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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.

 
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.

The saying, “Pics, or it didn’t happen” is wiser than it appears.

The phrase is a quick way of saying show me evidence, specifically photos, because what you claim to be a truthful or factual account may not be valid or reliable.


Video source

Our memories are imperfect. The majority of us do not have “photographic” memories, and those that do are exceptional talents. Even then, captures are not facts devoid of colouring, contrasting, or other manipulations.

Any teacher who still thinks that drill and rote memory are still the best ways to teach and learn needs to reconsider or retire.

What you capture today might not be relevant tomorrow in the age of social media. There is as much point to objecting to such circumstances as there is blowing raspberries at a tornado.

Instead, “pics, or it didn’t happen” could be one principle to base change on. It could be the foundation for dealing with fake news. It could start the line of questions against learning styles, digital natives, “best” practices, and extrinsic gamification. It could shift the focus away from just learning-about (content) to learning-to-be (contextual thinking). It could spur the search for evidence-based practices, and personal and professional development.

 
I learnt a new word today: Leucocholy. It is a mouthful for something so seemingly trivial.

According to this video segment, leucocholy is “the feeling resulting from being preoccupied by something trivial: not joyful, but easy and pleasant”. This feeling was illustrated by a person scrolling through her Instagram feed.

Merriam-Webster defines leucocholy as “a state of feeling that accompanies preoccupation with trivial and insipid diversions”.

These definitions and the example emphasise the plainness of the task and outcomes. They seem to beg the question: Why bother?

I preoccupy myself by learning constantly. Sometimes the experiences seem like trivialities, other times they seem like paradigm shifts. The two extremes are linked because the small and seemingly disconnected add and link up when I reflect.

It takes time and space to do this. When I worked for someone else full-time, I set aside this time and made the space. Now that I am independent, I do the same. I owe this to myself and to the people who engage me. I owe a lot of what I know to leucocholic learning.

I had a few reactions to this tweet.

I see what it is getting at, but left critically unchecked, it can do more harm than good.

I disagree with the tweeted thought both at face value and after digging deeper. Learning technology is:

  • learning about technology
  • learning from the technology
  • learning with the technology
  • not just about the pedagogy

Compared with the other items on my list, learning about technology is the lowest order skillset teachers need. But it could also be the most important mindset barrier to breach because without it the rest are not likely to happen.

Learning from the technology is what teachers new to technology might expect. The technology use is relatively superficial and either augments or replaces what the teacher can already deliver. Vendors love delivering on delivering and teachers might appreciate being partly relieved of a burden. But this is still a low-hanging fruit because it does not shift the focus from teaching content to learning how to find and process it.

Learning with the technology is where change starts to happen. It is:

  • uncertain but authentic
  • less teacher or school-controlled but more student or  co-managed
  • not just about content but also about context

Such technologies include social media, augmented reality, and mobile games. They are not created by education companies but are co-opted by teachers and students to reach and teach, and to learn not only just-in-case, but also just-in-time.

Learning with technology necessitates a paradigm shift in mindsets. Technology is not just used, it is integrated. It becomes so essential as to become transparent because it just-works and it is practically impossible to learn when it is not present. Such technology is viewed less as a tool to be used sporadically and more like an instrument to be embraced constantly.

Learning with technology is not just about pedagogy, although that is important. The pedagogies, like problem, case, team, or game-based learning are mediated by technology. But pedagogy is not the only driver: There is the nature of content and the context of its use.

There is another reason why pedagogy cannot be the sole driver. Pedagogy tend to face backwards and changes very slowly; technology faces forward and changes very quickly. One of the slowest and least effective pedagogies is didactic teaching. A didactic-focused pedagogy can make technology improve or optimise what a teacher does, but it does not necessarily focus on learning nor guarantees it.

I chanced upon these “adult learning theories” and I am both glad and sad that I did.

