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7 Next Steps to Fine-Tune Blended Learning

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Every Learner Everywhere recently released an in-depth guide to blended learning, designed to help faculty, instructional designers, technological support staff and other stakeholders in their strategic planning for blended learning courses and programs. The resource, titled "Planning for a Blended Future: A Research-Driven Guide for Educators," was created in collaboration with the National Research Center for Distance Education and Technological Advancements and the Online Learning Consortium.

With an emphasis on research, reflection and actionable information, the guide covered four main areas:

  • Essential blended learning concepts;
  • Aligning learning outcomes with course design, learning environments and learning modalities;
  • Reflecting on and redefining blended learning in courses and programs; and
  • Resources for strategic planning.

The guide offered a number of next steps for fine-tuning blended learning strategies for a particular course or program. Among them:

1) Review and learn. There is a wealth of research going back decades, documenting the benefits of blended learning environments. "Gather research from your field that shows a positive influence of blended learning on student outcomes," the report suggested. In addition, take advantage of professional development opportunities about blended learning.

2) Rethink learning objectives. Consider a student's location (onsite or online) and time (synchronous or asynchronous), the report said, and then determine which objectives can be accomplished in a way that maximizes the opportunities of the learning environment.

3) Discuss with peers. The guide recommended developing a cohort of faculty to "examine the characteristics of blended learning" and determine how they can be best used to improve teaching and learning. Explore "how your methods of blended and hybrid instruction are addressing the areas of technology, time, space, and pedagogy."

4) Forge connections with students. "Work within your program to design a blended program to strengthen your college or university's connection to its core constituencies," the report advised, "to improve flexibility and learning for students, and to support students' learning and life."

5) Consider student needs. "Work with faculty in your department to learn and understand how blended learning can help meet students' needs and provide solutions for problems of practice or challenges of the department and of students," the report said. "Think strategically about the following questions: What are the problems or challenges our program faces? How can blended learning help us solve these problems or meet these challenges?"

6) Refresh your pedagogy. The report recommended integrating or trying out new pedagogies that are student-centered and promote active learning. In particular, "consider what students can do individually or in groups to increase authentic learning experiences and decrease faculty workload." Experiment with "different environments and temporal cadence (online, on-site, live, overtime) while incorporating an active learning approach to improve student outcomes."

7) Reflect on what works. Looking back on the early days of the pandemic, the report said, "note what worked well in an online format and what did not. Use these reflections to strategize about enhancing your teaching in your blended courses."

"Blended is our future," commented Nicole Weber, assistant vice president of learning at the Online Learning Consortium and one of the guide's co-authors, in a statement. "It allows instructors to strategically leverage the mode of instruction that best suits their course's learning objectives. This means that students benefit from the thoughtful integration of face-to-face and online interactions using a range of technology, intentional instructional approaches, and pedagogical practices in a way that enhances their learning experience."

"Now is the perfect time for all involved to take a step back and intentionally pave the higher education path forward, recognizing that the blend of onsite learning and online learning can be better than their individual parts," added Every Learner Everywhere Director Jessica Rowland Williams.

The full guide, which provides a detailed analysis of blended learning practices as well as key questions to ask when redesigning a blended course, is available on the Every Learner Everywhere site. A second report is planned for this summer, which will cover blended learning essentials for higher education administrators, deans and directors.

About the Author

Rhea Kelly is editor in chief for Campus Technology, THE Journal, and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected].

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