Why "Blended Learning"? What Makes This Model So Effective?

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Since you now understand the way the model works and how it came to be, the reasons for which it is the most effective approach can be properly discussed. Notably, it is not only educators and parents that find interest and benefit in the Blended Learning model, there is so much the model offers to those in business as well. Blended Learning comprises the “fastest growing use of technologies in learning—much faster then the development of online courses.” (Alvarez, 2005) Following the considerable attention garnered by this integrated, highly unique model, the expected next step was begun; a significant dedication to scholarly research ensued. These studies used comparative analysis to judge the differences between traditional in-class learning or purely online schooling alongside the strengths and weaknesses of the Blended Learning approach.

From amongst the aforementioned groups to whom this model may appeal, educators usually rank highest in their level of interest. Justifiably, then, the lion’s share of targeted study into Blended Learning has centered itself under the roofs of academic institutions – that is, in the classroom. There has been research done all across the gamut of educational levels and student ages, from primary school to Graduate studies. Flavin, in his book/paper “E-Learning Advantages in a Tough Economy” is here useful in his summary of Blended Learning:

Ironically, the notion of blending is nothing new. Good classroom teachers have always blended their methods—reading, writing, lecture, discussion, practice and projects, to name just a few, are all part of an effective blend. Blending is only a revelation for those who have been trying to do everything with just one tool—usually the computer—and ending up with less than ideal results. Understanding that using the right tool, in the right situation, for the right purpose should be a guiding design principle. (Flavin, 2001)

‘Differentiated Instruction’, or simply, “custom-designing instruction based on student needs” (deGula, 2004), is one of the overwhelming advantages of Blended Learning as an educational approach. Here, the critical focus of each teacher is on the individual abilities, interests and learning styles of each of their students. Upon determining these essential factors, educators are then able to better tailor the educational environment for each learner – supporting activities, tools, and specific content within the curriculum become much more suited to the needs of each individual student, and their potential for success increases exponentially. It is clear that by adhering to a Blended Learning design, educators are not only affecting the capacity for learning within classroom exchanges, they are also significantly shaping the online learning environment of collaborative, discussant student communities. Following this model, teachers are free to complement traditional lessons with creative digital resources that present the same curriculum content in a language more relevant to this age. The tangible tools and activities usually applied in in-class learning can be easily replaced with the modern technologies integral to Blended Learning. Always, though, a fine balance.

The results of the targeted studies speak loudly and clearly. One study showed that when the online component was added as an equal counterpart to in vivo instructed classes, the amount of learning achieved by students was enhanced. (author 2001) In 2002, DeLacey and Leonard’s research proved that above and beyond this increase in learning (which their study also corroborated), feelings of student satisfaction and their interpersonal communication were also improved.

The Blended Learning classroom is favorable also due to its flexibility. Firstly, the student is here able to vary the pace of learning according to individual need – they are able to ‘enter’ and ‘exit’ the classroom at their leisure, open to spend more time on a particular difficult concept and less on another they have mastered. The 24/7 availability of such “self-study modules” opens the opportunity for students to look over learning areas of their choosing regardless of time and place, and thus directly supports our philosophy of individualized learning (Alvarez, 2005). This flexibility extends also to the issue of attendance, traditionally a cumbersome barrier. When a student must be absent from class, she/he is able to log in to the virtual learning environment and observe classroom material in a similar manner as do the other students. In this way, students can keep on top of their studies despite their physical absence from the class itself. This is especially helpful to students with long-term illnesses or injuries which may prohibit them from regular school attendance.

The elevated completion rates attributed to Blended Learning versus typical e-learning situations are, at least in part, likely due to this issue of self-directed pacing (Flavin, 2001). Clearly, there is a much greater opportunity for genuine student engagement when the course of study is self-paced. Students here are more invested in their studies since the responsibility for learning is shifted toward them. Instead of mentally recording lessons that seem discrete from one another, students involved in Blended Learning are able to view concepts along a connected continuum; that is, they see learning as a process as opposed to a group of separate events. The application of this education is thus maximized (Flavin, 2001).

Keeping in mind the wealth of tested and proven benefits of Blended Learning education, there is no doubt that it improves the quantity and quality of learning within a given course. It is of primary importance to teachers that their instruction reach each and every student. Keeping differentiated instruction in mind, it becomes clear that what is required for objective to be realized is, of course, a wealth of resources alongside innovative technologies of instruction. Blended Learning affords both pupil and teacher the “best of both worlds” (Alvarez, 2005) in the sense that it creatively and effectively combines the traditional classroom with a modern, electronic one. In short, it maximizes the strengths of each and renders potential weaknesses inconsequential – what one lacks, the other makes up for. It is not difficult to understand the reasons for which so many educators and corporate trainers are looking for ways to adapt their environments to match this integrative approach.

While the theory of this maximally beneficial environment is thrilling and at the front line of approaches relevant to today’s youth, how does it actually play out? It is true that many educators (especially those that have been in the profession for decades) get used to one way of doing things, and are resistant, untrusting even, of new methods. It is also true that some may feel quite limited insofar as their computer/technical skills go. Certainly teachers involved with Blended Learning will require the proper training to be able to benefit fully from the opportunities the integrated classroom will provide, as well as to feel fully comfortable doing so. This process should not, however, be at all daunting – not only is the training designed for every skill level, the preparation will be exciting to even the most reluctant educator as they begin to grasp the educational possibilities afforded. The wonderful thing about this approach is that it actually increases the variety of teaching styles available. This said, the technological component is crucial and must be utilized in order to properly equip students for success in this time. Hence, in order to bring “the best of both worlds” to students and teachers alike, specialized teacher training in this approach is essential.