While academia and the working world debate the values of traditional lecture halls versus online learning environments, the reality may very well be that the most effective means of engaging students lies somewhere in between. Blended learning environments, sometimes also referred to as hybrid classrooms, center on this exact belief. This course structure in many ways provides the best of both worlds for students – they receive all of the collaboration and networking advantages of a traditional brick-and-mortar structure, while also developing contemporary skills online. By combining these elements, students have more time to learn independently, but still also can enjoy the perks of face-to-face instruction. Overall, blended learning provides a flexible course structure that empowers students and makes class time more efficient.
“Blended courses may require significant restructuring.”
What is blended learning?
Creating a fully-blended course requires much more than simply utilizing the Internet as an external resource. According to Online Learning Insights, a online education publication, a blended or hybrid classroom requires approximately 30 to 79 percent of the coursework to be content delivered online. It’s important to note that these percentages are not rigid dividers, but that lackadaisically incorporating online elements to a course will likely not meet this definition. Outside of this spectrum, courses that deliver more than 80 percent of content online are considered online courses, whereas less is more standard of a traditional class model.
However, blended courses are not simply those that utilize the online format. Blended learning environments require some significant restructuring, with an emphasis on making in-person class time more meaningful. Rather than spend time lecturing, educators instead should directly engage with students.
Regarding blended courses, Ben Bederson, Special Advisor to the Provost on Technology and Educational Transformation at the University of Maryland, told Huffington Post, “It forces students to demonstrate that they’ve done the reading, and can use class time for clarifying, activity and discussion rather than introducing material for the first time. It takes better advantage of the face-to-face time that we have.”
What are the benefits?
Less seat time is only one of the many advantages this structure provides for both students and educators. Numerous studies suggest that the hybrid structure benefits students because they enjoy the freedom provided by online courses but still are responsible for attending class and engaging with their peers. Moreover, face-to-face time with educators gives students an opportunity to field questions and reinforce ideas in a way that may not be as simple via Internet forums. U.S. Money News & Report states that blended courses also encourage students to show up for class fully prepared. While a student may be able to get by having missed a reading during a traditional lecture, the limited amount of face-to-face time in blended courses means that educators can go directly into discussions, exams and other forms of assessment.
Strategies for creating blended courses
One of the main keys to creating an effective blended course is developing online content that is engaging, interactive and collaborative. This may mean utilizing a specialized business simulation game, discussion forums and quick online assessments, among other coursework. When developing blended courses, educators should consider the most effective means of engaging students online and during limited class hours. Moreover, educators will have to implement grading structures that weigh the importance of in-person class time versus online activities. Considering blended courses use a hybrid structure, creating a thorough syllabus will help set firm guidelines for students at the beginning of the semester.