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The impact of blended learning

Keri Beckingham looks at how it can transform today's classrooms, and explores how students and staff benefit as a result

Posted by Julian Owen | October 17, 2017 | Product news

Blended learning has become the latest educational programme to make an impact in today’s classrooms. From schools to universities, it’s being used to bring the digital world and in-class teaching together – but what benefits does it offer staff and students, and can it work alongside traditional teaching methods?

How blended learning is making an impact inside and outside the classroom

Blended learning uses technology to combine in-class and out-of-class learning, maximising the educational impact for students as a result. As Rachael Hartley, Senior Client Account Director for Education at technology consultancy Cognizant, defines: “While retaining the traditional student-teacher format, it breaks the ‘one-size-fits-all’ model by taking education beyond the physical classroom and allowing students to learn anytime, anywhere.” 

Commenting further on the role that blended learning can play within classrooms, Rachael adds: “It redefines the role of the teacher, offering them more flexible delivery options, depending on the content, subject, and capabilities of the students. This trend means educators can focus on student understanding, rather than the delivery method itself.” 

Although learning outside of the classroom is something that students have always been encouraged to do, the recent explosion in digital technology has meant that teaching can now be far more engaging. Exploring how blended learning is being used inside and outside of today’s classrooms, Jeff Rubenstein, VP Product – Learning and Collaboration at video solutions company Kaltura adds: “Generally speaking in schools, more and more of the content delivery is being done via rich media and often on personal devices. In universities, students are contributing more content of their own, both for collaborating with each other, for doing projects, and for assessment purposes. 

“As so much of modern work is now digital, it’s increasingly important that students learn how to be digital creators.”

The benefits of combining traditional teaching and technology

Rachael Hartley believes that the combination of traditional teaching and technology should be used to meet the preferred learning style of students, as well as supporting teachers. As she comments: “Technology can provide teachers with information on the progress and requirements of students, which maximises face-to-face contact and helps staff to design courses that allow more flexible delivery. 

“Ultimately, technology works best when it supports the true essence of education and aids teachers in helping students assimilate skills.”

Taking this idea further, Jesse Lozano, CEO and Co-Founder of education technology company pi-top, believes that technology has the power to truly enhance learning environments for the benefit of students – as long as teachers choose to adopt it. He says: “Flipped classrooms, where students watch short video lectures before attending class, offer one example of a blended learning tactic that could be more widely adopted. 

“True blended learning requires highly relational active and inquiry-oriented programmes, both online and offline, as well as using digital tools to empower students.” 

Case studies: use of blended learning in schools and colleges

Beacon Academy Trust

Sharp have been working with the Beacon Multi Academy Trust, providing them with the latest office technology (such as multifunctional printers and interactive flat panel displays) to make the use of devices in the classroom a relative norm.

Tina Jacobs teaches Maths at Beal High School, and is a keen proponent of using technology in the classroom. Commenting on the use of technology in her teaching, she says: “One of the joys is that I can use whatever software I want, when I want, however I want. I use it for every single lesson.

“You can take things from a PDF and from the web and annotate on top of it. You don’t even need a pen – you can use your fingers. The clarity is excellent, the colour is sensational and the kids love it. It’s also bright enough to be used in full daylight.”

Leeds City College

Steven Hope is Technology Enhanced Learning Manager at Leeds City College. They have been using Google as part of their blended learning delivery, and he believes this has helped to increase students’ knowledge of the subject they are studying. He comments: 

“The blended approach gives college staff the ability to be able to create flipped activities which learners can complete pre- and post-lesson to gain understanding of topics. These are very beneficial as they allow the time in traditional classrooms to focus on extending the learners’ knowledge and to support them in reaching the higher levels of learning such as analysing and evaluating.”

Case studies: use of blended learning in universities

UWE

Manuel Frutos-Perez is Head of Digital Learning at University of the West of England (UWE), and has been involved in rolling out blended learning across a range of courses. Speaking of how the University uses the online environment to create a continuous learning experience and bring the campus, simulation environments and professional practice locations together, he comments:

“In our healthcare science course, learning takes place through a unique combination of study weeks, workplace training, and specifically tailored and interactive online learning resources and live remote lectures. 

“Students enhance their work-based skills during on-the-job training, which is based on the appropriate professional competencies. The work-based training is augmented with blended learning to ensure understanding and to enable students to apply this knowledge in practice.” 

Coventry University

Carl Perrin is Director of Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering (AME), an organisation that was set up as a collaboration between Coventry University and Unipart Manufacturing to inspire the next generation of engineers. Here, he describes how the students have benefited from using blended learning: 

“Graduate engineers were just not industry-ready and that was causing a big issue for employers. The answer was a blended-learning approach whereby our graduates would do 30% theory in the classroom and using digital technology, with the rest of the time spent on applying the knowledge they were gaining direct on to practical situations.

“We believe that when AME students leave us they are one year ahead of their peers, despite studying for the same length of time.” 

University of Derby 

Dan Williams is Lecturer and Acting Programme Leader for the Post-14 PGCE at University of Derby, and uses blended learning as part of his course. Discussing his experiences of using technology to benefit the learning outcomes of students, he comments: 

“I modelled the blended approach to trainees by tasking them to work in pairs on an ‘applied’ activity, whereby they analysed a range of technologies to determine the potential effectiveness of each, in their own context. This involved the completion of a Google document, whereby each learner could critique peer examples and suggest ways in which the theory might be better applied to support learners.” 

The future of blended learning

How do our experts see the concept of blended learning evolving in the future? Jesse Lozano thinks that students will be able to use technology as part of examinations, and says: “Imagine if we designed examination systems that allowed students to use their internet-connected devices – how would pedagogy change?”  

Adding to this, Rachael Hartley believes that in the future, blended learning will utilise more technological advances. She comments: “The term blended learning has been around for some time, but it has yet to embrace the potential of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality.” 

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