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Demystifying Blended Learning in the Age of the Pandemic

Demystifying Blended Learning in the Age of the Pandemic

Tuesday, 29 June, 2021

The whole world has experienced the devastating impact of the pandemic. When COVID-19 first struck, the education sector had to pivot, almost overnight, to ensure uninterrupted learning for students amidst the crisis.

Among the key approaches trending at the time that have continued to hold sway over a year later, is the blended learning approach. However, clearly there are some misconceptions about blended learning and what its impact will be in the post-pandemic era.

First, it is important to understand that distance learning is not synonymous with blended learning. While distance learning focuses only on remote learning without real time interaction between educators and peers, blended learning takes a more holistic approach to education. 

Through principles of learning design, blended learning combines high-quality in-person and digital learning experiences that benefit from the best of both learning environments - allowing for more support and engagement with learners. This approach triumphs in offering students the environment for self-paced, flexible learning experiences with digital education that utilise interactive media such as games, videos, and quizzes as part of a structured learning experience. 

Ideally, blended learning should also be ‘human-centred’ or ‘learner-centred’, and factor in the human capacity for learning, catering to these differing capabilities across multiple digital touch points. In doing so, the richness of this mix provides experiential learning - allowing students to reinforce the key concepts learned and apply their new-found knowledge through mediums that they are comfortable using. 

For example, some students may be more open to learning and receiving feedback live in real-time from their educator and peers. Others may prefer to engage with flexible asynchronous digital content such as videos or quizzes to revisit the topics and concepts at a later stage to ensure a full understanding of the subject. Through catering to all types of learners - those who prefer a structured environment as well as those who learn better with more digitally focused training, today’s universities are well positioned to ensure a fuller and richer learning experience. 

This combination of synchronous and asynchronous (live or digital) learning is also highly effective because learners aren’t just watching or hearing: they’re doing. Through its focus on applying the knowledge gained long after they’ve left the physical or virtual classroom, students are better able to retain what they’ve learned.

As the pandemic continues to accelerate digitalisation and our adoption rates of new technology across sectors, an increasing number of us now work or study from home. Our reliance on technology has grown, and we also feel more comfortable doing so. With technology empowering us to accommodate learner diversity, how can universities maximise the gains from their blended learning approach? 

1. Seek accreditation

Distance learning programs are usually dynamic and of high quality but require meticulous research to identify the educational institution that is the right fit. In a blended learning system, a university must receive accreditation from relevant local, regional and federal bodies, as well as professional accreditation organisations to ensure that the quality of education is not compromised. 

2. Redesign your programs 

Identify key programs that need redesigning to facilitate a blended learning system that is well aligned with the quality standards of your university. 

3. Recruit an education specialist 

Subject faculty and senior leadership can consult an education specialist in learning design for blended and online learning. While offering fresh perspectives, they will help shape the education delivery process and offer counsel on rolling out the new learning approach. 

3. Train your faculty 

The blended learning model requires a significant restructuring of the role of faculty and student. Faculty in this model become educators that are designers of learning and facilitators of learning experiences.

4. Communicate to your students

As the education model undergoes a paradigm shift, it is important to effectively communicate these changes to your students as the new approach requires a significant shift in their mindset. They must now become more mindful learners, who take responsibility for their education and have greater autonomy in their learning journey. 

5. Empower your learners 

Provide students with flexible access to learning content, create opportunities for active, collaborative learning and build systems within the curriculum for them to apply the knowledge they’ve gained through a learner-centred approach.

Remember, there simply isn’t a one-size fits all model for education. The new approach is an iterative process, however, given the rate of digitalisation and the changing learner needs. As educators, it is high time we rethink our education models to ensure learning is a continuous process. As philosopher Eric Hoffer famously said: “In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future, while the learned usually find themselves beautifully equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.”

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