space utilisation in the campus.

Although the procedural efficiency is usually appreciated by students, research has regularly raised the issue of staff workload. Creating and uploading learning materials to online platforms can demand a significant amount of time and digital skills. This also applies to interactions with learners online. Instead of seeing blended teaching as a way to cut institutional expenditure, institutions will need to recognise the fact that blended teaching requires considerable investment in institutional infrastructure, human resources, and training support.

It is also important to point out the risk of placing an emphasis on efficiency over pedagogical benefits: blended learning activities need to support learners to achieve desired learning outcomes. That is to say, blended learning needs to be driven by pedagogy rather than technology. However, the lack of clarity to both teachers and students in terms of the purpose of adopting blended learning practice can lead to loss of learning opportunities and impede teaching effectiveness. In a post-digital era, conversations around blended learning have to go beyond delivery modes to institutional infrastructure of planning, administration and organisation that can better support learners of increasing mobility. Importantly, blended learning as an umbrella term for technology-supported learning needs to be re-examined, re-conceptualised, and re-imagined as the divide between the digital and the physical becomes less and less clear today.

We discuss these issues in detail on an online course — Making Blended Education Work. The course will be delivered by an international team made of seven European higher education organisations: The University of Edinburgh, Delft university of Technology, KU Leuven, Dublin City University, Tampere University of Applied Sciences, Arhus University, and European Association of Distance Teaching Universities. The course begins on 11 May on FutureLearn. If you are an institutional leader, learning technologist, practitioner, or researcher, interested in blended learning related research, design, and implementation strategy, do not miss it!

Sign up to the free online course — Making Blended Education Work.

Reference

Alexander, B., Ashford-Rowe, K., Barajas-Murphy, N., Dobbin, G., Knott, J., McCormack, M., Pomerantz, J., Seilhamer, R., & Weber, N. (2019). Horizon Report Preview 2019 Higher Education Edition (pp. 1–44). EDUCAUSE. https://library.educause.edu/resources/2019/2/horizon-report-preview-2019

Yi-Shan Tsai

Yi-Shan Tsai is a research associate at the School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh, with an affiliation to the Centre for Research in Digital Education. Her research interests range from learning analytics and digital storytelling to reading cultures and multimodal texts. She currently works on two large multinational research projects on learning analytics and blended learning in collaboration with 11 different institutional partners in Europe and Latin America. Prior to this, she worked on an award-winning project (SHEILA—Supporting Higher Education to Integrate Learning Analytics) that investigated social and cultural factors in institutional adoption of learning analytics. Yi-Shan is currently an executive member of the Society for Learning Analytics Research (SoLAR).

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