Blended learning is becoming more popular with administrators looking to adapt their course delivery models to the current global climate and the next generation of learners’ preferences. The main reasons administrators choose blended learning are an instructor and/or department interest, to free up more classroom space, to address economic or administrative concerns, student interest, or to reduce difficulties staffing weekday classes.
This article will highlight the main reasons why blended learning is on the tip of every administrator’s tongue as education continues to adapt and evolve in this brave new world.
Interest from instructors or departments in blended learning.
Blended learning is the “hot, new” course delivery method, and many educators, curriculum designers, and departments may nudge administrators to try it.
The same instructors or departments that would traditionally not be interested in changing their teaching methods may now find blended learning more appealing given a growing body of evidence pertaining to the best practices for blended course design.
Blended learning also offers courses that are designed specifically with the needs of a particular department in mind.
Many courses that are offered online have been developed by instructors who taught the same course on campus and know what problems their students face when taking these classes.
For example, let’s say that students are having issues with the course LMS. This learner difficulty could be addressed in asynchronous sessions that free up the educator’s lesson plan for more communicative and enjoyable synchronous sessions.
This is one way a blended course can be tailored to support common student issues that often devour large amounts of precious class time.
Creating a blended learning course is not an easy task, but staff are looking for ways to embrace the “new normal” and improve their courses with the latest methods in curriculum design.
Blended learning can reduce the number of classrooms needed.
With resources and space at a premium, Anderson (1) reported that approximately 27% of administrators were considering blended learning to alleviate concerns about limited classroom space.
If 20-30% of a course is delivered online, there may be a significant increase in the availability of classrooms and thus allow for an increase in the number of courses offered.
For example, if a school is currently running 4-hour classes provided in morning or afternoon sessions, it will be possible to offer 3 courses at 3 hours each with 1 hour of the curriculum to be delivered virtually.
This would increase the available classroom time by 33% and improve the cost-effectiveness of the school’s facilities.
To address economic and administrative issues while increasing course quality.
One-fifth of administrators cited budgetary concerns and administrative headaches as their primary driver of interest toward blended learning.
They believe that blended learning can be a cost-effective strategy for schools, colleges, and universities with limited resources because it will allow them to adapt existing courses without the upfront cost of making them from scratch.
While Niemiec & Otte (2) described this economic benefit of repurposing previously created courses as being similar to making a previous investment, others are more pointed and frank in their assessment of this situation:
“The technology drivers for change in higher education are now being compounded by budgetary considerations that will drive more and more institutions towards heavily online offerings. The budget crunch that is facing most public university systems, and an increasing number of private institutions, makes online learning not only tempting from a pedagogical perspective (after all, how better to reach a generation that has grown up on screen?), but also as a way of managing the otherwise irreconcilable demands to serve more students at a lower cost.”
–Alexandra Samuel, director of the Social + Interactive Media Centre at Emily Carr University of Art + Design (Source: Pew Research)
To make matters worse, it also may be difficult for some institutions to staff an entire campus over a traditional five-day period; this is especially true in cases where there’s been a decrease in enrollment as well as faculty members’ availability during standard hours.
By implementing extended virtual classroom availability, administrators aim to reduce staffing needs, as well as cost. The blended learning approach, in theory, will result in educators having a lower amount of synchronous class sessions – freeing them up to teach more courses.
This saves the expense that would otherwise go into hiring additional staff members while also bringing in revenue from tuition fees generated through additional course offerings. Additionally, this could boost the student experience as they are dealing with an experienced staff member instead of someone fresh out of training.
Student interest in blended learning.
Many students are interested in blended learning because they enjoy the flexibility and convenience of online courses. Some students also reported that courses, where they could control the pace of instruction and coursework, were more effective.
In addition to attracting new learners by using a blended model, it offers a number of benefits to campus-based students as well. With more time for in-class discussion and interaction with faculty members or other classmates, the traditional lecture can be replaced by new ways of teaching – such as active engagement.
More frequent contact with instructors can also lead to higher retention rates on their end (i.e., orders may increase). It is also thought that blended learning can reduce the number of hours students spend commuting.
Difficulty in finding staff for a full week of face-to-face learning.
Only one administrator reporter this as a primary motivation for developing blended learning courses, but it is not uncommon with current events for staff to have difficult home schedules. In fact, working remotely has become a lifesaver for many families.
By offering blended courses, administrators can reduce the number of direct contact hours to a level that their staff finds is suitable for both a healthy work and home environment.
There are tens of thousands of experienced teachers online, but there may not be many within driving distance of campus that have the credentials and fit with the school’s values.
It’s easy to see why many schools are interested in transitioning away from traditional course delivery methods – be it for new ways to educate, to reduced demands on physical classroom resources, trying to save on costs and time, the lower staff requirements, or student interest; the benefits of adopting blended learning into any school system seem clear cut.
Anderson (1) conducted a survey of 15 administrators questioning their reasons for developing blended learning courses. Although this is a small sample size, the survey results do provide some interesting insights as to administrator motivations:
- 7 out of the 15 participants cited interest from instructors and department interest in new teaching methods.
- 4 reported classroom space as their main motivation.
- 3 wanted to address economic and administrative concerns.
- 2 cited student interest.
- 1 wanted to reduce the difficulty of staffing five days per week classes.
(1) Anderson, Hope M.. Blended Basic Language Courses: Design, Pedagogy, and Implementation, Taylor & Francis Group, 2018.
(2) Niemiec, M., & Otte, G. (2009). An Administrator’s Guide to the Whys and Hows of Blended Learning. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 13(1), 19-30.
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