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Blended learning is the combination of multiple approaches to learning. For example:- self-paced, collaborative or inquiry-based study. Blended learning can be accomplished through the use of 'blended' virtual and physical resources. Examples include combinations of technology-based materials, face-to-face sessions and print materials.
The concept of blended learning has particular relevance to language learning (see point 8 below).
Current usage of the term
With today's prevalence of high technology in many countries, blended learning often refers specifically to the provision or use of resources which combine e-learning (electronic) or m-learning (mobile) with other educational resources.
Some would claim that key blended-learning arrangements can also involve e-mentoring or e-tutoring.
These arrangements tend to combine an electronic learning component with some form of human intervention, although the involvement of an e-mentor or an e-tutor does not necessarily need to be in the context of e-learning. E-mentoring or e-tutoring can also be provided as part of a "stand alone" ("un-blended") e-tutoring or e-mentoring arrangement.
Researchers Heinze and Procter have developed the following definition for Blended Learning in higher education:
- Blended Learning is learning that is facilitated by the effective combination of different modes of delivery, models of teaching and styles of learning, and founded on transparent communication amongst all parties involved with a course.
A major criticism of such a definition revolves around their rigid insistence upon features such as "communication", "transparency", "parties" and "courses". These features do not necessarily have clear or unambiguous meaning in environments outside that of higher (or other institutionalised) education systems. In other words, the definition fails to acknowledge environments where blended learning does not raise issues of "transparency of communication" in the way it is envisaged in the institutional definition. This might refer to artificial intelligence systems, or animal training systems, which can be involved in blended learning since they employ combined resources.
It should also be noted that some authors talk about "hybrid learning" (this seems to be more common in Northern American sources) or "mixed learning". However, all of these concepts broadly refer to the integration (the "blending") of e-learning tools and techniques with traditional methods. Two important factors to consider are the time spent on online activities and the amount of technology used.
Alternative usage of the term
The term "blended learning" can also be used to describe arrangements in which "conventional", offline, non-electronic based instruction happens to include online tutoring or mentoring services.
This combination of e-tutoring plus conventional learning, although it is a perfectly valid example of blended learning, is the "opposite way round" to most current blended learning arrangements, in that the solution is driven by conventional learning techniques, not by the electronic techniques.
"Pre e-learning" and "non e-learning" usages
As with many things prefixed with 'e-' (originally standing for "electronic", but eventually more specifically applied to the involvement of computer-based or more recently Internet-based technology) the e-learning aspect of blended learning can often mislead the unwary into believing that it is the defining constituent of 'multi-resource' educational approaches.
Those involved in school education (as opposed to many of those responsible for developing occupational training resources) are often more familiar with 'combined resource' educational tools that do not necessarily involve computer technology:
- Classroom based audio-tape resources (language laboratories);
- Auditorium multimedia visual resources (movie projectors, slideshows, VCRs);
- Textual resources: textbooks, exercise books (although these are obviously the mainstay of traditional school educational resources, they are actually a neglected and under-valued potential component of e-learning-based blended learning);
- Home-learning resources (video recordings, audio recordings);
- Blackboard and whiteboard resources, including high-tech "printing whiteboards" and "online whiteboards";
- Demonstration resources, including "museum exhibits", "laboratory experiments", live theatre, historic re-enactment, hands-on workshops, role-playing, etc;
- Non-instructional education resources, such as examination, quizzes, invigilation, test-grading, etc.
The above, whilst they do not include e-learning, are nonetheless potential constituents of a blended learning approach.
Similarly, in the same way that "non-human resources" which are not e-learning are not included in many blended learning solutions, the human component of an e-learning-based blended learning arrangement does not need to be "high-tech".
Interaction with a human being in blended learning solutions is typically delivered through real-time chat systems or online message boards or email. However, telephone contact with a tutor or trainer may be just as effective and potentially far more reassuring to the learner.
Current non-e-learning-based blended learning
Sometimes, especially in IT training, learners may use computers as a training resource in a conventional classroom setting. The presence of a classroom tutor often tends to prevent training delivered in this way from being labelled as e-learning or blended learning.
This kind of instructor-led training can itself be conducted completely online, using email, chat or message boards. While there is a sense in which this not really "blended" (it ultimately constitutes just a single "delivery method"), the combination of human teacher and online interaction can certainly be thought of under the blended learning umbrella, especially if the online interaction is conducted using some of the more sophisticated online interactive whiteboard tools like NetMeeting.
An example that may help you grasp the idea
Blended learning is nothing new! Teachers have been using versions of it all the time. Many people use the term 'hybrid learning' or 'combined resource' teaching to describe similar concepts. Really, it's just mixing teaching and or facilitation methods, learning styles, resource formats, a range of technologies and a range of expertise into a learning stream. For example, it could simply mean wheeling a TV into a class and screening a relevant DVD. There! You have mixed a potentially engaging technology with what might have otherwise been a standard lecture style presentation. But this hardly rates as a full blending learning experience.
A better example
What if a DVD, or particular scenes in that DVD, were used to prompt a class discussion on a particular issue? While the class discussed the issue face-to-face, 3 of the students might take the opportunity to peruse a class wiki website? At the end of the discussion each student could be tasked for the week to go and research further areas of particular interest and note what they found in their weblogs. The class discussion might continue through an eGroup and weblog comments, including home-schooled students online. The teacher could moderate the weblog entries and prompt students to update the wiki when key points are raised.
3 weeks later, several class groups could be invited to give presentations that are recorded onto MP3 audio and uploaded to students' weblogs and the class 'wiki'. Any presentation slides and project pictures could be loaded onto Flickr.com. This is just one example of what blended learning might look like. It has relied on a constructionist pedagogy, catering to a neomillennial learning style, incorporating technology, encouraging learning through networks, and fostering connectivism.
Throw in a photocopier, a scanner, some scissors and glue, a town planning meeting... and... well... who knows what could happen!
A Model used by Language Schools
Language learning (especially ELT, English Language Teaching) has been at the forefront of the development of blended educational solutions. ELT in particular requires a combination of face-to-face teaching and interactive (and therefore frequently electronic) practice activity. This can be achieved through the adoption of a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE).
VLEs have been a major growth point in the ELT industry over the last 5 years. They are developed either as an externally-hosted platforms onto which content can be exported by a school or institution (examples being Moodle, 'Worldwide Web Course Tools, WebCT' or the 'Blackboard' VLE) or as content-supplied, course-managed learning platforms (an example being 'Macmillan English Campus'). The key difference is that the latter is able to support course-building by the language school. This means that existing learning pathways are supported by games, activities, listening exercises and grammar reference units online.
- Educational technology
- Networked learning
Wikispaces has a wiki about: Blended Learning
- Institute for Research on Learning Technologies Conducts research on blended learning
- Alvarez, S. (2005). Blended learning solutions from B. Hoffman (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Educational Technology. Retrieved December 26, 2006
- Josh Bersin (2 Nov 2004). The Blended Learning Handbook: Best Practices, Proven Methodologies, and Lessons Learned (excerpt), Pfeiffer Wiley. ISBN 0787972967. URL accessed 2006-12-26.
- Curtis J. Bonk, Charles R. Graham (December 2005). The Handbook of Blended Learning: Global Perspectives, Local Designs (excerpt), Pfeiffer Wiley. ISBN 0787977580. URL accessed 2006-12-26.
cs:Blended learning da:Blended Learning de:Integriertes Lernen nl:Blended learning
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