Blended learning, which mixes traditional face-to-face education with technology, has become increasingly popular in educational institutions over the years. This style of learning provides a way for faculty to engage students through visuals and online interaction.
In fact, 77% of academic leaders claim that online education is either the same or superior to face-to-face education and can be executed for a fraction of the cost.
So, how can blended learning benefit faculty and students alike?
Change can be difficult, especially for faculty who have taught using traditional methods for years. But, as blended learning becomes more commonplace in educational institutions, the benefits are becoming more obvious - making the adoption rate higher.
1. Track and improve engagement
Blended learning provides the opportunity to make a clear roadmap for students, such as what is expected of each student and requirements to reach the final goal — or grade —are. With blended learning, teachers can visualize and track each student's progress. This process can make it easier to identify signs of a student struggling or educational strengths and act upon them accordingly.
For instance, educators can analyze metrics to see what programs and modules students are engaging with. By understanding where each student’s passion lies, it becomes easier to cater to and adjust to each student’s learning behaviors. If students are falling behind, it becomes easier for an instructor to identify the issue, and step in earlier.
Take the Commonwealth Connections Academy as an example. By pulling reports from their online learning platform instructors could analyze test scores, course activities and portfolio assignments. If a student is falling behind in a particular area, they are advised to attend a drop-in center which gives students extra face-to-face time with their instructor. Teachers and students agree that the center is a useful way to zero in on a student’s learning barriers and provide custom instruction for improvement. Sometimes the solutions are as simple as providing better organizational skills.
2. Enhance communication
Young people today are growing up with more technology than ever. We’ve already seen shifts in communication patterns, starting with millennials. Observing a generation who became saturated in the digital world can show how communication is evolving.
A study from LivePerson, found that in the US and the UK, about 75% of internet users surveyed said rather than communicating in person, they were more likely to communicate digitally via:
The findings may be an indicator that blended learning, which has an emphasis on technology, reaches students better than traditional methods.
By catering to a student’s preferred method of communication, online forums can connect lecturers with students more effectively.
3. Enables edtech
By combining new technology like AR and VR with traditional education methods, students are getting a more inclusive learning experience.
A study by EdTechReview shows that AR and VR technology has mass appeal, too. Consumers value AR products 33% higher than non-AR offerings.
Google Expeditions and Titans of Space are two great examples of AR and VR in the classroom. Both provide virtual field trips like tours of the solar system to improve science lessons. These adventures are both engaging and valuable ways to teach.
The growth of edtech means that teaching online is becoming more effective and easier.
In the U.S. the student-to-teacher ratio has risen to nearly 30 students per teacher. With class sizes this large, it can be difficult to personalize lessons or understand the individual needs of each student.
Blended learning provides the opportunity to change this.
Student-centric, blended learning makes it easier to individualize learning modules based on competency. Students within one classroom can move at different paces, and teachers can see more easily, which students either express more interest in a particular area or show the need for extra attention in a particular subject.
5. Reduces cost
Blended learning saves educators money in several ways. For instance:
A paper by the Fordham Institute found that national average for per-pupil costs for traditional learning in K-12 was about $10,000
Virtual schools costs were $5,500 to $7,100 per student, while blended learning costs started at $7,600. Rates could rise to around $10,200 per student depending on how much face-to-face education is emphasized in the plan.
By implementing blended learning strategically, an institution could reduce costs by nearly 50%.
Faculty members aren’t the only ones to benefit from blended learning. Perhaps more importantly, students are given a more comprehensive educational experience that can boost retention and engagement.
1. Peer support
In Aspden and Helm’s study 'Making the connection in a blended learning environment', they found that online communication, through a blended learning environment, improved social aspects of students. Specifically, they stated that blended learning allowed students to make and maintain connections with other students, and their learning institution, even when off campus.
By offering online discussions in real time, or in an asynchronous model like discussion boards or chat rooms, open dialogue is always accessible. The consistency of conversation enables a 24/7, community-style support system which means continuous peer support.
2. Easy access and flexibility
By having resources online, students can access material with no constraints including schedule conflicts.
Online materials can be found on smartphones, tablets, and desktops which is technology we’re already using, daily. In fact, GlobalWebIndex found that on a typical day, internet users ages 18 to 34 spend 3 hours, 38 minutes surfing the web via their smartphones alone.
Additionally, many students in the United States fail to complete school. As many as 7% of high school students drop out before graduation. Worse still, nearly half of the students who start college don’t finish within six years.
One conclusion is that the majority of students who start college and don’t finish are part-time enrollments, which can suggest that students are juggling study with work and personal commitments. Because blended learning platforms are available at any time, it is convenient for those who are trying to complete schooling while taking on other responsibilities like working or parenting.
3. Enhanced retention
Blended learning may have the ability to teach students more effectively than traditional face-to-face schooling.
The English department at Long Island University (LIU) Brooklyn is currently testing blended learning as a way to improve retention for their students.
To begin, LIU offered iPads for all its incoming students. The hope is that by incorporating technological components into their lessons, it will help change the way students think about their writing.
The data LIU has collected, though mostly qualitative, is starting to paint the picture that blended learning has a positive impact on retention. Other studies indicate that learning online can increase retention rates from between 25-60% compared to only 8-10% for face-to-face learning.
4. Increased satisfaction and effectiveness
Students today prefer to have a variety of ways to learn. As digital natives, many young students are familiar with an online environment and actually prefer it. The varied formats of education also serve a purpose outside of student entertainment and satisfaction; it also may be a more effective way for students to learn, too.
Blended learning encourages self-learning, where students are forced to look for information online independently, rather than just sitting in a classroom setting and relying on a lecturer.
In the book Blended learning: Uncovering its transformative potential in higher education, the authors argue that blended learning is effective because unlike the traditional lecture-based teaching model, blended learning opens classroom time to focus on more active and meaningful activities which can lead to improved effectiveness.
5. Boosts soft skills
Soft skills or skills that are required in the workplace for professional success are naturally fostered in an online learning space.
Specifically, skills like relating well to others, time management, critical thinking and team cooperation are nurtured in a blended model.
A study published by Elsevier tested a group of calculus students to see how a blended learning model impacted soft skills. The conclusion of their study was that the ability to communicate via email or online improved participation. And that because students were actively discussing and vocalizing their understanding of concepts, blended learning helped build confidence and success. It was concluded that communication skills changed favorably with a blended learning course.
It's clear that blended learning provides new ways for educators to engage and connect with students.
With falling enrollments and the challenge of the digital landscape putting pressure on systems, faculty and syllabus, introducing blended learning could help tap inot a new cohort of students and create a new revenue stream.