Blended learning, the thoughtful integration of online and in-person education, has been a focal point in educational discourse, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic. In a recently conducted review, a unique approach was taken to understanding the concept by applying a ‘kitchen definition,’ emphasising a proper mixing of different components.
Setting the Scene
The review’s beginning was marked by a student’s expression about the excitement and challenges of being back in physical classrooms after an unusual schooling experience. This expression set the stage for what is to be expected in the review.
Defining Blended Learning
Interestingly, the review compared the concept of blended learning to the act of blending in a kitchen. It emphasised that the constituent parts should be well-integrated and mixed up, not just a binary of online and in-person. The thoughtful and purposeful integration of online and in-person learning is key.
The Review Process
The review consisted of panelists meeting with various colleagues, students, and providers across different subject areas. It combined desk-based research with interviews, listening in on student-led meetings, and exploring the perspectives of different stakeholders.
Emergent Context and Challenges
The review captured an academic year of uncertainty, with social distancing measures and lockdowns affecting the student experience. It highlighted the long-term impacts of isolated study online and emphasised the need for support in rebuilding peer networks and engagement on campus.
Course Information and Digital Skills
An exploration of universities’ websites found that information about teaching modalities and digital skills support was generally poor. A call was made for institutions to provide clear information about expectations related to digital modalities of learning.
Blend Coherence and Course Design
While most universities had well-articulated educational strategies, decisions about blending were mostly at local levels. This approach sometimes led to unintended incoherence at course level. Examples of well-designed courses were mentioned, highlighting proper preparation and crafting of on-campus and digital space engagements.
Language and Inclusion
The language around blended learning was found to be slippery and often trapped in binary terms. The review emphasised the need for high-quality spaces on campus for digital study and recommended a focus on disabled students, stressing certainty, communication, consistency, and choice.
Hybrid Learning and Student Preferences
Hybrid learning, involving simultaneous online and face-to-face engagement, was generally not viewed positively. Interestingly, students expressed a strong preference for on-campus lectures. They valued the separation between home and university and the implicit feedback from reading the room during in-person lectures.
Teaching Quality and Final Takeaways
The review concluded that teaching quality is not dependent on modality – both high and low-quality teaching can occur online and on-campus. It emphasised the need to consider face-to-face encounters, to think about how online and in-person learning integrate at the course level, and to focus on a pedagogic inquiry that encompasses the whole educational experience.
The blended learning review presents valuable insights and considerations for educators, administrators, and students. By exploring the dynamic nature of education, recognising individual needs, and embracing thoughtful integration of different learning modalities, it sets a roadmap for a more inclusive and effective educational journey. Whether it’s the blending in a kitchen or the blending in a classroom, the focus should be on creating a seamless and meaningful learning experience.
This post summarises a lecture by Susan Orr on A Review of Blended Learning in Higher Education, hosted by Digitally Enhanced Education Webinars at the University of Kent. The lecture is available on YouTube.
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Amir-Homayoun Javadi, PhD
Founder and CEO at 0&1 LTD