What is Blended Learning?
Throughout this chapter, the term blended learning is used to describe course delivery in which a combination of face-to-face and online teaching and learning take place. Holmes and Gardner (2006) state that the rationale behind this approach is to improve traditional learning environments by incorporating e-learning where appropriate. Thus, e-learning is employed to complement other methods, not replace them, and should only be used if it enriches and enhances what is already being done (Charlesworth & Vician, 2003). Singh and Reed (2001) maintain that variation in the blend selected allows a programme of study to be tailored to the particular needs of the learner: “Blended learning focuses on optimizing achievement of learning objectives by applying the ‘right’ learning technologies to match the ‘right’ personal learning style to transfer the ‘right’ skills to the ‘right’ person at the ‘right’ time” (p. 2).
There are several other interpretations of what blended learning involves, including one that views it as a blend of different types of Web-based tools and media only (Whitelock & Jelfs, 2003); another proposed by Driscoll (2002) describes mixing several pedagogical approaches that may or may not include instructional technology.
In a recent review, Sharpe, Benfield, Roberts, and Francis (2006) recognise that blended learning is not easy to define. However, they recommend that the use of the term is continued because this lack of clarity allows teaching staff to develop their own particular meaning appropriate to their context. They also contend that academic staff are reassured by the implication that face-to-face contact with students is preserved in a blended learning approach. Oliver and Trigwell (2005) are of the opposite opinion, however, they argue that use of the term should be discontinued because of the problem of clarity and also because none of the interpretations include the perspective of the learner. They suggest that a move toward a student perspective would be facilitated by employing a variation theory research framework. We believe that the expression blended learning has now entered into relatively widespread use and that it is not practical at this stage to abandon it. However, the issue raised by M. Oliver and Trigwell of the need to incorporate the student perspective is a very important one and will be addressed further in this chapter.