Thursday, September 27, 2012

Blended Learning, and Distance considerations

This morning, while commuting to work, I was catching up on some blog posts from fellow #blendkit2012 participants and I came across a blog post titled Is blended the same as half-distance? but Andres Norberg. I was originally just going to comment on the blog post itself, but the response was getting quite lengthy, so I converted into a blog post.

Anders asks:

If traditional face-to-face education is combined with distance education, what happens? Savings of classroom space and lecturing time? Better enrollment on campus due to increased flexibility in scheduling for students? Extra learning efficiency by using modern tools? More stimulating classes? A sense of being modern and up-to-date by enriching a classroom culture with digital tools? All of the above?

It's interesting, to consider f2f education combining with distance education, but, when it comes down to it, what does that combination really mean?  For example, our campus has a lot of web-enhanced courses, a designation given to an on-campus course that uses tools such as the LMS, wikis, blogs and others tools to enhance the learning.  No reduction of on-campus time takes place, which might lead to (what Sloan-C calls) the 1.5 course (1 course, but with enough to-dos for a whole other half a course). Then of course we have blended, and online modalities as well.

If you take blended, and web enhanced, you essentially have a combination of on-campus and online tools, and depending on your blend, your course may be different than your colleague's, teaching the same course, in the same department, but using a different blend.

So what is the goal of blended learning?  I think the answer depends on who you ask!  If you ask administrators they might say (and I realize I am being a bit cynical ;-)  ) that the goal is better utilization of limited resources (i.e. classroom space). If you ask students, it might be that they save money on gas and parking by not coming as often and therefore are also able to work more shifts.  Better efficiency by using newer tools?  Doubtful.  Coming from a management background I can say that efficiency does not lie in what tools you use, but rather the intersection of people, processes and tools.  You can have the tools, but without the process in place and the right people, you might end up being less efficient.

My personal belief is that blended learning is undertaken because it is the right tool for the job, and that is its main benefit.  If you are looking for better learning outcomes for a specific course, blended learning might be the tool for you.  The fact that students have to travel less, be able to work more, and there is potential better utilization of resources are only the cherries on top of the cake.  What should be driving our design and our processes is better learning outcomes for our learners.  This is what I see as the potential benefit of blended learning.

Lastly, I think that Anders hits the nail on the head when he says that the classroom is a tool itself - therefore as a tool, it's best to think about how to properly utilize it when you have it :)
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