I am glad because it is an opportunity to apply some critical thinking. I am sad because these “adult learning theories” are meant to inform teachers of adults and they misinform instead.

According to the writeup, the three theories are:

  1. Andragogy
  2. Self-directed learning
  3. Transformational learning

 
Applying some critical thinking, andragogy is the only “official” adult learning theory. It was shaped by Malcolm Knowles to distinguish it from pedagogy (the teaching of children).

If you dive deep enough into the elements of andragogy, you might realise that there is just ONE factor that distinguishes andragogy from pedagogy: Experience. Adults typically have it in greater quantities than children.

I do not know why the latter two theories are considered adult learning theories. Does self-directedness and transformation (shifts in perspectives, beliefs, consciousness) not apply to younger learners as well? Is the assumption that kids are not capable of doing these?

Is providing such information harmful to people who might not have a background in educational psychology and philosophy? Or, to use something that just emerged from the Trump administration, are these examples of #AlternativeFacts?

If I was to give the benefit of the doubt to the writers of the piece, I might assume they wanted to inform others of the most relevant or powerful theories that might be applied in adult education. There are many other theories, and to their credit, they state that up front.

But why focus on these three? Andragogy is certainly useful, but there is harm in introducing the other two as if they belonged only in the domain of adult learning.

 
Why do some consultants, designers, and teachers constrain video game-based learning to old or current practices?

That was the question I asked myself when I read this article, Gaming in the classroom: what we can learn from Pokémon Go technology.

The piece offered what seems to be some good ideas on how to leverage on gaming. The examples were:

  • whole-class discussions of how the movement of tectonic plates has affected GPS readings in Australia (science, geography, English)
  • photographing both real insects and virtual Pokémon and then writing up Pokédex entries for the insects they have collected (science, media studies, ICT, English, art)
  • designing classification flowcharts for Pokémon as a lead-up to classification of animals (science, English, maths)
  • assigning students the job of Pokéstop tour guide (Pokéstops are often positioned in front of historical locations), requiring them to research and report on the history of the area (history, art, English)
  • framing maths problems around the data available for each Pokémon such as height, weight and strength. For example, if I have 3,700 stardust, what combination of Pokémon can I power up that will use up all my stardust? Or Asha’s house is 600m from school. The only time she plays Pokémon Go is as she walks to and from school every day. How many days will it take her to hatch a 5.0km egg?

The ideas are better than what some teachers I know would come up with. But teachers tend to teach the way they were taught and constrain gaming to current constructs and practices of curriculum.

One construct is discrete units or silos like separate academic subjects and the subtopics within. Gaming tends to transcend this by being cross and multidisciplinary.

One practice is repetition by way of drilling simply because “this was how I was taught”. This was why drill-and-practice dominated early educational “games” and are still common today. Some refer to this practice as serving chocolate-covered broccoli.

Another traditional construct and practice is class or curriculum time. Specifically how tasks need to be completed like a checklist in class and within tight curriculum time. What falls through is then called homework and extra classes. Gaming happens any time, all the time, or on-demand.

The shortcut is simply this: Teachers bend games to the will of curriculum and distort what could be very powerful game-based learning into game-incentivised teaching.

To change teaching, the teacher needs to learn to behave like the learner-gamer by exploring, experimenting, and experiencing. The bad news is that there are no shortcuts. The good news is that gaming is fun.

The article was not without its merits. The best part was this:

the general capability priorities such as critical and creative thinking, personal and social capability and, of course, ICT, could also be taught using Pokémon Go as students manage their school and social lives, build relationships with others, work effectively in teams and make responsible decisions.

As this game is not played from behind closed doors, it even encourages conversations about personal safety. Discussions about the intersection between reality and the virtual world and digital etiquette are easy to imagine.

The constructs and practices to draw from the paragraphs is that game-based learning should be authentic, context-based, relevant to the learner, and transferable. Such ideas are not constrained by the baggage of schooling.


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