Blended Learning Studies and Models

I’m hanging out today at an Educause Learning Initiative workshop (what they call a “focus session”) on blended or hybrid learning, teaching and learning via a combination of live and online environments. Some highlights…

Larry Ragan’s research at Penn State is pretty cool. He’s a faculty development specialist at PSU working on educating faculty about how to manage online components of courses. He surveyed over one hundred faculty members with 5+ years online teaching experience about what tasks they viewed as most important for teaching online. Factor analysis of the survey results revealed core competencies for online educators. Much of his results make good sense as far as online education is concerned, and provide a nice starting point for faculty training programs all over the country.

Despite it’s gimmicky name, Brian Beatty’s Hyflex design is a great way to model blended learning courses. He emphasizes four core principles: learner choice, equivalency, reusability, and accessibility. More importantly, he practices what he preaches, particularly with respect to equivalency of materials for live and online students. Hyflex was built with commuting students in mind—to increase flexibility for students who may have issues getting to every single “on ground” class (such as working adults). It provides a nice framework for thinking about how to use a course management system for both live and online students effectively. To be effective, says Dr. Beatty, LMS’s must provide materials that are relevant to both live and online students, and serve as a common repository for learning materials generated in both environments. Interactions in the live and online settings of Hyflex courses are designed to mirror one another, so that as much as they can be, the live and online environments are identical. I know, I know, you naysayers are scoffing right now that making the two exactly the same is impossible. But think about it: even if it’s not true, we continue to advance closer to this goal on a daily basis as technology develops.

Deepa Godambe is a woman after my own heart. She teaches a blended chemistry course at Harper College in Palatine, IL. She used the simple task of making a list of what can be taught online versus what cannot to work out an effective blended course design. In her model, interactive content is a big part of online materials, while live sessions focused on things like student-instructor Q&A, lab experiments, and the like. Echoing a sentiment of most of the presenters, she spoke to the importance of communication in blended learning models.

The difference between Brian and Deepa’s examples is interesting. Hyflex is basically a model that equalizes live and online course sessions and materials. So, one could complete a Hyflex course using either strictly live or strictly online course materials. Deepa’s course, on the other hand, required students to use both live and online materials. I suspect that her design was partially motivated by a need to cover a great deal of content. In the sciences, content coverage often requires instructors to squeeze learning out of as many moments and materials as possible.

Gerald Bergtrom’s blended cell biology course speaks to the challenge of content coverage. He discussed the idea of moving his unchanging “canon of content” online, leaving class time for him to discuss and exemplify the process of science and it’s application to problem solving. For science education, the idea of shifting boring, content-heavy lectures to an online setting is a powerful concept.