Opinion Piece: The Evolution of Blended Learning- Past, Present & Future
For the last five years or so, pretty much everyone working in Education will, in some way or another, have been exposed to the phrase “Blended Learning”, both in the context of Higher Education (HE) Learning & Teaching (L&T) and Corporate Learning and Development (L&D). Traditionally, this is a phrase used to describe courses and learning strategies that include both a face-to-face (f2f) and an online component, in whatever configuration or ratio that might be.
Common Applications of Blended Learning
One popular application of this model in HE is the ‘flipped classroom’ whereby students are expected to acquire some understanding of a topic (either independently or through structured online activity) in advance of a classroom-based session that incorporates group work and discussion of that topic.
The potential benefits of this approach are diverse as written in an article by TeachThought. Acquisition of new information is easily achieved independently these days, due to the wealth of research/activity a student can undertake online, from wherever they choose to.
This removes at least some of the necessity for teachers to transmit new information in, for example, a standard lecture hour, and gives teacher(s) and student(s) more freedom to engage in active, collaborative learning tasks that produce deeper conceptual understanding and more ‘usable’ knowledge.
The Link to Learning Technologies
Blended Learning is not a new concept though; it is, like most other concepts, an evolving one.
Anyone who has read a book chapter or watched a specific film scene on VHS (cue repeated, cumbersome rewinding) before attending a seminar, for example, has experienced a ‘flipped classroom’ strategy at work.
The recent surge in the popularity of Blended Learning as a distinct approach then, seems more likely to be due to the convenience and cost-effectiveness of delivering learning through various web-based technologies, such as laptops and smartphones, than due to painstaking scholarly refinement of pedagogical/andragogical principles and their application.
If that is the case, then the direction of travel for the future of Blended Learning is dependent on the affordances of the technologies that become available. Ergo, there is no reason to think that Blended Learning today looks anything like Blended Learning will in ten years time.
With the emergence of disruptive platforms such as Fuse Universal, we’re already seeing a shift in Corporate L&D towards more social and mobile learning strategies, in amongst more traditional delivery. These effective, new approaches are contributing to the fact that online learning is replacing Instructor-led training (ILT) more and more with each year that passes, as companies attempt to retain quality while reducing budgets.
Blended Learning Environments
However, it is widely recognised that there is still considerable disparity between the quality of classroom-based and online learning delivery. All too often, the convenience and cost-cutting power of online delivery takes centre stage, and the learning experience suffers as a result.
While there are many examples of fantastic online courses, the mistaken belief that dropping pdfs onto a web page equates to online learning is still all too prevalent. The move towards mobile, social learning delivery is a promising one, as we are now starting to see online learning experiences that more closely resemble their ‘real-world’ forebears in terms of engagement and context/applicability.
Interestingly, in the context of Blended Learning, what happens when technologies arrive that blur that distinction between f2f and online even further, such as virtual worlds, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR)?
Where does ALiS Online Fit Into This Model?
If the online elements of Blended Learning approaches can now deliver value for money and effectiveness, and the f2f elements provide engagement and authenticity (but at a cost), then what about immersive platforms, like ALiS Online, that can provide the best of both worlds, all in one place?
By placing the teacher(s) and student(s) in an online version of a face-to-face learning scenario, we may be witnessing the emergence of a new technology - the blended learning environment.
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