On the Horizon for Education: Blended Learning, New Learning Spaces, OERs & Cross-Institutional Collaboration

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What’s on the horizon for education? What technologies and trends will drive changes in curriculum development and teaching in one, two or even three years? New Media Consortium’s latest Horizon Report (2015) written by an international team of educators, gives readers evidence and insights into how developments in education will (and are) influencing changes in teaching and learning. 

In last week’s post I discussed the report “Grade Level: Tracking Online Education in the United States” which presented data and analysis on participation trends in online education, MOOCs, as well as perceptions on the value and legitimacy of online learning. The news was rather dismal, quite depressing really. This report by New Media Consortium and EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative released this week, is not only more upbeat but is instructive and forward-thinking. It takes a different approach; it gives educators insights into trends and behaviour patterns in online and face-to-face education influenced by technology. The report is the result of a collaborative research effort where the panel worked in the ‘open’ via a public wiki where they shared, discussed and identified the education’s most pressing issues. The panel identified six trends, categorizing each by the level of challenge for implementation and time frame. (image below).

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Six trends identified in the 2015 NMC Horizon Report, pg. 2 via cdn,nmc.org

What the Blended Learning Trend Means for Educators and Institutions
I suggest the blended learning trend is the most significant and challenging. Blended learning has numerous definitions, though common to all is the concept of a student-focused education approach where learners access content, instruction/or and learning communities via the Web to augment or supplement education delivered in the classroom. Yet ten years from now, I predict that the concept of blended learning will fade away—not the learning approach but its description. The technology will become invisible. Learning won’t be classified as blended, or online, but just ‘learning‘. In the short-term however, there are barriers to overcome. Today the idea of using a web-enabled device and the web itself to replace or augment structured learning disrupts traditional practices of education— higher education and K-12. The NMC report suggests that in order for education institutions to adapt and respond effectively to educational tools and platforms, continuous visionary leadership is required. I agree. Integrating technology takes thoughtful planning, analyzing current practices, professional development and a supportive culture that embraces change.

Authors ranked blended learning into the ‘solvable’ category, as opposed to ‘difficult or ‘wicked‘; I rank blended learning as ‘difficult’ and though it is solvable, the challenge is the many dimensions of learning affected when integrating technological tools and methods that include: curriculum design, instructional delivery, professional development and training, IT services, policy development and infrastructure. Even the design of the physical classroom space and type of furnishings is impacted. The latter, ‘Redesigning Learning Spaces’ is another of the six trends identified in NMC’s report.

‘Advancing Cultures of Change and Innovation’ is another trend identified, yet it’s ranked long-term. I see a culture of change as necessary now—it’s essential to make the transitions and changes needed to deliver quality learning experiences.

All over the world, universities and colleges have been gradually rethinking how their organizations and infrastructures can be more agile. The thought is that if institutions are more flexible, they will be better able to support and promote entrepreneurial thinking — a long-term trend.  NMC Horizon Report, page 7

How Educators Can Prepare for Change
As our culture changes in response to technological innovations and economic shifts, institutions and educators (ideally) should adapt according. The NMC Horizon Report is a starting point for educators wanting to keep ahead of developments in education—to anticipate change, be proactive rather than reactive. This report is an essential read for educators, institution leaders, administrators, policymakers, and technologists who want to do just that.

References

Is Blended Learning the Best of Both Worlds?

Research has found that blended courses have the potential to increase student learning outcomes while lowering attrition rates in comparison with equivalent fully online courses.Blended Learning’, EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research

globe_mouseBlended learning is a method that has proven to be not only effective in terms of learning outcomes, but ranks high on ratings of satisfaction with students and instructors (Dzuiban, Hartman & Moskal, 2004). Yet there has been little coverage of blended learning in higher education news in recent months. It seems we’ve gone from zero to one hundred without passing GO and collecting $200—where ‘0’ is traditional classroom learning, and ‘100’ is 100% online courses. There has been little consideration of the blended approach, which falls somewhere along the continuum of learning modalities.

Blended learning, also referred to as hybrid learning is a combination of learning modalities involving face-to-face instruction and Web-based learning delivery, and is carefully designed using a customized instructional strategy that leverages the strengths of each. When implemented effectively, a blended learning program can make better use of instructional resources and facilities, and increase class availability thus speeding up the pathway to graduation for students (Dzuiban et al, 2004). This kind of program could be at least part of the solution to California’s current crisis in its public higher education institutions.

With the impressive results and options of blended learning, and in light of the current crisis within several state universities, it appears that this modality deserves further exploration. Over the next few posts, I’ll be focusing on this hybrid approach from an instructional design point-of-view, and will share with readers the latest research on blended learning models, design principles and the pedagogical principles that underpin successful programs. My aim is to also share the best practices in blended programs by examining institutions that have been successful with their own programs.

Definitions of Blended Learning
Definitions of blended learning vary. Below is table presented in Blending In: The Extent and Promise of Blended Learning in the United States (2007), where the definition relies upon a ratio of web to traditional instruction.

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The Sloan Consortium defines blended learning as a course where 30% to 70% of the instruction is delivered online. While this is a useful guideline, it may not be sufficient to define fully an institution’s blended program.

The ratio definition should be viewed as a guide, I prefer the descriptions by University of Central Florida (UCF), which approaches blended learning somewhat differently.  UCF describes mixed-mode or blended learning as a modality that “combines the effectiveness and socialization opportunities of the classroom with the self-directed and active learning opportunities that the online environment offers” (Dziuban, et al, 2004). At UCF blended learning is offered in two out of the five modalities available through the school’s Center for Distributed Learning.  Both options, use different formats, 1) video streaming lecture content, labs, web activities and select face-to-face interactions including proctored exams, and 2) instruction that has both required classroom attendance and online interaction, activities and content delivery.

Purpose of Blended Learning
A critical element to the blended learning concept is reduced seat time. Reduction of time that students spend in a face-to-face, traditional classroom format serves several purposes that offers several benefits including:

1) Institutions have the potential to manage instructional and facility resources more efficiently, teaching more students within a semester.
2) This approach is beneficial for students, providing the convenience and flexibility associated with online learning, freeing up time for work, family obligations or extra-curricular activities.
3) Blended learning develops a skill set for students that otherwise would not be possible in exclusive face-to-face instruction. Skills include digital citizenship, information management skills, self-directed learning, and web research and collaboration skills.

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Blended Learning’ by giulia.forsythe, Flickr

Implications of Blended Learning on Institutions
Implementing a blended learning initiative is a significant undertaking, more so than beginning an online initiative. Institutions that have implemented successful blended programs are explicit about the implications and the work and collaboration required among departments, administration and faculty.  This excerpt from the Blended Learning report highlights this:

The transformational nature of blended courses creates complicated interactions among many components of the university similar to those found in the literature regarding complex and social systems theories. Forrester offered insights about interventions in complex systems (such as universities), suggesting they have the following common characteristics:

  • Predicting the way interventions will impact the institution is virtually impossible.
  • Final outcomes are often counter-intuitive.
  • Unanticipated side-effects, both positive and negative, must be confronted. At times, those effects have more impact than the originally planned outcomes. (Dziuban, et al, 2004).

Conclusion
A blended program can be the best of both worlds, and though a significant undertaking, once implemented successfully, such a program has significant benefits for the institution and students. Students embrace flexibility, embrace being in a connected world that the web provides, it’s no wonder that blended programs rank high in learning outcomes and  satisfaction.  UCF also discovered that faculty give high marks to their instructional experience with a hybrid model. Blended learning programs truly are the best of both worlds for students, instructors and the institution. My next posts will delve into the instructional design models for blended programs.

Resources