Tackling Challenges of Blended Learning
“We need technology in every classroom and in every student and teacher’s hand, because it is the pen and paper of our time, and it is the lens through which we experience much of our world.”
– David Warlick
Technology has become an integral part of our routine. Today’s students are spending more and more time in front of the screens, be it of a laptop, a tablet or a smartphone. The need of the moment is to leverage this trend, and that’s where blended learning comes into the picture. Blended learning combines traditional classroom-based teaching with online media and technology (popularly referred to as ‘computer-mediated activities’).
The benefits of blended learning are too many to ignore. Apart from taking the learning to where the students are spending most of their time, blended learning is cost-effective, scalable, customizable, self-paced (in part) and highly-trackable. While these benefits make blended learning an advisable choice, the challenges associated with it make the transition difficult. Here are three crucial challenges faced by instructors in implementing a blended learning approach:
Coming up with the right strategy
Blended learning could be of many types depending upon how much you are willing to blend. In some models, instructors drive the learning, and their presence is a must while technology is just an augmentation tool. In other models, learning happens with little interference from the instructors and technology is the primary tool of delivery. An instructor needs to decide, according to the type of subject being taught, that which model will do justice with the curriculum.
At strategy level, choosing the right technology matters a lot. Going for a blended learning solution or software just because it’s available, affordable or widely-used can be a pitfall in your approach. The technology should be selected according to the learner objectives, the structure of the course and its instructional design. For instance, example, if your learner objective is to assess the analytical skills, a self-paced aptitude-building course will do the job, but if the learner objective is to assess the leadership skills, one may need to conduct a group activity. That’s how the objectives of assessment help us arrive at the right technology. Make a list of your learner objectives, identify the benchmarks on which they can be assessed and choose the technology at the last step.
Ensuring successful adoption by learners
Once you have the strategy in place, the next step is to making it easy for the leaners to complete the program. One of the issues instructors have to address before starting with blended learning is proving its efficacy as online forms of learning are yet to be taken as seriously as traditional face-to-face learning. Few other issues instructor may face in a blended learning environment are lack of IT literacy among the learners and motivation to complete the self-paced courses.
Orientation programs that talk about the agenda, expectations, and benefits of the blended learning programs should be conducted before you start. Onboarding sessions that tell the learners about how to use an blended learning software, or launch a session, or navigate through a course in a CMS go a long way in ensuring that your courses are completed successfully. A quick survey of your learners while designing the program may give an insight into how tech-savvy your learners are. In the case of low IT literacy, you may consider starting with simple technologies and move to advanced tools with time. Stringent assessment measures for the self-paced part will make sure that the learners duly complete the course.
Making the technology work
With new technologies, come great responsibilities. When the strategy is right, and the execution is taken care of, two things that may come in the way of making your programs successful is technological issues and a lack of infrastructural support. Does the CMS support your course content format? Do you have enough bandwidth to run video sessions? Have you explored the relevant tech-tools for online and offline teaching? Is there a power back-up for tech devices such as peripheral webcams, whiteboard or display monitors? Questions like these and more should be addressed beforehand. Your learners may be living in a place where the internet connectivity isn’t so well. In that case, instructors will need to have Wi-Fi-enabled classrooms.
Educational technology software and tools are well-designed to fit into your blended learning programs. Choosing the right one at the right cost, testing it in all the learning scenarios and removing any bottlenecks or flaws are critical before you start. During the course, prompt and expert support must be given to the learners if they face any issues. Lastly, the technology should have elements that support the objective of the program. For example, if the subject requires interactive teaching, the tool/software should have live interaction options such as polls, video conferencing, chat, etc.
Keeping it together
Right strategy, sound execution, and foolproof technology are critical to the success of your program but, as an instructor, your responsibilities lie in making the most of it. A healthy mix of offline and online activities running together need to be streamlined as well as assessed time and again so that the learner objectives remain at the forefront. The instructional design should be such that it makes optimum use of the technology, the flow of the course content should be smooth and intuitive, and exhaustive assessment measures should be in place to gauge the learner progress.
We all have witnessed that when humans and technology work together in harmony, beautiful things are created and if anything should get the maximum benefit from this constructive collaboration, it’s our education.