Another dot in the blogosphere?

Not blended, but seamless

Posted on: January 24, 2017

Singaporeans relate to food more than anything else, so I will use ice cream, to explain why blended learning is a misnomer.

Some “blended” learning looks like Neapolitan ice cream. There are three flavours in one ice cream, but the flavours (chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla) are distinct.

This is like claiming to teach a multidisciplinary topic but focusing on, say, language, science, and mathematics as a silos instead of an integrated whole.

Another example of Neapolitan “blended” learning is switching artificially from one medium or tool to another, e.g., from book to LMS to in-person discussion just because you can and in a disjointed fashion.

Sometimes the rationale for such a design is that one of the strategies will appeal to some of the students just like some might like one flavour of ice cream over another. This rationale is often linked to the misguided belief in learning styles.

Another form of “blended” learning is ripple ice cream. Here the flavours are more mixed in, but they are still visibly distinct. However, it is harder to separate them into chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla.

The integration of such “blended” learning topics or tools is better, but there is still an artificial separation for effect or appearances.

The purpose of a rippled experience might be to require learners to make distinctions due to curricular requirements or because the teacher is not comfortable instructing outside their comfort zone.

The rippled appearance might be designed to let an observer (e.g., a colleague, a principal, or a supervisor) see the effort made in technology use so that the teaching satisfies a rubric.

Whether Neapolitan or rippled, blended “learning” is a misnomer because it is about teaching. Learning is not blended or not; it is just learning.

A learner does not necessarily see the curricular silos in the same sense as the teacher. As I have said before: Teaching is neat and learning is messy.

For teaching to be effective, it must empathise with the learner and learning processes. If there is any blending, it might be like a smoothie — seamless.

A learning experience that is seamless is one in which:

  • lessons flow naturally and logically
  • technology is an enabler and not a mere enhancer
  • learning is not limited within classroom walls and is linked to life and/or community
  • content is not a race or a series of checkpoints

It might seem difficult to create such a blended experience because a lot of teacher preparation seems to focus largely on the expert notion of teaching. If we observe and listen intently to our learners, we might sense what they are trying to tell us. To get the blend right, we need to realise that teaching alone does not guarantee learning. Focusing on learners and how they learn does.

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