WHAT IS BLENDED/HYBRID LEARNING?
Blended courses (also known as hybrid or mixed-mode courses) are classes where a portion of the traditional face-to-face instruction is replaced by web-based online learning.
How much of the face-to-face instruction must be replaced by online coursework? This question will vary greatly by class, discipline, and learning objectives. The Sloan Consortium (a professional organization dedicated to postsecondary online learning) defines blended learning as a course where 30%-70% of the instruction is delivered online. While this is a useful guideline, it may not be sufficient to cover every blended learning configuration.
Defining hybrid or blended education is a trickier task than one might think–opinions vary wildly on the matter. In a report on the merits and potential of blended education, the Sloan Consortium defined hybrid courses as those that “integrate online with traditional face-to-face class activities in a planned, pedagogically valuable manner.” Educators probably disagree on what qualifies as “pedagogically valuable,” but the essence is clear: Hybrid education uses online technology to not just supplement, but transform and improve the learning process.
That does not mean a professor can simply start a chat room or upload lecture videos and say he is leading a hybrid classroom. According to Education Elements, which develops hybrid learning technologies, successful blended learning occurs when technology and teaching inform each other: material becomes dynamic when it reaches students of varying learning styles. In other words, hybrid classrooms on the Internet can reach and engage students in a truly customizable way. In this scenario, online education is a game changer, not just a supplement for status quo. But what does this theoretical model actually look like in practice?
In the course of higher education, blended or hybrid learning is a snazzy, yet relatively new tool, and not all professors use it the same way. Trends have emerged, however.
For instance, most professors in blended classrooms use some version of a course management system application to connect with students online. Blackboard and Moodle are perhaps two of the best known CMS applications used today. Through platforms like these, students can access video of lectures, track assignments and progress, interact with professors and peers, and review other supporting materials, like PowerPoint presentations or scholarly articles.
Even if all professors used the same platform, however, they could each integrate them into their classrooms differently. According to a report on the subject by the Innosight Institute, professors could supplement traditional coursework with online media in the classroom, or simply alternate between online and classroom instruction. Perhaps one of the most recent–or at least most widely covered–hybrid teaching models is what Innosight calls the “online driver” method, or, as it has come to be known, “flipping.”
This year, NPR and other media outlets caught wind of a relatively new education model called “flipping,” which is really just an adaptation of blended learning. In a traditional classroom, instructors use class time to lecture and disseminate support materials. Students then review these materials and complete any assignments at home, on their own time. With some luck, teachers will review those assignments in class the following day, or at least host office hours so that they can field questions and offer support.
“Flipping” defies these conventions. In this method, teachers and professors use online media to deliver notes, lectures and related course materials. Students review these materials at home and at their own pace. Classroom periods are then transformed into hands-on work periods where the teacher–who will have already delivered his or her lecture digitally–is free to field questions, engage class-wide discussions or offer other means of support. According to Mary Beth Hertz of the George Lucas Educational Foundation, “flipping” reinforces student-centered learning, allowing students to master content in an individual way. But is it effective?