It is becoming clear that blended learning has the potential to transform higher education (Bonk & Graham, 2006; Garrison & Kanuka, 2004; Garrison & Vaughan, 2007). With the acceptance that higher education must more actively engage students in meaningful learning experiences, institutions of higher education are exploring blended learning course and program redesigns. The status quo with a reliance on the lecture to transmit information is being seriously questioned. The focus here is on exploring blended learning as an innovative approach to the design of teaching and learning in higher and distance education. Strategic action plans for the adoption of blended learning approaches will also be outlined.
Blended Learning Described
The promise of blended learning is to combine the strengths of face-to-face and online learning. Considering the innovative nature of blended learning, any description of blended learning must reflect the transformational potential of the concept. It is crucial to emphasize that blended learning is not just a technological enhancement of more traditional approaches such as the lecture. In short, it is not simply layering on technological options to inherently deficient face-to-face educational practices.
From this perspective, the key assumptions of a blended learning design are:
Thoughtful integration of face-to-face and online learning
Fundamentally rethinking the course design to optimize student engagement
Restructuring and replacing traditional class contact hours (Garrison & Vaughan, 2007)
These assumptions reflect a new way of thinking about higher education. There are no arbitrary prescribed proportions of face-to-face and online experiences here. The defining feature is the purposeful focus to combine the best features of face-to-face and online collaboration to engage students in meaningful and worthwhile learning experiences. In essence, blended learning expands the range of educational possibilities and encourages educators to re-consider basic assumptions and approaches. As we shall see, blended learning represents a way of thinking and an approach that avoids traditional zero sum scenarios where more of one means less of another. The blending of face-to-face and online teaching and learning create the conditions where educators can have, concurrently, interaction with independence and effectiveness with efficiency.
While the conceptual understanding of blended learning may be relatively easy to grasp, the range of possibilities and practical design challenges are complex. The important distinguishing feature of blended learning concerns the pedagogical possibilities created for specific purposes through the creative integration of face-to-face and online learning.Top
The focus of blended learning is not on the enabling technology. The true potential of blended learning is the educational possibilities that technology affords. Blending is about the effective integration, fusion even, of face-to-face and online learning depending on the educational need and purpose. As such, there is virtually an infinite range of possibilities. Notwithstanding this reality, we begin by providing three generic scenarios that provide a concrete vision of the possibilities of a blended learning design.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Strategic Action Plan: An organization plan with specific goals, a schedule of concrete actions, and measurable outcomes.
Community Of Inquiry: A framework that reflects a collaborative-constructivist approach to learning.
Collaborative-Constructivism: Approaches to learning that fuse individual construction of meaning and collaborative validation of understanding.
Online Learning: Networked synchronous and asynchronous communications that support purposeful learning communities.
Blended Learning: The thoughtful integration of face-to-face and online learning that reflects a fundamental rethinking of the teaching-learning transaction.
Teaching Presence: The design, facilitation and instruction directed toward creating and sustaining a community of inquiry.
Social Presence: The ability to identify with a group, communicate purposefully, and develop inter-personal relationships.
Cognitive Presence: A process of practical inquiry distinguished by discourse and reflection for the purpose of constructing meaning and confirming understanding.