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Posts Tagged ‘blended

Whether you read about it, Google it, or ask an expert, you will probably get definitions of blended learning that are actually about blended instruction. The definitions are also likely to be flat and one-dimensional because they focus on the modes — offline and online — of instruction.

I use the term blending to refer to how both teaching and learning can be designed and driven. I take care to separate teaching and learning because they are not the same set of processes.

Poor blending can lead to the teaching of content that does not result in desired learning outcomes. On the other hand, carefully designed and skilfully implemented blending is more likely to lead to powerful and meaningful learning.

Today I condense my scattered thoughts on good blended instruction. I might share a story on blended learning in a another blog entry.

Three Dimensions of Blending.

I offer a model of blended instruction that borrows from instructional design principles and TPACK. While the common definitions of blending are flat, I share one that has at least three dimensions to give it shape and form.

The dimensions of blending are mode, content, and pedagogy. The dimensions are broad design considerations that are shaped by instructional contexts. These elements are represented in the diagram above. I describe each dimension and provide examples to illustrate them.

Three Dimensions of Blending - Mode.

The mode of instruction is the first dimension and is essentially the same as most definitions of blending. In blended forms of instruction, an educator teaches and facilitates both offline and online.

The educator does this by leveraging on the strengths and suitability of each mode. The educator’s ability to do this depends on his or her experience, depth of knowledge of technology and content (second dimension), and range of pedagogical know-how (third dimension).

Three Dimensions of Blending - Content.

The second dimension is the ability to blend content knowledge. This is a multi-faceted element that accounts for the motivation for learning content and subsequent application of that content.

One way to start thinking about blending content knowledge is how one topic links seamlessly and logically to another. This should be considered not just from an expert’s perspective, but more critically the learner’s frame of mind. The learner should be taught in a manner so that the seemingly separate elements become part of a coherent whole.

Another way of understanding this dimension is to consider how information becomes knowledge, and how that knowledge is used. Meaningful learning is rarely decontextualised or standalone; if there is no context for application, there is unlikely to be any long-term learning. For example, the delivery of a mathematical concept or a new operating standard for work is empty if it is not embedded in why it needs to be learnt as well as how and when it can be used.

Such learning embraces complexity. Whether the content is the black-or-white variety (e.g., compliance standards, emergency drills) or many shades of grey (e.g., ethics in any field, geopolitics), learners often need to combine hard skills with soft ones; draw from different resources from other fields; and factor in their own prior experiences.

Yet another form of content blending is cross-or multi-displinary learning. By this I do not mean that English is the language for the delivery of game programming principles. I am referring to the fact that programming projects need proposals, timelines, budgets, presentations, and more. Peripheral processes and soft skills could be taught with central processes and hard skills.

In short, the blending of content recognises that what the teacher knows needs to be combined with other content areas, social learning processes, and meaningful contexts.

Three Dimensions of Blending - Pedagogy.

The third dimension of blending is pedagogy. This is partly the skilful application of x-based approaches as the content and context require, and as the technology allows. Some examples of x: Problem, case, scenario, team, game, mobile, social media, station, outdoor, etc.

The pedagogical dimension should also include the ability to design and implement suitable forms of assessment and evaluation, provide feedback, and draw out learner reflection.

The three dimensions of blending are dictated by contextual considerations which are often limiting factors. For example, budget, policy changes, sector (schooling, higher education, military, private), etc.

Three Dimensions of Blending - Context.

The context often determines the extent and quality of blending. For example, a paltry budget often leads to a one-dimensional, mode-only blending. There is content offline and online, and while this might look good on paper, it is not meaningful to learners if it does not have sufficient authenticity and complexity, or include timely interaction with content, peers, or experts.

Alternatively, budget or policy might dictate that instruction is separate from assessment. For example, when money is no object, the one who teaches might not be the same as the person who assesses. When budgets are tight or if there is policy to try automation or trial “analytics”, learners might be subject to low-level quizzes that are not aligned to performance outcomes.

Three Dimensions of Blending - Sweet Spot.

My ideal model of blending requires that all three major design elements — mode, content, and pedagogy — are factored into the context of instruction and application. Well-designed blending is the sweet spot that marries critical practice and rigorous research on blending.

However, reality bites hard. Practical realities and unquestioned practice might have led to one-dimensional implementation of blended learning. While such teaching practices might be efficient or even impressive on paper, it might not be as effective in terms of learning.

Instructional designers, educators, managers, and decision makers need to honestly evaluate their existing designs and processes for blending. They could start with a simple models like the three dimensions of blending.

