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Blended learning provides a mix of face to face teaching and online self directed learning for students and adults alike.
As schools return to their ‘normal’ schedules there is a natural progression to maintain some aspects of the COVID-19 experience within our daily learning cycles. The recent upskilling required by students and teachers to engage in online learning and increases in availability of online courses such as Coursera and Khan Academy have enabled learning to be accessible both at school and at any time we have access to technology and connectivity.
Blended learning is referred to as the “new normal” in course delivery (Norberg et al., 2011. p.207) as it supports student motivation to learn through technology as a medium and still have access to face to face learning to gain the benefits of direct instruction. With these two approaches in the mix, they can gain a lot from the independent opportunities to work through activities online and the instructional gains enabled through face to face teaching and direct adjustment to the student’s questions and engagement levels.
>Will these new pathways be embraced by teachers, supported by leaders and of paramount importance, strategically planned for by educational ministries? Will this shift in education influence the nature of curriculum delivery and assessment?
It would appear a useful progression to maintain a component of this online delivery for teaching and learning models/ potential pedagogies to be maintained. This model, known as Blended learning is not new to the Higher Education Sector but is very new to Early Childhood and Primary classrooms. It is also well adopted by tutors in delivering a mix of face to face teaching and online delivery depending on the location and group sizes of students. Blended learning is sandwiched between fully face-to-face and online instruction (Graham, et al., 2005; Watson et al, 2010).
Blended learning can be explored through online activities where students can interact with their tasks at their own pace and this provides a sense of self direction and regulation. This is very important for students to develop, and many became accustomed to this during COVID-19/ Home Learning, with this being a rewarding and much liked approach by many students during this period. With activities also hands-on and not online, students can return to school/learning they are used to and benefit from the interaction with other students and direct manipulation of learning materials to explore within their learning. In unstructured blended learning, students have opportunities to interact and collaborate with other students with less monitoring. They are able to collaborate on group projects or discussions that promote student-centered learning (Stuart-Hoyle, 2007, pp. 83-91).
Through the experience of COVID-19 it has become apparent that educational environments which provide easy access to activities and curriculum both online and face to face are essential components of lesson delivery for teachers to exchange knowledge and students to gain ownership and understandings within their learning. We can consider this model has gained increased necessity for families and schools throughout the COVID-19 crisis. This is an advantage of a blended learning environment as the curriculum needs to be structured and accessible for students to access, and this gives teachers a clear guide as to the content of the units also. The momentum of setting up lessons online and blended learning modes requires teachers to have teaching units all pre-set and accessible for all involved, and this can give more time to the actual delivery and teaching aspect which is so important for students to receive to increase their learning outcomes.
It is important for teachers to recognize the role of technology in the curriculum taking into consideration the current wave of growth and awareness of technology use by students in the classroom. For instance, students who participate in blended learning gain advanced technological competencies such as online quiz, online chats, forum discussions, and efficient use of multimedia and hypertext tools (Oblenderk, 2002, pp.42-44).
A blended delivery option has potential as students are very motivated to use technology in their learning and this is a great point to start from. Through this mode of delivery, students and teachers have face to face interaction between each other and a range of options to explore through learning with VR/AR and simulation. These can provide opportunities to track individual or class learning achievements. Teacher and student access to learning patterns and behaviour can essentially provide a solid basis to tailor instructional materials to meet each learner’s aptitude, needs and motivators in learning and open up evidence of their own learning patterns, to provide them with the tools to improve their self regulation and knowledge gains through this method.