Blended learning is the purposeful integration and alignment of online and in-person components. Online and in-person activities and course materials are selected to complement each other, to engage students and to achieve specified learning outcomes. Sometimes blended courses have reduced face-to-face time.
Discussions, laboratory work, field trips, group work, online activities and lectures -- these can all be part of blended learning.
Blended courses do not follow a single formula. Some use the online environment for content or lecture delivery and the classroom for active learning opportunities (sometimes known as the flipped classroom), whereas others use the face-to-face time for lectures and the online environment for discussions, assessments, or other learning activities. Some use a combination of these two approaches.
Evidence suggests that students learn more effectively and have a higher satisfaction when courses are blended, as compared to online or traditional, face-to-face courses (Garrison & Kanuka, 2004).
Many instructors favour blended learning because it can:
- increase the amount and quality of faculty-to-student and student-to-student interaction;
- increase opportunities for active and collaborative learning and assessment before, during and after lectures;
- help students prepare for class discussions or lab work;
- facilitate more varied and engaging media for presenting course content;
- address learning bottlenecks via new types of interactive and independent learning activities;
- allow class time to be spent on active learning activities by shifting background or foundational content to the online environment;
- help to create a sense of community in large classes;
- allow students to access course materials when and where they want, at their own pace.
- transform how learning occurs by engaging students in the active construction of knowledge through dynamic interactions (Bonk & Graham, 2005).
Designing a blended course
Course design is key
- Start by writing student-centred learning outcomes -- these can influence the environment of the content delivery and learning activities and how these are connected together and assessed (online or face-to-face).
- Align the learning outcomes, learning activities and assessments. CTE Teaching Tip: Course Design
- Create a syllabus with a course schedule that clearly communicates when and where students will engage with content and learning activities. Blended learning requires the development of self-directed learning and time management skills so students need to know what the expectations and deadlines are. CTE Teaching Tip: Creating Course Outlines
Employ "thoughtful integration"
- Consider what you will do, and what your students will do. Blended courses are most effective when online and face-to-face activities are engaging and challenging and complement each other.
- Avoid the temptation of creating a course and half. Just adding online activities to a traditional course will increase the workload for students. Creating a blended course should be viewed as a complete redesign where the time and place of each component is carefully selected. CTE Teaching Tip: Aligning Outcomes, Assessments, and Instruction
Choose instructional strategies and learning activities carefully
- Instructional strategies and learning activities contribute to the achievement of the desired learning outcomes so they should be chosen to support the learning outcomes and engage learners.
- Student-student, student-instructor, and student-content interactions are all important components in learning. Varied interactions and prompt feedback from both the instructor and peers can help keep students engaged both in the classroom and online.
- Active learning has been shown to be more effective for promoting deep understanding and retention of concepts. Instructional strategies such as flipping the classroom can help your students learn more effectively. CTE Teaching Tip: Planning a Flipped Class
- Discussions, laboratory work, field trips, group work, online activities and lectures -- these can all be part of blended learning.
Use learning technologies
- Consider what is to be accomplished by using learning technologies in the classroom or online: for example, dissemination of course content, group work, peer assessment, question facilitation, fostering community. Additionally, choose a technology that fits your level of technical expertise and supports your objectives. CTE Educational Technologies
Chickering and Ehrmann identified the following aspects of effective course design and instructor behaviour that can be applied to blended courses where the implementation of technology can enhance student learning.
- Encouraging contacts between students and faculty - In blended courses faculty and students can connect online through discussion forums or other means of online communication but can also have face-to-face encounters in the classroom. Both kinds of interactions can influence student motivation and involvement in their learning.
- Developing reciprocity and cooperation among students - Collaboration and an overall sense of community for students can be enhanced in blended courses through the use of communication tools and the formation of in class and online peer learning groups. CTE Teaching Tip: Building Community in Large Classes
- Promoting active learning - Both in the classroom and online active learning through questioning techniques, problem solving, engaging in simulations, role playing and discussions have been shown to increase student learning. CTE Teaching Tip: Active Learning Activities
- Providing regular and prompt feedback - When students have frequent opportunities to practice tasks and receive formative feedback, they learn to self-assess and recognize how they can deepen their own learning. Educational technologies can help provide feedback on student performance through online quizzing, simulations and interactive learning objects. Peer feedback when provided face-to-face or through online means can also increase the amount of feedback that students receive.
- Emphasising time on task and communicating high expectations - Instructors can reinforce their expectations both in class and online and help students understand that spending time effectively on learning activities will help them succeed.
- Developing course activities that respect diverse talents, backgrounds and different ways of learning - With access to both the in class and online environments instructors have more opportunities to give students access to content, experiences, feedback and assessments in a variety of formats.
See Chickering and Ehrmann's "Implementing the Seven Principles: Technology as Lever" for an in-depth discussion of each of these best practices. These "Ten Questions to Ask" when you are blending a course are also a good guide to designing or redesigning a course for blended learning.
- Chickering, A. & Ehrmann, S.C. (1996) Implementing the Seven Principles: Technology as Lever, AAHE Bulletin, October, 3-36.
- Garrison, D.R. & Vaughn, N. (2008) Blended Learning in Higher Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
- McGee, P. & Reis, A. (2012). Blended Course Design: A Synthesis of Best Practices. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 16(4), 7-22.
Additionally, many of the Centre for Teaching Excellence's Teaching Tip Sheets pertain to blended courses:
- Best Practices for Blended Learning
- Ten questions to Ask When Designing a Blended Course
- Developing Online Learning Activities for Blended Courses
- Integrating Online assignments into your course
- Online Discussions: Tips for Instructors
- Online Discussions: Tips for Students
Our Teaching Tip Sheets on flipping the classroom are also relevant to blended learning:
- Course Design: Planning a Flipped Class
- In-Class Activities and Assessment for the Flipped Classroom
- Online Activities and Assessment for the Flipped Classroom
As are our Teaching Tip Sheets on Active Learning:
- Active Learning Activities
- Implementing Group Work in the Classroom
- Group Work in the Classroom: Small Group Tasks
- Nine Alternatives to Lecturing
- Bonk, C.J., & Graham, C.R. (2005). The Handbook of Blended Learning: Global Perspectives, Local Designs. San Francisco, CA:Pfeiffer Publishing.
- Garrison, D.R., & Kanuka, H.(2004) Blended learning: Uncovering its transformative potential in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 7(2), 95–105.