Blended online learning is a fast-growing innovation taking the education industry by force. Blended learning is an approach that combines online education resources for online interaction alongside conventional classroom methods. It is defined by the physical presence of both teacher and student and allows the student some autonomy over the learning pace, process, place, and time. Blended online learning is a variation of blended learning that includes concurrent online learning via web conferencing to enhance otherwise asynchronous online learning.
As with online learning in general, there are some misconceptions about blended online learning and what it entails. A common misconception is that online students will have to work in isolation. In reality, most e-learning courses are structured to have a good deal of social interactions with the rest of their class throughout the course. Moreover, blended online learning requires students to have adequate opportunities for peer and instructor interaction, in offline settings as well. Many believe that blended online learning is entirely digitised, where students complete their coursework, in a wholly asynchronous manner, at home and school. However, students may indeed come to their physical classroom but will have to work on their course online during class time. The one size fits all approach is not the standard here, as blended online learning allows students to study, based on their custom requirements.
This blended, hybrid model of learning is also perceived as being easier than on-campus instruction. Many educators and students misconceive that online education, in general, requires less work. On the contrary, this mode of learning actually requires more time and effort-intensive contributions from all stakeholders involved. All stakeholders need to understand that blended online learning does not take lesser time or effort than conventional learning models. It enables students to work at their own pace and learn concepts in a broader, more comprehensive manner.
Blended online learning offers tremendous benefits to all the stakeholders involved in the learning process. In many ways, blended online learning mitigates the challenges presented by fully online learning. The customisation it allows, to suit varying learning styles and environments, enables highly scientific and technical disciplines to be taught using this method. When teaching medical science, engineering, or other STEM subjects that require practical exposure, it serves as a useful alternative to fully online learning. Research showed that students being taught using blended learning achieved similar results as traditional course structure and increased the satisfaction ratings of the participants as well.
Blended online learning can counter the risk of social isolation that could be brought on by online learning. Using blended learning environments, educators can facilitate the social interaction and peer-to-peer bonding that forms a crucial part of the learning experience. Educators have access to several online tools that effectively record and measure student progress. This makes it easier to monitor and assess a student’s engagement with the course, their performance, and the level of help they require, in an easier manner. This mode of learning also doesn’t restrict learning and interaction to just on-campus hours. Chatrooms, discussion groups, and other social media tools allow students and teachers to stay in touch consistently and provides for better student engagement and support. Blended online learning saves a significant portion of the costs associated with the learning location and physical learning material in a traditional learning environment.
Like any form of learning, blended online learning also has its challenges and drawbacks. The blended online learning approach may often require both students and teachers to put in more effort and time. Teachers are required to work longer to choose the right curriculum, customise learning paths based on individual student performance, and try to strike the right balance between online and offline learning. This may lead to them increasing the course load, with too many assignments and activities for students to complete. This will lead to a cognitive load that can overwhelm students and adversely impacts performance. Therefore, this may seem like an unattractive time and effort-intensive approach to all parties involved.
A key challenge in deriving the whole benefit of implementing blended online learning, is the gaps in technology infrastructure. There are significant costs that arise to acquire, implement and maintain the technological resources required to implement this type of learning environment. All stakeholders must be sufficiently educated in using technology and must be able to navigate their computers or online devices. In addition to the inequity in digital accessibility, this may be useless and even detrimental in the effort to provide quality education to all. Online learning requires students to be consistently motivated to complete and excel in their courses. If students are not motivated and turn laggards in completing their course, there is not much that the instructor can do to help in such cases. In addition, blended online learning may increase the instances of students turning to cheating or getting their information from unverified or incorrect sources. This can be detrimental to their learning.
Hence, to derive the myriad benefits that blended online learning can offer, it is necessary to strike the optimal balance between the online and offline tools being used to facilitate learning. Successful hybridisation of learning will be based on having the right infrastructure in place to conduct learning in the most efficient manner possible.