Innovative Approach to Meet the Needs of Working Professionals Through Blended Learning

Innovative Approach to Meet the Needs of Working Professionals Through Blended Learning

Jeffrey L. Leffler (Mississippi State University, Meridian, USA), Eric G. Suddeath (Mississippi State University, Meridian, USA), Terry Dale Cruse (Mississippi State University, Meridian, USA) and Kimberly R. Hall (Mississippi State University, Meridian, USA)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 24
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1306-4.ch002

Abstract

Blended learning is an emerging approach to distance education that has gained increasing acceptance by faculty in higher education. This chapter presents an innovative approach to blended learning conceptualized as Blended Plus. This approach empowers students to choose how they prefer to interact with instruction within a course. Existing research in blended learning shows significant impact on student learning outcomes. Despite this, some faculty feel apprehensive about online learning modalities, perceiving it as a threat to their faculty role. Others find it appealing because they believe it protects their essential role as the facilitator of instruction. This chapter illustrates how a group of faculty members made students' needs a priority through their willingness to modify courses to provide working professionals greater accessibility to education. Benefits, challenges, and future directions of the new approach will be discussed.
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Introduction

Blended learning represents a variety of instructional approaches that includes both face-to-face (i.e., synchronous) and online (i.e., asynchronous) components. Examples of emerging approaches to blended learning include flipped or inverted learning. These approaches include distinct online delivery of instruction and course content, followed by live discussions in a face-to-face setting (Lee, Lim, & Kim, 2017). This chapter illustrates how the authors implemented an innovative approach to blended learning on a regional campus of a state research university. The potential for increased flexibility and access to education was important for expanding the geographic reach of the campus and essential for meeting the needs of the students, many of whom are working professionals. This approach, which the authors conceptualized as Blended Plus, expanded blended learning through giving students autonomy in determining how they would interact with the class. Specifically, students were given the choice to interact synchronously through face-to-face class meetings or through the use of videoconferencing software connected to a learning management system, or asynchronously by viewing archived recordings of the live meetings and completing interactive online assignments. Students were given the option to choose each class meeting which modality worked best for them. The authors developed a qualitative action research design to answer the following questions:

  • 1.

    What is the effect of implementing a Blended Plus delivery on student engagement and learning outcomes?

  • 2.

    Will implementing a Blended Plus course delivery impact student recruitment and retention in degree programs on the campus?

  • 3.

    Will access to live class meetings via the internet expand the reach of the regional campus?

This chapter begins by exploring the literature regarding the evolution and impact of blended learning approaches. This is followed by a report on an action research study in which a group of faculty members implemented an innovative approach to blended learning on a regional campus of a state research university. Next, the chapter will demonstrate the viability of blended learning models for better meeting the needs of working professionals through making courses more accessible. Lastly, this chapter addresses important lessons learned in implementing Blended Plus as well as recommendations for future research on this instructional approach.

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Literature Review

Institutions of higher education serve many different types of learners with diverse life circumstances. This, along with immense technological advancements, has had a transformative effect on higher education. As such, many have incorporated technology into their instruction to better serve the needs of their students. This technology-enhanced learning (TEL) is implemented in a variety of ways including the use of learning management systems (LMS), more flexible access to courses through asynchronous online instruction, the use of specific technologies by individual faculty members, massive open online courses, and a wide variety of additional applications (Gregory & Lodge, 2015). Yet as institutions utilize technology to widen student access and facilitate engagement, it is important to consider the best way to implement such uses of technology. Specifically, it seems important for institutions to not simply use technology for the sake of using technology, but rather thoughtfully consider how to utilize it to best meet the needs of students and promote positive learning outcomes. Below, the authors provide an overview of the literature regarding blended learning, one effective and flexible approach to instruction that intentionally incorporates technology. Specifically, the authors address the effectiveness of blended learning, how students and faculty members perceive this approach, institutional adoption of this approach, and finally considerations for implementation and instructional design for delivering courses in a blended format.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Blended Learning Strategy: includes a clear vision with common definition of blended learning, policies for implementation, and rationale for using blended learning.

Consolidation Principle: a combination of live class meetings with online components that review concepts presented in the classroom.

Extension Principle: a combination of live class meetings with online components that require students to dive deeper into concepts presented in the classroom.

Blended Learning Support: includes how the institution facilitates the implementation of blended delivery, such as technology support, instructional support, and faculty incentives.

Blended Learning Structure: includes institutional governance and how classes are scheduled and evaluated.

Blended Plus: student choice, each class meeting, in attending class in person (face-to-face), logging in live online (synchronous), or watching the recorded class meeting (asynchronous).

Blended: student instruction that contains some face-to-face class meetings and some online component (synchronous or asynchronous).

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