The Craft of Blending Learning.
Part 2: The Blend Base

Blog Post: Blended Learning

In this blog series, Dr. Mark Spokes, explains why blended learning is the right option for many digital learning service providers. He describes what features of blended learning are needed for successful digital learning and how to best implement them.


“If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.”

John Dewey


Blended learning is a disruptive innovation set to continue its growth in the education sector and promises students of today some more hope for a better tomorrow. But the ground to be broken by blended learning still depends on how well education providers understand how they can use it to meet the changing needs of learners.

The first blog in this series outlined the vast range of approaches to blended learning and introduced the flipped classroom as an ideal way for education providers to start experimenting with a process of crafting a perfect blend of learning. The flipped classroom uses online learning for the direct instruction that has traditionally been delivered in lectures, freeing up educators to have more productive face-to-face time with learners in the classroom. As with other blending approaches, such as blending coffee, the first step in this process is to select the right base for the blend. This blog explains why online learning makes an ideal base for education providers looking to develop a blended learning approach that is fit for the future.


The success of online learning comes largely from the change in how time is thought about in education. A shift from the synchronous interactions of the face-to-face learning in a classroom environment to the asynchronous interactions of learning online has increased the access and flexibility of education. Over the years, I have seen online courses open up more opportunities for people to access and even afford to learn online, flexibly around their own schedule and natural rhythms of working.

I have been able to teach mature learners from distance, fitting in their education around work and family commitments. Online learning has also enabled me to work with introverted students to discover and experiment with their identities through online forums; international students making use of video features, like subtitles and the ability to pause and rewind instruction, in order to dramatically improve their understanding of a subject in a second language; and all kinds of students gaining invaluable confidence in their own learning styles through the immediate feedback coming from the informal and formative assessments offered online.


In using online learning as a base, blended approaches like the flipped classroom speak the language of the digital natives now entering higher education and the workforce. They promise to breakthrough and deliver a new paradigm of education just as an old paradigm falters on the brink of breakdown, struggling to keep pace with a generation tethered to technology that is always one and always on them. In my role as a pedagogy specialist, I have been invited into numerous classrooms to observe and assist teachers, who are finding that their traditional approaches to instruction are becoming increasingly obsolete. Many can now sense the palpable change of atmosphere in the classroom as their previously perfected presentations no longer land with students and seem more like just another background entertainment to be tuned in and out of.

Students now offer consistent feedback in class evaluations that they are labouring to even feign an interest in sitting through hours of lectures. Direct instruction remains an essential element of learning, but in shifting it all online, the flipped classroom infiltrates, rather than competes with, a digital culture where it is no longer out of the ordinary for learners to simultaneously study, watch movies, and message peers across multiple platforms. Advances in online learning replace outdated approaches to education, which are defined by the instructor and for the instructor, and create new spaces and time for education.


Despite the opportunities that online learning offers, Jon Bergmann, one of the original designers of the flipped classroom, emphasises that online learning is only the base for this blend of learning. Online learning makes its positive impact in the flipped classroom by enabling educators to re-envision their class time and focus their attention more on fostering the personal relationships with each unique learner. The next part of this blog series describes the importance of reintroducing personal interaction in the classroom to enhance online learning and balance it in a perfect blend.