The definition varies, but at its core, blended learning is the mixing of technology, pedagogy, and psychology to optimize learning in a specific classroom context. This could mean integrating technology into an existing curriculum or completely overhauling a classroom’s approach to learning.
While it is lauded by some as the future of education, blended learning is not without controversy.
This post will examine some of the major hurdles to effectively adapting courses to a blended learning approach.
High dropout rates
The ugly truth about distance learning versus face-to-face delivery is that it has a much higher dropout rate.
Herbert (1) found that online courses have a 10% to 20% higher dropout rate than traditional classrooms, while Smith (2) reported that 40% to 80% of students will fail to complete their online courses.
This shows that a large percentage of students do not find their online learning experiences to be a suitable replacement for traditional in-person courses.
Many students struggle online because it requires more autonomous learning ability, academic discipline, and increased workloads stemming from the need to develop technology as well as course subject skills.
Challenges with integrating technology
The difficulties of successfully integrating technology into blended learning classrooms are numerous and have been well-documented by researchers.
In 2018, one meta-analysis of research on student retention in online courses (3) found that the most commonly reported difficulties are:
- Technology accessibility issues such as limited bandwidth.
- Online safety against cyber crimes and bullying.
- Guarding against academic dishonesty
- Training and skill development for both students and teachers
If you would like to dive deeper into this topic, check out the full post that explains the main issues with using technology in blended learning courses.
Inconsistent teaching teams
One of the biggest challenges with blended learning is the inconsistency among teaching teams.
These teams will have a wide range of experience, technological capabilities, preferred teaching tools, and communications styles.
Compounding this issue is the fact that blended courses are often designed rapidly with boosting student enrollment in mind. The side effect of this is pre-course skill development for staff may be a secondary concern.
This can be demotivational for competent educators in face-to-face situations who are suddenly dealing with a host of technical issues that they may or may not have proper support mechanisms to turn to for help.
There is also the effect on student experience to consider as they may need to re-learn each new teacher’s system, communication style, and preferred technology tools each time they advance to the next course.
Twigg (4) argues that faculty practice should be standardized to create a more fluid learning experience. However, there are issues with this opinion as it conflicts with the perceived need for teacher autonomy.
Autonomous learning ability is required
Some students learn better when they can work independently, while others benefit from the guidance, sense of community, and constant feedback present in traditional brick-and-mortar classes.
Distance learners need to be more independent than conventional learners, and they need to acquire higher-order thinking skills like self-assessment.
In other words, online learners need to know how to teach themselves when the teacher is not present as well as when to reach out for help from their instructor.
Without these abilities, most students will slowly withdraw from participating in a class and eventually drop out.
Although the future of education is promising, it is still developing and certainly not a “risk-free” approach. Schools, administrators, and curriculum designers need to carefully consider the potential issues while designing their courses, and it is generally agreed that pre-course training should be offered to lessen the negative effects mentioned above.
(1) Herbert, M. (2006). Staying the course: A study in online student satisfaction and retention. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 9(4). Retrieved from http://www.westga. edu/~distance/ojdla/winter94/herbert94.htm
(2) Smith, B. (2010). E-learning technologies: A comparative study of adult learners enrolled on blended and online campuses engaging in a virtual classroom (Doctoral dissertation).
(3) Bawa, P. (2016). Retention in online courses: Exploring issues and solutions—A literature review. Sage Open, 6(1), 2158244015621777.
(4) Twigg, C. A. (2003). Models for online learning. Educause review, 38, 28-38.
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