When most people speak of “blended learning”, they might actually be thinking about blended instruction. (Here are some considerations of blending that focuses on learning.)

There are many ways to blend instruction. Some might involve the modes (off and online), the content (seamless multidisciplinary content), and the pedagogy (direct instruction with x-based learning).

Most would justify blending based on the best possible outcomes. For example, in the case of blended modes, being face-to-face affords immediacy in social learning while still being able to leverage on timely resources online.

Not many might point out the worst of blending, particularly blended instruction. For example, someone might blend boring didactic teaching with YouTube recordings of irrelevant content.

Blending the teaching or learning processes does not necessarily lead to better outcomes. The contextual design of blending is critical. Online strategies and tools might not work as well in a low bandwidth environment, language might be a barrier in one context, and pedagogical expectations might be different in another. Here are examples of each.

When I lead talks, I find out how comfortable my participants are with going online with their phones. Depending on the country, venue, and people, I might resort to low bandwidth texting-like activities and think-pair-share instead of challenging them to watch and recommend YouTube videos.

I have conducted a variety of workshops for equally varied groups. When English is not the common language, I rely on activities and succinct pitstops to get the messages through. When I am with a group more familiar with training instead of teaching, I need not worry about much pedagogical baggage from my learners.

Bloggers, Pinterest boards, and tweets might declare blended learning to be engaging. They might be referring to blended teaching instead. Such an experience is not automatically engaging, and if blending is left only with the one who is teaching, is certainly not empowering.

I am distilling some wisdoms on blended learning for a possible webinar next month.

The ingredients are that blended learning:

  • is not one catch-all concept, strategy, or practice
  • is about providing seamless experiences
  • should not be confused with blended teaching
  • should focus on the learner and learning
  • is not always a cost-saver
  • is about the long tail, not the short game

There is a “secret” sauce of blended learning. It should be designed first on principles of educational psychology, not administrative efficiency.

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.

There is a question that sometimes irks me after I am done with workshops, talks, or demonstrations. That question is: Do you have something I can read on [topic]?

Depending on the context, my knowledge of that person, or my reading of mindsets, that person falls into one of at least two categories.

The first is a genuine interest to know more. I have no problems with that, which is why I normally pepper my presentations or materials with links.

The second is a harmful and theory-oriented mindset. If I take blended learning for example, then the question is: Can you provide more readings on blended learning?

If you want to find out more, then good for you. But if you think that there is an instruction manual for blended learning, then forget about it.

Most instructional strategies are not learnt by reading. They are learnt by doing over and over again, and by correcting mistakes along the way.

You might start with a very basic piece on blended learning or indulge in some Googling of blended learning. Then you must design and implement as quickly as possible. Letting it stew in the mind is not the same as serving it at the dinner table.

The harm of the over-cautious mindset has deeper roots. It is a disconnect with learning and the learner of today.

For example, consider how people learn to use mobile devices or play games. Most times they jump right in and do by trial and error or they get information just in time. They might consult the (very brief) manual, online forums, YouTube, or people around them for help.

They do not ask for a textbook. There are no textbook answers for practices that change all the time. There are no textbook answers for flexible mindsets.

A participant of my flipped learning course asked me a question in our shared online space.

Dr Tan, I want to ask what’s the difference between blended learning and flipped learning. Was googling and found this term. Is blended learning a part of flipped learning?

This was my reply.

Like flipped learning, blended learning (BL) is not just one thing. Typically BL is used to describe the combination of face-to-face (FTF) and online strategies.

Some people might consider flipping to be blended if there is one or more online activities outside of class and one or more FTF activities in class.

Some might consider BL to be what happens in class. For example, all of you have been working in groups these last few weeks and recording group notes in Padlet. The FTF and online components are seamless.

I favour the latter view of BL and that distinguishes flipping from BL somewhat. That said, the theoretical differences should not stop you from doing what works based on sound principles, good design, and critical reflection.

I should have added that the seamlessness comes from combining the two or more activities so that they are experienced as one logically integrated activity.

I get asked these questions all the time. Sometimes they get asked in the manner of a storm, other times it drizzles.

Just thinking out loud. I wonder if I should start a Q and A in this blog. Or might this be better suited for a CeL-Ed Monday series? Hmm.

I am pooped from conducting a workshop at NIE yesterday but looking for more “punishment” by conducting part two and three off site this week.

Here is what a video game-based learning workshop to teach self-directed, collaborative, and blended learning looks like.

And if you like pretty-looking things that might not have meaning for you, take a peek at my opening briefing. Slides created with Haiku Deck.

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