Blended and Distance Learning

Blended learning combines face-to-face “methods with computer-mediated activities to form an integrated instructional approach” (Pennsylvania State University, 2009). The term “blended learning,” also referred to as “hybrid learning,” represents a combination of F2F and online learning activities where computer-mediated activities replace “seat-time” in the classroom. It is the “blend” that makes each course unique; thus, blended/hybrid courses can take on different attributes. For example, a course might include online discussions, tutorials and research activities, and student responses to a podcast or video. The combination of online and F2F activities is almost limitless.

The term “blended learning,” also referred to as “hybrid learning,” represents a combination of F2F and online learning activities where computer-mediated activities replace “seat-time” in the classroom.

What is Distance Learning?

According to Smith and Brame (n.d.), what differentiates a distance or “online” course from a blended/hybrid course is the amount of online learning that takes place relative to face-to-face meeting: “Online courses are those in which at least 80 percent of course content is delivered online,” whereas blended/hybrid learning “has between 30 and 80 percent of the course content delivered online with some face-to-face interaction.” The modality and structure of the learning environment are not the only things that differentiate blended and distance learning from the traditional face-to-face mode; these learning modes “also redefine traditional educational roles and provide different opportunities for learning” (Smith & Brame, n.d.).

The Instructional Environment Continuum

Blended learning really is continuum beginning with the traditional teaching environment where all the learning takes place in the classroom; two possibilities of blended/hybrid learning; and a class taught completely online. The two center boxes represent the distribution of F2F and online components in which you could teach a course with an 80% F2F + 20% online structure or a 30% F2F + 70% online structure. Many possibilities exist and finding the right blend will take time to perfect and meet your teaching and learning needs. Most likely, a blended course will change over time, and blended design will vary from one course to another. The structure of your course, including the balance of F2F to online learning, will need to be communicated to students at the point of registration.


Most likely, a blended course will change over time, and blended design will vary from one course to another.

Designing a Blended Course

  1. Redesigning a traditional course for blended or distance learning will take more time and effort due to the requisite technologies used for the online portion of the class. Effective course design considerations should include multimodal learning strategies and alignment of course goals and objectives with both online activities (as you have done in your F2F course delivery). NIU Faculty can consult with our Instructional Designers to develop ideas for converting face-to-face courses for effective online learning.
  1. Media used in blended and distance learning environments are not limited to the internet and a set of computers. Students on the go use mobile technologies—e.g. smartphones, laptops, and tablets. All of these comprise our mobile communication culture (Milne, 2006). Mobile learning (mLearning) is yet another way instructors can better meet the requirements of students on the go. One way to factor mobile learning into course design is to design online learning materials that are accessible via the learning management system’s (e.g. Blackboard) smartphone app and virtual learning activities that can be accessed and completed on mobile devices.
Mobile learning (mLearning) is yet another way instructors can blend course content and better meet the requirements of students on the go.
  1. Consider both the physical and virtual classroom space for learning and how they complement one another. Blended learning environments, for instance, do not occur strictly between a traditional classroom and someone’s home office. If teamwork is a course expectation, provide opportunities for teamwork to occur both in and out of the classroom by designing activities that can be completed remotely, e.g. Blackboard groups and discussion fora, social media to foster online learning communities, course-related collaborative websites, and electronic peer assessment.
If teamwork is a course expectation, provide opportunities for teamwork to occur both in and out of the classroom…

Advantages of Blended and Distance Learning

Flexibility

Blended learning environments allow students to access a variety of media for multimodal learning—video for visual learning, podcasts for auditory learning, and hands-on activities for kinesthetic learning. Multimodal learning engages students in learning in multiple modalities to reinforce concepts and help students learn more quickly and profoundly than when information is presented in a single mode.

Social atmosphere

Online learning components such as synchronous chats, question and answer sessions, and asynchronous case studies and group work give all students, especially those who tend to be quiet in face-to-face classrooms, the opportunity to speak up in a safe and open learning environment. Moreover, group collaboration can be easily facilitated by allowing students the ability to share files, create discussion threads, and participate in virtual chat. However, the social atmosphere of an online learning environment must be carefully cultivated by the instructor through opportunities for meaningful and effective online interaction.

Reusable learning objects

Materials such as tutorials, simulations, case studies, and assessments can be repurposed for use in other learning environments to save on design and development time. After the initial effort and time to develop these materials, course preparation will be reserved for updating and tweaking course materials as necessary.

Challenges of Blended and Distance Learning

New course design

You cannot take an existing course and just “put it” online. Initially, you should identify which content would best be presented face-to-face and which content would be presented online for a blended course. You must also decide how best to change the presentation of your materials for the online learning environment. Align course learning goals and objectives with instructional strategies, activities, and assessments that work best in the online versus F2F learning environment.

Roles and responsibilities

You cannot take an existing course and just “put it” online.

Students who are new to the distance learning environment must learn to adapt to this mode of delivery, which often requires more reading and writing than face-to-face courses. Students also must employ good time management skills as distance courses require them to balance online and face-to-face course activities with outside obligations. Whether content is presented online or face-to-face, the instructor’s role is ultimately that of learning facilitator. Although the instructor creates the blended learning environment, the technology takes center stage as students interact with technology through its delivery, accessibility, flow, content, and activities.

Whether content is presented online or face-to-face, the instructor’s role is ultimately that of learning facilitator

Summary

Through careful planning, blended learning can help impart knowledge in new and exciting ways. Traditional face-to-face courses can be modified to fit a blended or distance model that meets student learning needs and expectations as well as the pedagogical requirements of the instructor. With time and practice, blended and distance learning will become a standard and expected method of instructional delivery.

References

Milne, A. J. (2006). Chapter 11. Designing blended learning space to the student experience. http://www.educause.edu/learningspacesch11

Pennsylvania State University. (2009). What is blended learning? http://weblearning.psu.edu/blended-learning-initiative/what_is_blended_learning

Smith, B., & Brame, C. (n.d.). Blended and online learning. Retrieved from https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/blended-and-online-learning/

Selected Resources

EDUCAUSE. (n.d.). Online Teaching Strategies. Accessed at https://library.educause.edu/topics/teaching-and-learning/online-teaching-strategies

Northeastern University. (n.d.). “Being there” in online courses: Fostering community online. Accessed at https://learning.northeastern.edu/being-there-in-online-courses/

Northeastern University. (n.d.). Hybrid course design. Accessed at https://learning.northeastern.edu/hybrid-course-design/

Northeastern University. (n.d.). Organize your online course for student success: Designing for clarity. Accessed at  https://learning.northeastern.edu/organize-your-online-course-for-student-success/ 

Northeastern University. (n.d.). A roadmap for online course development. Accessed at https://learning.northeastern.edu/roadmap-for-online-course-development/


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Suggested citation

Northern Illinois University Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. (2012). Blended and distance learning. In Instructional guide for university faculty and teaching assistants. Retrieved from https://www.niu.edu/citl/resources/guides/instructional-guide

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