Blended Learning Primer

Blended Learning Primer

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61692-906-0.ch031
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Whilst the potential of blended learning to provide cost effective and quality learning experiences in adult education is generally acknowledged, deciding ‘what to blend?’ and ‘how to blend?’ is challenging. The design and implementation of blended learning is specific to the learning situation. Given the range of possible learning situations and the wide array of possible tools there are virtually endless possibilities for the blended learning designs. Those first embarking on blended learning ventures are faced with the task of surveying the vast quantity of resulting literature to gain a fundamental understanding of the concept and its implementation. For those beginning to implement blended learning in adult education contexts, this chapter attempts to provide a starting point for further exploration. This chapter seeks to lay foundations for understanding the concept of blended learning by firstly defining the term, and then highlighting key design concepts by discussing appropriate philosophical foundations and instructional design principles. An overview of some of the existing models and frameworks for blended learning in adult education is then given. Finally, some of the advantages and challenges of blended learning are discussed and future directions and research issues are identified.
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The understanding of blended learning is assisted by a brief discussion of multimedia, e-learning and flexible learning from which blended learning evolved.

In the early 1990’s the emergence of multimedia delivered on CD ROM heralded a new era for technology based learning. ‘Multimedia’ being any technology making possible “the entirely digital delivery of content presented by using an integrated combination of audio, video, images (two-dimensional, three-dimensional) and text along with the capacity to support user interaction (Torrisi-Steele, 2004, p. 24)”. The promise of multimedia was the use of multiple modalities which would be supportive of individual learning styles, enabling learners to construct individual pathways through content and use of interaction as a way of actively engaging learners (Butcher-Powell, 2005).

Shortly thereafter the emergence of the internet and in particular, the development of the World Wide Web expanded the array of technologies available for teaching and learning endeavours. The graphical user interface (GUI) offered by the World Wide Web rapidly facilitated its use in educational contexts. Terms such as ‘e-learning’, ‘online learning’ (sometimes used interchangeably) became common use. ‘E-learning’ refers to “online access to learning resources, anywhere and anytime” (Holmes & Gardner, 2006, p.14). E-learning primarily viewed as “an alternative way [to face-face teaching] to teach and learn” (Alonso, Lopez, Manrique & Viñes, 2005, p. 218). An important characteristic of e-learning is that it frees the access to information and learning materials from the constraints of specific time and place.

Alongside the development of the internet, the growing availability of networks made way for a range of communications tools for both online synchronous (same time/same place, same time/different place) and asynchronous (different time/different place) communication. These tools enabled the formation of e-learning communities. E-learning communities are a powerful feature of e-learning environments. When learners are able to engage in shared learning activities (Holmes & Gardner, 2006; Alonso et al., 2005) more meaningful learning occurs because learners have the opportunity share and questioning their understandings (Laurillard, 1993).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Multimedia: “The entirely digital delivery of content presented by using an integrated combination of audio, video, images (two-dimensional, three-dimensional) and text along with the capacity to support user interaction (Torrisi-Steele, 2004, p. 24)”.

Constructivism: A philosophy of teaching and learning advocating learner-centred approaches. The learner is an active participant in the construction of knowledge. The instructor acts as a facilitator and guide.

Social Constructivism: Constructivist philosophy stressing the importance of social interactions in the construction of knowledge.

Conversation Theory: The view that learning occurs by achieving mutual understanding through recursive and iterative conversation.

Blended Learning: Creating optimal learning opportunities by selecting and integrating the best of face-face approaches with the best of technology mediated approaches.

Performance Support: A paradigm that advocates learning for immediate use. “Learning can occur either as a result of doing or at the moment of need” (Gery, 2002, p. 26).

Flexible Learning: Approaches to teaching and learning that are learner centred, free up the time, place and methods of learning and teaching and use appropriate technologies in a networked environment (Moran & Myringer, 1999, p. 60).

E-Learning: Refers to access to learning resources, via technology, outside the restrictions of time and place.

Cognitivism: A view of learning focusing on knowledge being formed by the acquisition or re-organization of symbolic mental constructions (schema). Learning is viewed as a three stage ‘information processing’ occurrence: input enters from the senses (sensory register), some of this input is transferred to short term memory (can be retained here longer through repeated rehearsal and chunking of material into meaningful parts) and then may be committed to Long-term memory.

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