A definitive statement of what constitutes the best combination of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and face-to-face learning experiences is impossible. No such statement exists for the best combination of traditional practices much less for the newer world of blended learning. Singh & Reed (2001) state "Little formal research exists on how to construct the most effective blended program designs" (p. 6). However, observers have begun to collate principles that, at least anecdotally, lead to greater success.
One note before continuing. Most of the literature about blended learning design comes from work in business training and post-secondary education. The author makes the assumption that those principles are generally applicable to K-12 education as well.
A theme that emerges is that the instruction methods, whether on-line or face-to-face, are the means, not the end. "Students never learn from technology per se. They learn from the strategies teachers use to communicate effectively through the technologies" (Cyrs, Cyrs, and Conway, 2003, General Guideline #1). It follows that the single most important consideration when designing a blended learning environment is the learning objective or purpose. It is tempting to assert that it is the only consideration. However, not only would that lead to this exposition being overly brief, as desirable as that might be for writer and reader alike, it would also mean ignoring the essential truth that all learning occurs in and is shaped by a context. Important dimensions of this context include (Singh & Reed, 2001, p. 5):
- Audience. What do the learners know and how varied is their level of knowledge? Are the learners geographicaly centralized or geographicaly dispersed? Are the learners here because they wish to be or because they have to be?
- Content. Some content lends itself well to on-line situations. Other content, a complex and detailed procedure for assembling a valve train, for example, may work best in face-to-face setting.
- Infrastructure. If physical space is limited, more of the instruction could be placed on-line. If students do not have access to high band width connections, on-line video streaming would be a poor choice.
With purpose and context in mind, the designer can select, combine, and organize different elements of on-line and traditional instruction. Carman (2002) identifies five such elements calling them key "ingredients" (p. 2):
- Live events. These are synchronous, instructor-led events. Traditional lectures, video conferences, and synchronous chat sessions such as elluminate are examples.
- Self-Paced Learning. Experiences the learner completes individually on her own time such as an internet or CD-ROM based tutorial.
- Collaboration. Learners communicate and create with others, e-mail, threaded discussions, and, come to think of it, this wiki are all examples.
- Assessment. Measurements of learners' mastery of the objectives. Assessment is not limited to conventional tests, quizzes, and grades. Narrative feedback, portfolio evaluations and, importantly, a designers reflection about a blended learning environments effectiveness or usefulness are all forms of assessment.
- Support Materials. These include reference material, both physical and virtual, FAQ forums, and summaries. Anything that aids learning retention and transfer.
It is useful, though ultimately reductive, to think of the interaction between context and ingredients for a given learning objective as a rectangular matrix. The intersections suggest the method the designer should use. The danger of this metaphor is the suggestion that each purpose, context, and ingredient combination deterministically lead to a matching method. Such is not the case. The point to the designer is to think in terms of those conditions, and others unique to her particular circumstance, as she orchestrates learning activities and creates her blended environment.
|Live Events||Self-Paced Learning||Collaboration||Assessment||Support Materials|
McCracken and Dobson (2004) provide an example of how learning purpose, context, and blended learning ingredients lead particular learning methods. They propose a process with "five main design activities" (p.491) as a framework for designing blended learning courses. The process is illustrated with a case study of the redesign of a class at The University of Alberta called Philosophy 101 (pp. 494 - 495):
- Identifying learning and teaching principles. The teaching and learning goals were described as requiring active participation, sustained discussion, and, most importantly, inquiry and critical analysis.
- Describing organizational contexts Team teaching with three professors and up to eleven graduate teaching assistants to engage a class of 250 students in dialogue around ethical and political philosophy.
- Describing discipline-specific factors The designers are described as being concerned about stereotypes of philosophy as "bearded men professing absolute truths" (p.495). The desire was to represent philosophy as an activity, not a set truths to be absorbed.
- Selecting and situating appropriate learning technologies Learning activities focused on the process of engagement: presenting and defending a thesis and responding to opposing views. For example, a face-to-face lecture would feature contemporary ethical dilemmas with newspaper headlines or a video clip. Or, the instructors would stage a debate in which they would assume the role of a philosopher under study and then argue from the philosopher's point of view. Online threaded discussion supplemented small group seminar sections.
- Articulating the complementary interaction between classroom and online learning activities In the Philosophy 101 example, it was noted how the face-to-face engagement was complemented by more deliberative, asynchronous discourse.
Even this simplified description illustrates the multilayered, multifaceted nature of blended learning environments. With such a large canvass, the most important design principle might be to start small. "Creating a blended learning strategy is an evolutionary process." (Singh and Reed, 2001). A good place to begin is to supplement an existing conventional, environment with one or two on-line activities, a resource website or an asynchronous discussion for example. As experience and confidence are gained, new tools can be introduced and a greater effort put into redesigning the program. It is hoped that this chapter will help teachers reach that goal.
See also the developing Wikitext Contemporary Educational Psychology/Chapter 9: Instructional Planning for additional suggestions and ideas about designing and planning lessons.