From the business world to education, COVID-19 had a powerful, lasting impact on how people learn. While it was common for schools to utilise computers in the classroom and for businesses to embrace technology in the office prior to the pandemic, the concept of virtual work and learning has been fast-tracked both during and post-pandemic.
As businesses and schools quickly transitioned into virtual training and learning, the value and benefits of at-home education became apparent. Although the pandemic is mostly in the past, the lessons learnt about the value of at-home learning haven’t been forgotten.
The education system continues to expand in response to developing technology, and virtual learning has opened the door to blended learning. Also known as hybrid learning, blended learning programmes are an effective way to increase student engagement by also giving students and teachers greater flexibility.
So, what is blended learning, how does it work, and what are the main benefits? This guide aims to educate you on all of the above.
What is the Meaning of Blended Learning?
In general, blended learning is an educational approach that combines in-person instruction and virtual instruction. This concept of learning has stimulated a growing body of research, but not all scientists agree on the meaning of blended learning.
As explained by a student pursuing the degree of Doctoral of Philosophy at the University of Glamorgan/Prifysogol Morgannwg, there are two competing blended learning definitions in the scientific and academic communities:
- Learning programmes that combine face-to-face interactions and technology-mediated interactions. The focus here is on education. Technology and classroom time are equal and work together.
- Utilising internet-based tools to support traditional study in a classroom setting. The focus here is more on technology and how it can elevate the educational experience.
These different approaches to defining blended learning are known as educational-focused and technological-focused. Regardless of which one resonates more with you, the general idea remains the same.
If you create an educational system that incorporates some in-person sessions plus virtual resources, assignments, and communications, you have created a blended learning programme.
We’ll look at some blended learning examples a little later to see how this approach to education plays out in the real world.
Blended Learning Terminology
Blended learning is a popular term for educational approaches that “blend” virtual and traditional learning, but it’s not the only term you may encounter. All of the following are commonly used to refer to systems that use a blended learning approach:
• Hybrid learning
• Technology-mediated instruction
• Mixed-mode instruction
• Web-enhanced instruction
These terms are used in different environments by organisations and people with varying definitions of blended learning. They all share the basic concept of splitting education time between technology at home and traditional classroom sessions.
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Benefits of Blended Learning
In the Fall 2019 issue of the International Journal of Technology in Education, a detailed review of the advantages of blended learning was published along with a discussion on the potential disadvantages of blended learning.
Researchers pulled data from multiple scientific studies to reveal the following list of blended learning benefits, all supported by authentic research:
- Better Outcomes – Students received higher grades and better overall outcomes when enrolled in blended learning programmes. Classes held entirely in person or online weren’t as effective for most students.
- Self-Pacing – Students can pace themselves and move through lessons at their own speed. They have the support of instructors during class time but can determine their pace while working independently at home.
- Greater Independence – Many students work better when they have more independence and can determine how, when, and where they study.
- Diverse Learning Approaches – When designed properly, blended learning systems can cater to students with a variety of learning styles. Students aren’t forced to adapt to the teaching style of one instructor in a classroom setting alone.
- More Peer Interaction – Many blended learning programmes allow students to interact with one another and their instructors in a more rewarding way. Chat features and message boards allow students to ask questions and receive answers quickly. More peer communication can also make learning easier and more rewarding.
- Customisation Options – One of the biggest advantages of blended learning is the ability to customise a programme with a variety of eLearning content. We’ll talk about the variety of possible blended learning strategies or models in just a moment. For now, just note that custom eLearning allows you to create a unique programme that caters to the needs of your students.
- Greater Flexibility – Students and instructors benefit from a more manageable class schedule. Blended learning gives everyone the opportunity to learn when and where it best fits their schedule.
- Time Savings – It’s possible to use technology to teach students of all ages without long classes that consume too much time in a schedule. For instance, employers are now using blended learning to offer microlearning opportunities for employees.
As research continues to prove that blended learning works, more online learning platforms are created. They make it easier and faster to learn online no matter what model of blended learning you embrace.
Blended Learning Models
Now that the definition of blended learning is clear and we’ve listed the primary benefits, let’s talk about some of the most utilised blended learning models.
There is a lot of room to customise programmes that embrace a blended approach to learning. The beauty of models is you can see what has worked for others and adapt or combine those strategies to find what works best for you.
