Blended Learning – What’s in a Name?

Hybrid learning, collaborative learning, blended learning, integrated online learning – all terms that are being used to try and define the ways in which universities, schools and colleges are working to rethink the design and delivery of their courses to suit the needs of an increasingly digitally-savvy student audience.

This integration of traditional classroom-based teaching and technologically-enhanced learning methods was highlighted in the latest edition of the Horizon Report as a ‘fast trend’ – one that will drive change in the higher education sector in the next 1 -2 years as schools seek to take advantage of the possibilities blended approaches offer around enhancing collaboration, honing students’ digital literacies, and providing more engaging learning environments.

If you talk to students directly about their educational experiences, though, you’ll be hard pressed to hear them use a term like ‘blended learning’ or any of the variants. For today’s digital natives, the need to have a ‘blend’ of online and real-world teaching and learning approaches seems so obvious as to almost not warrant comment. We’ve heard from students who consider that academics who aren’t using tools like lecture capture or their university’s virtual learning environment (VLE) or learning management system (LMS) are ‘behind the times’.

The challenge this poses for institutions is in making sure all of their staff are equipped to complement their face-to-face teaching methods with online analogues such as recorded lecture content and flipped classroom clips. Gearing up hundreds of staff to be able to operate in a blended teaching environment is no small feat, and while technologies like ours are designed to make some of these transitions as easy as possible, at first it can feel like a culture shift.

But – the move towards blended learning  doesn’t necessarily have to be a top-down approach.

While students don’t talk about blended learning, more often than not they’re doing it themselves, almost by default.

In a recent guest post on our blog, Daniel Doyle, a student at Newcastle University, details the ways in which he and his classmates use a real-world study group to review recorded lectures and other digital material – completely reversing the old practice of students discussing classroom lectures online after they’ve attended.

Digital collaboration of almost all kinds have become commonplace among students we’ve spoken to, connecting after a lecture or seminar using Facebook and Whatsapp – in addition to accessing material online through their institution’s VLE.

For universities that want to create blended approaches that really engage, it may well be worth taking some time to learn from the people who will use the blend in the first place. Just be aware those students might not put a specific name to it – they might just call it… learning.

Published: March 06, 2014