Lots of terms flying around by arrivistes for what has been discussed for decades - Blended learning. We now have Hyflex, Hybrid, or Fusion Learning. Who cares? The problem is that few know what these mean.... most fall into simple dualisms.
HyFlex seems to be the worst of both worlds, hanging ion to the old while disliking the new. As Dr Stephanie Moore says, "It's like looking at the desirable affordances of two modalities and throwing it all out the window ". Hybrid merely suggests some fix between two modalities, like a hybrid car - sometimes electric, sometimes petrol. Fusion? No, just no. Blended Learning is enough - let's stick to this term.
It all got muddled by metaphor. Blended learning started to fail when it got bogged down by banal metaphors. I've heard them all - fusion, hyflex, hybrid... I've heard to described as cocktails and alloys. Within the ‘food metaphor’ we got courses, recipes, buffet learning, tapas learning, smorgasbord, fast food versus gourmet. The problem with metaphor-driven blended learning is who is to say that your metaphor is any better than mine? I’ve even seen the 'fruit blender' metaphor, trying to explain the concept in terms of a fruit smoothie! Let me put forward my own food metaphor. What do you get when you blend things in a metaphoric mixer, without due care and attention to needs, taste and palette? Blended baloney. That is often what we get with models as metaphors - dull, tasteless sausage meat. Blended LEARNING is not a metaphor.
2. Blended bandage
Blended learning (whatever you want to call it) was really just the learning world coping with the onslaught of new ways of teaching and learning. The more recent terms Hyflex, Hybrid and Fusion were the learning world coping with the onslaught of Covid. It is an adaptive response to what is happening to the learning world as the real world changes around it. By real world I don't just mean Covid, I mean changes in attitudes, learner expectations, demographics, politics, but above all massive and rapid change in technology. Blended learning, as a concept, allowed the system to absorb all of this at a sensible pace, as it was a useful bridge between the new and the old. However, seeing it as some sort of bandage or compromise can quickly disabled the idea, as it can lead not to fresh thinking but a defense of old with a few new, adjunct ideas added on.
3. Blended learning is not blended TEACHING
Blended Learning also turned out the very opposite of Blended Learning theory, namely Blended TEACHING. Teacher/lecturer/trainers simply sliced and diced existing ‘teaching’ practices and added a few online extras. Attempts at defining, describing and prescribing blended learning were crude, involving the usual suspects (lectures/classroom plus e-learning). It merely regurgitated existing 'teaching' methods. Blended LEARNING is not Blended TEACHING.
5. Broad dualisms
6. Flipped classroom
All of the above are either metaphors, simplistic dualisms, or subsets of blended learning. Don't mistake the phrase for an anlaytic theory. Blended learning is so often used as a platitude. It is an old mindset that smothers the idea before it has had the chance to breath. What happened to analysis? Blended learning abandoned careful thought and analysis, the consideration of the very many methods of learning delivery, sensitivity to context and culture and a matching to resources and budget. It also needs to include scalability, updatability and several other variables. What it led to were primitive, dualistic 'classroom and e-learning' mixes. It never got beyond vague 'velcro' models, where bits and bobs were stuck together (now that's a metaphor). You need to work towards an 'optimal' blend.
Truly analytic Blended Learning is not a back of an envelope exercise. It needs a careful analytic process, where the learners, type of learning, organisational culture and available resources need to be matched with the methods of delivery. It has INPUTS, decision making and OUTPUTS. Until we see 'Blended learning' as a sophisticated analytic process for determining optimal blends, we'll be stuck in this vague, qualitative world, where the phrase is just an excuse for old practices. Your blend may have no lecture or no classroom components. It may have no online components. But most will be an optimal blend where good teaching and learning theory is applied, alongside analysis of what needs to be taught, who you are teaching and the resources for delivery. We have designed a tool that does precisely this.
10. ’Veil of ignorance’
In practice, to do blended learning, one has to apply what called the ’veil of ignorance’, an idea that goes back to Kant, Locke, Rousseau and more recently John Rawls. You have to go through a thought experiment and imagine your course, workshop, whatever, as having NO pre-set components. Now do some detailed analysis on what type of outcome you want from this in terms of your ‘learning’. Only then, having rid yourself of personal preconceptions and institutional forms of delivery, can you really start to rebuild your course/learning experience. So you start with an analysis of the learning and learners, then take into consideration your resources envelope, with a full cost analysis. Also include long-term sustainability issues such as updatability and maintenance. To construct a blended learning experience you have to deconstruct your natural bias to do what you or your institution have always done and reconstruct the learning experience from scratch.