Blended Learning

Blended learning combines online content and tools with face-to-face learning. The most successful blended classes integrate online and face-to-face experiences so that activities reinforce each other, creating a unified learning experience. When done well, blended learning results in greater learning than in traditional classrooms (Glazer, 2012), and students report that blended learning facilitates efficiency, accessibility, interactivity, and reinforcement of learning (Gedick et al., 2012). In blended learning, online activities may, but do not necessarily replace face-to-face sessions (although often used synonymously, the term hybrid learning more often designates significant substitution of face-to-face with online components, see Kurthen & Smith, 2005; Iowa State University, 2020).  

Online Activities for Blended Learning

Instructors can incorporate a range of online components for blended learning.

Discussion Boards/Student Blogs (asynchronous)

Many face-to-face classes use discussion as a way of teaching. Although being physically present with discussion partners has advantages, rich discussion can also take place online. For instance, when students participate in discussion boards in Canvas, they have more time to provide a thoughtful response, and more students can contribute than in face-to-face discussions (see ATL Teaching Guide Socialization in Online Learning). For a more personal and authentic discussion experience, students can create blogs.

Videos and Podcasts

Pre-recorded audio and video content can supplement in-class material and/or be used to substitute for in-person lectures. This can free up face-to-face class time for more interactive methods and higher-order learning, as in the flipped learning model. Instructors can create videos using Kaltura in Canvas (see Kaltura user guide and how to record with Kaltura Capture; see also ATL Teaching Guide Instructor-Created Videos).

Videoconferencing (synchronous)

With Zoom or WebEx (both integrated in Canvas), instructors can conduct live class sessions remotely. With polling features, instructors can incorporate formative assessment and keep students engaged with the instructor and with one another. Instructors can also meet with smaller groups of students within a whole-class Zoom meeting using breakout rooms.

Online Quizzes

Whether to reinforce important information through retrieval (see ATL Teaching Guide How Students Learn) or to free up more time in-person, instructors can create Canvas quizzes. Instructors can also create video quizzes with any videos in their Canvas course. Many publishers also provide interactive material, such as quizzes, that can be accessed online (and some of which can be integrated into Canvas).

Student Collaborations

Students can also participate in group work online. Not only can students meet virtually with videoconferencing tools, but they can also work collaboratively on shared documents. Canvas integrates Google docs and Microsoft 365 through its collaborations tab.

Online Simulations and Labs

Interactive methods can also occur online. Instructors can assign students to complete simulations and labs through services such as MERLOT.

Addressing Challenges with Blended Learning

As a complex and innovative teaching method, blended learning comes with some challenges. But as Hofman (2011) argues, these challenges are manageable and need not dissuade instructors from implementing blended learning.

Technology Issues

Students have differing levels of comfort and access to technology. Instructors should use the simplest technology that helps accomplish learning objectives and that they themselves are familiar with. Additionally, instructors should embrace the role of “first responder” for students’ technology questions. To ensure that technology is not a barrier to student engagement, use tools that work well on mobile devices, provide downloadable resources (for students with intermittent internet access), and require few third-party or additional accounts. To reduce cognitive load associated with using unfamiliar technology, introduce new technology gradually. Instructors can also familiarize students with technology through “scavenger hunt” assignments.

Overcoming Preconceptions

Students may have concerns that blended learning is not as effective as traditional learning. But evidence shows that students report high enthusiasm for blended learning following the experience (Auster, 2016). Instructors should explain to students the benefits of blended learning at the start of the course. Setting the stage for expectations may also help with the classroom environment.

Monitoring Student Experience

The online components of blended learning may require greater student autonomy and reduce the organic opportunities for instructors to check in with students. Instructors may need to be more intentional and proactive in monitoring student progress. Regular email check-ins and announcements via Canvas can help students sense instructor presence. Canvas also provides user analytics that can help instructors monitor students’ online engagement. Keep connected to students’ experience through fast feedback, low-stakes formative assessment, or surveys (anonymous surveys can be administered as ungraded Canvas quizzes).   

Integrating Course Elements

Due to multiple modes of instruction, blended learning can sometimes feel disjointed or overwhelming to students (Gedick et al., 2012). Learning activities should not be redundant but should reinforce and extend. They should be tightly interwoven in both theme and time. For instance, students can contribute to an online discussion post before class, while in the next class they can work in small groups to identify the most important questions from the discussion and find answers together. On the organizational level, a visual schedule for the course that demonstrates the connections between online and face-to-face activities can help students see the course logic.

Implementing Blended Learning

In suggestions for institutions considering blended learning, Graham et al. (2013) identify three categories, which also have bearing on how individual instructors approach blended learning. 

Strategy

Identify your rationale. What can be done better in this style than fully online or face-to-face? For example, blended learning allows for both immediate in-person student feedback that is useful for instructors because it is unvarnished and asynchronous reflective feedback that can encourage students’ metacognition. Consider how scholarship of teaching and learning, student feedback, colleagues’ input, and your own experience inform your decision. Your answers to these questions will help you to communicate to colleagues and students as well as guide your course design.

Structure

As with any course, learning objectives should determine assessments and learning activities. Blended learning is not a matter of simply moving some portions of the class online, but “requires a fundamental course redesign that transforms the structure and approach to student learning” (VanDerLinden, 2014; see also Garrison & Vaughan, 2008). For instance, because of the increased learning time in many blended courses, instructors may opt for more low-stakes assignments woven into learning activities in place of a few high-stakes exams or projects that are often add-ons to the pre-class and in-class work of students. A course design template can help you walk through the planning process. In addition to the mode of particular learning activities, instructors should calculate holistically how much (if any) class time is being replaced with online engagement.

Support

No teaching experiment should be conducted without support. Instructors using blended learning should seek advice from other instructors who have taught or are also teaching blended courses. Baylor offers multiple areas of support for online teaching service. For assistance with Canvas and other online teaching tools, consult the Learning Design Team. For additional pedagogical assistance, contact the Academy for Teaching and Learning, atl@baylor.edu.

References

Auster, C. (2016). Blended learning as a potentially winning Combination of Face-to-Face and Online Learning: An Exploratory Study. Teaching Sociology, 44(1) 39-48.

Garrison, D., & Vaughan, N. (2008). Blended learning in higher education: Framework, principles, and guidelines. Jossey-Bass.

Garrison, D., & Vaughan, N. (2013). Institutional change and leadership associated with blended learning innovation: Two case studies. Internet and Higher Education 18, 24–28.

Gedik, N., Kiraz, E., and Ozden, M. (2012). The optimum blend: Affordances and challenges of blended learning for students. Turkish Online Journal of Qualitative Inquiry 3(3), 102-117.

Glazer, F. ed. (2011). Blended learning: Across the disciplines, across the academy. Stylus.

Graham, C., Woodfield, W., and Harrison, B. (2013). A Framework for Institutional Adoptions and Implementation of Blended Learning in Higher Education. The Internet and Higher Education, 18, 4-14.

Hofman, J. (2011). Top 10 Challenges of Blended Learning. Soapbox. March/April Issue. 11-12.

Iowa State University, Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT). (2020). “Introduction to Hybrid Learning.”

Kurthen, H. & Smith, G.G. (2005). Threshold effects in hybrid and blended online classes. In Lynn Harper Ritchie (Ed.), Teaching introduction to sociology as a hybrid course: A Resource Manual (pp. 33-46). American Sociological Association.

VanDerLinden, K. (2014). Blended learning as transformational institutional learning. In Pamela L. Eddy (Ed.), Connecting Learning Across the Institution: New Directions for Higher Education, no. 165 (pp. 75-86). Jossey-Bass.