Although many colleges and universities supported blended learning models prior to COVID-19, the pandemic has accelerated the shift from the classroom to a blended model of synchronous and asynchronous learning. The effectiveness of blended learning depends on how instructors integrate the two different learning modes into a cohesive whole that combines the best of face-to-face instruction and online learning. It is certain that even after students return to campus full-time, the blended learning model is here to stay.
By this time, most colleges and universities have made the required investment in technology and infrastructure that can support significant online and interactive activities. It is important that whatever technology is used in blended learning that it makes the student’s user experience as simple as possible. The more interactive the learning is, the more engaged students will be. For example, video conferencing is highly interactive and provides a way for students to discuss concepts they are learning whether or not they can actually meet together in person.
Focus on Active Participation
It is not enough to just move classroom instruction online. Effective blended learning requires understanding how students learn best and how technology can support that. Breaking the traditional mode of instruction and shifting to something new requires instructors to reexamine their teaching styles and course design, as well as their own professional development.
Here are some best practices to ensure that hybrid courses effectively engage students:
- Put students at the center of the learning. To create the learner-driven experience, it is essential to build strong relationships between the instructor and students as well as students with each other.
- Set clear expectations on goals and objectives. This is always important but even more so if the transition to a blended learning model is new for the student. It is better to overcommunicate expectations than to leave students with questions.
- Be deliberate in linking face-to-face and virtual learning. For example, pair classroom presentations with follow-up online small group discussions using the break-out rooms that video conferencing provides. Instructors may find that video chats allow more vigorous discussions than those in the classroom.
- Boost interactivity: Use a poll to launch a discussion or provide opportunities for students to communicate with each other through a dedicated social media channel or asynchronous discussion through a learning management system.
- Provide collaboration tools and opportunities. Project management tools, such as Google, Teams, OneNote or other software are proven tools to facilitate group work. Your students can use data collection tools such as Google Forms and Survey Monkey, and there are presentation tools, such as PowerPoint and Google Slides to demonstrate their learning.
- Create interactive resources such as quizzes and online games. Most students are now familiar with gamified learning platforms. Utilize those that are appropriate for your subject area and students will engage. Also, instructors can support students in developing their own games.
- Assess students in new ways. Instead of, or in addition to papers and tests, have students use digital resources to create podcasts, blogs, videos, or eBooks that synthesize and demonstrate their understanding of content.
Incorporating these practices pre-suppose an instructor’s willingness to change their own understanding of effective instructional strategies. And there are clear benefits to reconsidering the elements of effective blended learning. The impact of these practices can result in enhancing the student experience, expanding participation, improving accessibility and inclusion and potentially improving student outcomes. Once past the immediate COVID-19 pandemic and the emergency transition to remote learning, colleges and universities will continue to transform how they teach with digital tools and resources to create an engaging, integrated blended learning experience for students.