Station rotation is typically utilised inside the classroom. The teacher creates multiple stations, each featuring one activity or lesson for students to complete. Students are then split into groups and placed at a starting station. They then rotate to different stations as a group.
How does this work when you’re using a blended learning approach? Students are still split into groups but utilise a virtual learning platform and at-home resources to move through each of their stations. Some sessions may allow students to connect from their homes virtually while others are focused on teacher presentations and still others allow independent learning entirely off-screen.
When implemented in the classroom without virtual learners, station rotation requires that at least one station is computer-based learning. Students complete that station independently with assistance from the teacher if needed.
Lab rotation is similar to station rotation, but it requires students to spend some time in a lab environment. They may rotate between stations within a classroom when they have in-person sessions and then complete virtual labs through an online learning system when they’re away from the classroom.
If you take the station rotation idea and eliminate the groups, you have individual rotation. This is one of the best blended learning strategies because it’s much easier for students and teachers when not inside a classroom together.
The teacher creates stations or a variety of online learning activities. Students are then given their own schedule or order to move through those activities. This can work in the classroom, virtually, or with a blend of those options.
Flex learning is a blended learning and development strategy that allows each student to choose how they learn best. Some programmes allow all students to work independently on a computer while in a classroom setting. They have the advantage of real-time, in-person help from a teacher if needed while working at their own pace.
Some schools also take flex learning to mean that students can pick between in-person, online, or hybrid learning programmes. That was popular during the COVID-19 pandemic because some children needed to return to school to learn while others felt safer and more productive at home.
Enriched Virtual Learning
Enriched virtual learning is what most people think of when considering the definition of blended learning. Students have in-person sessions with their teacher and peers on certain days of the week and then complete the rest of their work from home using virtual resources.
Some people create programmes with equal time spent online at home and in the classroom. Others consider the in-person learning primary with at-home technology more of a supplement or support network. It goes back to that debate over technological-focused or educational-focused that we discussed a bit earlier.
One example of this model is the flipped classroom experience. Students learn virtually before attending an in-person class with their instructor.
If you want to lean your blended learning experience more towards virtual learning, online driver is the blended learning model to consider. It requires students to complete activities and participate in group or class lessons online. In many cases, the teacher records lessons or lectures, and students watch them when it works best for them.
This model is often embraced for virtual training in professional settings. It works just as well for younger students.
Students may still have some scheduled in-person classes or meetings with teachers. Online driver just requires the virtual or mobile learning to serve as the primary means of communication and learning.
Blended Learning Examples
Here we have a few real-world blended learning examples for you to consider.
Health Education England Blended Learning Programme
Health Education England (HEE) is addressing the nursing shortage through the creation of blended learning education opportunities. They acknowledged that many people would enrol in nursing programmes if they could work independently from home. There are many factors, especially post-COVID, that may stop some future nurses from attending school full-time in the classroom.
HEE launched their first Blended Learning Nursing Degree Programme in 2021. There are now six universities offering blended learning programmes for nursing.
University of Salford Blended Learning Programmes
The University of Salford had a big problem in its Information Systems Institute prior to the introduction of blended learning models: accessibility. In particular, their part-time Business Information Systems programme suffered because at least half of all interested students had trouble fitting the class times into their schedules.
With funding from the European Union Social Fund, the university was able to offer a more flexible version of the programme for part-time students who couldn’t attend live classes during the day. The programme requires students to show up for class just one evening per week with all other instruction taking place online.
Can Blended Learning Work for You?
Blended learning is working for educational programs at all levels and for students of all ages. There are many elementary schools utilising a station rotation model while universities are fully embracing online driver and enriched virtual learning to appeal to students who may otherwise feel left out of the academic world.
To learn more about blended learning, read our posts on how to engage virtual learners and essential features for any online learning platform.
Skillshub offer businesses an eLearning platform to utilise to put blended learning practices into place at your organisation, where you can offer off-the-shelf eLearning content or work with us to create bespoke eLearning content for your team.
You can request a free demo of our platform today or get in touch for a free quote for any of our services.
Sean is the CEO of Skillshub. He’s a published author and has been featured on CNN, BBC and ITV as a leading authority in the learning and development industry. Sean is responsible for the vision and strategy at Skillshub, helping to ensure innovation within the company.