Blended learning is a teaching and learning strategy that combines online and classroom-based learning activities and resources to reduce in-class seat time for students in a face-to-face environment. Factors such as course content, guiding pedagogy, and instructional design determine the mix of online vs. face-to-face activity. One popular design is known as the “flipped classroom” in which students absorb and review the course content through online readings and activities prior to attending class. Classroom time is dedicated to discussion, case studies and other forms of active learning.
The 2013 study by Educause involving over 100,000 undergraduate students looked at their preferred learning environments and technology use. Nearly 4 out of 5 students in Canada (76%) and the US (79%) have taken a blended course. The great majority report they both prefer and learn the most from blended courses, which meet their expressed need for face-to-face communication with their instructors and anywhere, anytime access to course materials.
The recent report from the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) on the Queen’s University blended courses showed that students had a stronger engagement with the material and a more in-depth style of learning. The courses also required more work on the part of faculty and students and additional resources. A HEQCO study on hybrid learning at the college level revealed that both students and faculty responded positively to the hybrid format, while emphasizing that the skills and commitment of faculty are crucial to course success.
For faculty, blended learning offers an opportunity for development, for experimentation with new pedagogies, technologies, and techniques. It demands a re-think of the course materials and teaching strategies, and offers more opportunities for class discussion and engagement.
The Educause research above showed that laptops are the most common technology used by students, with smartphone and tablet use increasing. Students are eager to use their technologies for learning – and blended learning fits that requirement. It also provides them with increased flexibility and convenience, allowing them to better combine learning with jobs, families, and other responsibilities. Using technology-based learning also enhances their skills related to independent learning, information management, and web research.
- The Collaboration for Online Higher Education and Research (COHERE) has produced a review of blended learning at several universities in Canada.
- The Contact North | Contact Nord Pockets of Innovation Series features a number of descriptions of blended learning initiatives at colleges and universities in Ontario. These include blended learning courses such as:
- Anthropology, Massage Therapy, Sports and Recreation Management, and faculty development at Lambton College
- Language Studies, Medical Radiation Technology, and Child and Youth Workers at Mohawk College
- Student support for learning and a program of faculty development on designing a hybrid course at Niagara College
- Psychology at McMaster University
- Bachelor of Commerce in partnership with colleges at Nipissing University
- Organic chemistry at Wilfrid Laurier University