The Craft of Blending Learning.
Part 3: Balancing the Blend
In this blog series, Dr. Mark Spokes, explains why blending learning is the right option for many digital learning service providers. Mark describes what features of blended learning are needed for successful digital learning and how to best implement them.
BALANCING THE BLEND
A major driver in the growth of blending learning is the opportunity it offers education providers to increase their cost-effectiveness. Online learning is disrupting the education sector as more learners access and engage with content on their own time and at their own pace. The previous blog in this series introduced the flipped classroom and described how online learning has made an ideal base for this blend of learning. But for all the opportunities it offers, online learning alone does not create a perfect blend of learning. This blog explores another step in the process of crafting a perfect blend. It focuses on identifying the qualities that are missing in this base, as well as elements of other methods of learning that can balance and enhance the blend. The real impact that online learning makes through the flipped classroom is in giving more time for educators to provide learners with personalised guidance and support. An education provider that turns to blended learning for cost-effectiveness can end up focusing too much on online learning at the neglect of some important face-to-face interactions between educators and learners.
Online learning cannot guarantee a radical transformation in education. It need not even challenge an old paradigm of education, originating back in the First Industrial Revolution and the new demands for conformity in an expanding workforce. Paulo Freire described this old paradigm as the banking model of education, where teachers are just expected to store expertise to be deposited with learners, considered only as passive recipients of content deemed appropriate for mass consumption. The Second Industrial Revolution scaled this model with the introduction of the logic of the new production lines and the now familiar characteristics of a standardised curriculum and cost-effective classrooms. This commodification of learning led to the rapid growth of education throughout the twentieth century, culminating in the sector becoming a crowded marketplace, full of educational institutions that had transformed themselves into service providers, competing against one another for the lucrative transactions with learners turned into consumers.
Our digital age of the Third Industrial Revolution did not establish a new era of education. Instead, it just brought fresh opportunities for providers to sell their services to a new market created from the growing population of Internet users. In this context, online learning used only to cut overheads of a traditional classroom is little more than an effective means of fulfilling the old paradigm logic of industrial mass production in education. And in this second step for crafting a perfect blend of learning for a new paradigm of education, it becomes more important to question the value in simply converting any of the standardised or low-fidelity content and assessment of traditional courses into online learning, particularly when it is evident that the Internet now offers so much for free. But before giving in to calls for learners to just save money and direct their own studies independently online, it is imperative that gaining information is not mistaken for being educated.
The flipped classroom as a blended learning approach need not be undermined by standardised content if the base of online learning is balanced with the reintroduction of the classroom environment and meaningful face-to-face interactions. The next blog in the series describes how crafting this perfect blend relies on an experienced educator, able to facilitate high-fidelity learning experiences and willing to guide unique individuals on their own personalised journey of lifelong learning.