Gave a talk at the e-learning forum taday and it struck me afterwards that blended learning has taken root but it has no define shape, theory, methodology or best practice. You can call anything a blended solution. Most of the definitions are really 'blended instruction'. All we have are lots of unvalidated examples.
Blended learning, in practice, seems to be simply a nice way for the old world to cope with the new. It's a sugar coating on what many see as a bitter pill - the fact that the dominance of the classroom is fading fast. Technology is providing the social spaces, content, tools, access, media types that allow us to learn what we want, where and when we want. Blended learning is simply a cipher for the process of coping with that truth. It's a soft term that hides a hard, and for some unpalatable, truth.
Blended learning is starting to embrace a huge variety of 'word of mouse' techniques in learning. We need to see Blended learning (not instruction) as being focused on learning, not instructional techniques. With the web we have the learners themselves create, access, comment and use content. This really is matching the learner with their actual needs. It copes with different personality types, preferences and needs in a way that traditional training and education does not. In short, blended learning means that the war has been won. Technology based learning is here to stay, an irreversible trend that will radically change the way we learn on a similar scale to the way it has changed the way we work.
In the context of public sector education in the UK, I always felt that the term blended learning provided a bolt hole for traditionalists wanting to defend face-to-face teaching against the encroachment of online learning. So rather than being, as Donald suggests, sugar-coating on the bitter pill that the dominance of the classroom is fading, people have been able to say to themselves "We'll keep the zealots at bay by giving our learners a bit of online learning alongside our traditional face-to-face teaching. But in paractice we'll not make any major changes to how we organise things". Of course there are some notable exceptions, such as the Sheffield College's Young People Speak Out course, which is described as blended, and which gives learners a carefully thought out mix of online and face-to-face activity. But in the latter's case no sugar-coating was needed: the staff involved in it embraced radical changes in course organisation with enthusiasm.
In a way 'Blended learning' serves a useful purpose - allowing traditionalists to assimilate and acclimatise themselves to newer models, but we should not pretend that it is anything more than a useful bridging term. True there are some who really are designing optimal blends based on a true analysis of their learners, the learning and their resources, but these are rare.
My frustration is always with the attitude of people who feel that blended learning = instructor led training + e-learning. End of. In a company that had yet to be persuaded that e-learning would work for them, I offered a blend of ILT workshops, super-users, coaching, mentoring and self study materials. However, I learnt not to refer to this combination as "blended" since this simply led to misunderstanding. Until such time as I had introduced e-learning to the mix, I was not entitled. What piffle. After all, "blend" simply means mix or combine, it does not dictate the ingredients or the proportions. I prefer it that way - it leaves the door open to create an appropriate blend for each situation, rather than trying to make the same recipe work in every case.
Spot on. Most of the definitions of blended learning centre on a mix between offline and online or face-toface and e-learning. This is merely blended instruction. Blended LEARNING needs to be defined in terms of what learners need.
For example, to ride a bike, I don;t want an e-learning course which no doublt would have some wonderful Flash animations, neither do I want to attend a classroom course. Neither e-learning nor classroom training are necessary conditions for learning.
Regardless of the terminology that is used, instruction that addresses a wider variety of learning modalities is something that has been sorely needed for some time. I have taken many 'blended learning' courses and find the interactions with other classmates as well as the instructors to be superior to a majority of the classes I have been in. Whether we like it or not, as teachers we must prepare ourselves to utilize any and all technological advances to the best advantage for the students we have under our tutelage. In some cases the technology that is now available such as conferencing software, can be a viable alternative to the traditional classroom, IF the instructor is well versed in the use of such software and committed to the success of the students. I, for one, am surprised it has taken so long for us to begin to see the potential available here. Considering the world energy situation, we may have to resign ourselves to other alternatives to a traditional brick and mortar school. Also, given the propensity for our students to reach us with some level of proficiency with technology, we would be negligent it we ignore the possibilities.
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