How to make Blended Learning possible:Challenges and opportunities

Blended learning refers to learning design that effectively and systematically integrates multiple delivery modes such as face-to-face, online, and mobile across physical and virtual environments. The blend should be informed by student needs, educators’ preferences, curriculum, availability of resources, learning and teaching outcomes, instead of being a mere technology drive. When designed and implemented properly it offers students and educators with benefits such as flexibility, improved accessibility, and better collaborative activities. Further, it encourages learning designers, programme managers and educators to revisit curriculum and course designs regularly to maintain the consistency of content and delivery.
However, designing and delivering blended learning come with some challenges. Boelens, De Wever, and Voet (2017) identified four key challenges as,

How to incorporate flexibility?

The increasing flexibility in blended learning heightens learners’ control over time, place, path, and pace of learning (Horn & Staker, 2014). The online component of blended learning offers flexibility in terms of time by using asynchronous communication. Learners can work anywhere in the world and no longer should be co-located in classrooms. Further, learners have control in terms of path by determining the order in which the content is provided in a course (Van Laer & Elen, 2017), and pace by progressing at their preferred speed (Horn & Staker, 2014). Further, learners have the option to choose between face-to-face or online learning (Owston, York, & Murtha, 2013). Therefore, the first challenge in designing and implementing blended learning is; how to incorporate flexibility without compromising the robustness of the learning design (Boelens et al., 2017).

How to facilitate interaction?

The increased flexibility of time and space in blended learning expands the psychological and communication distance between learners and teachers called transactional distance (Moore & Keegan, 1993). As the transactional distance increases, social interaction becomes challenging. When transactional distance becomes high, instructors cannot immediately notice when learners face problems, or they might not notice struggling students (Chen, Wang, & Chen, 2014). Therefore, maintaining meaningful interaction between, learner-instructor, learner-leaner and learner-content become challenging (Boelens et al., 2017).

How to facilitate students’ learning processes?

Consistency and regularity become a challenge in blended learning environments due to increased flexibility and autonomy of learners (Barnard et al., 2009; Van Laer & Elen, 2017). Therefore, self-regulation skills such as organisational skills, discipline, time management, skills in using technology, and self-efficacy are essential for successful participation in blended learning courses (McDonald, 2014). Several researchers have also found that increased flexibility and learner autonomy are beneficial for high- achieving students, while others might need some structured guidance (Boelens et al., 2017; Owston et al., 2013).

How to foster an effective learning climate?

The increased transactional distance in online environments causes learner isolation (McDonald, 2014). This potentially causes a lack of motivation and resulted in higher drop-out rates. Therefore, it is important to foster a motivating and effective learning climate where learners feel safe, accepted, and valued (Mazer, Murphy, & Simonds, 2007). This increases the learner-instructor, learner-leaner and learner-content engagement and improves the learning and teaching outcomes (Mazer et al., 2007). Educators can foster an inclusive and engaging climate by showing empathy, having a sense of humour, providing encouragements, directing attention to task-relevant aspects, and being sensitive to learning differences of students (Boelens et al., 2017).

Due to the above-identified challenges, designing and implementation of blended learning should be methodically and pedagogically robust. Porter et al., (2014) developed a framework for institutional adoption and implementation of blended learning where they stressed the importance of strategy, structure and support. Design and implementation strategy includes the purpose of implementation, depth and scope of implementation. Structure entails technological, pedagogical and administrative issues. Support involves the institutional help for technological, pedagogical and administrative issues for both learners and educators. In conclusion, it is important to understand and respond to these challenges to foster effective implementation of blended learning.


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