Blended Learning – Combining the Advantages of Classroom and Distance Learning

Blended Learning

For centuries, Universities and colleges have educated those fortunate enough to pass through their doors. More recently institutions have turned to distance learning programmes especially over the internet to offer their programmes and courses to students both nationally and world-wide. Both methods have their pros and cons and have their advocates throughout the education sector, but an increasing number of institutions are looking to merge the two entities to produce a new “blended” method of learning that takes advantage of the strengths of both classroom and online learning.

Blended learning programmes are those which attempt to put together the benefits of studying in a traditional learning environment with the convenience that distance learning provides. Part of the course or programme is studied on the students own time and form home, and other parts of the course require attendance in person. Which parts vary from course to course and some programmes are even being offered in a sort of dual learning format whereby a student can swap from learning on campus to learning at home from week to week, depending on commitments and whatever suits their schedule best.


Better Outcomes for All

For the students, the benefits that a blended learning programme offers are obvious. Even today, people tend to be students only at the start of their lives from school, through college and into University. Even though people are changing careers more than at any time in the past few people have the luxury of taking several years out of the workforce in order to study full time. This is the same reasoning behind the rise in distance learning.

studentsYet distance learning struggles to replace or emulate the class room experience and the benefit of interacting with a teacher and other students face to face. Being able to talk to the tutor of a course offers an immediacy that can help learners come to grips easier with difficult concepts and meeting other students provides opportunities to find study partners and collaborators in learning.

Nevertheless, using the tools of distance learning is an invaluable means to extend the reach of students’ knowledge. The internet makes available to all students a wealth of knowledge that no library of the past could have hoped to hold individually. Students still require guidance as to how to find the information they need for their studies but by having the learner interact with teachers and other students this obstacle is more easily overcome.


Reasons for Institutions

Naturally for institutions such as colleges and universities, blended learning needs to offer some benefits to encourage them to adapt. The primary one being as mentioned is access to another potential market of would-be students who want the support of studying at a physical campus without the commitment full time study demands. Despite the benefits of distance learning, many potential students are simply uncomfortable at studying entirely by themselves. Providing a sort of half-way house for learners which blends learning in their own time with a part-time attendance at a college goes a long way to alleviate this concern.


Given the increased commercialisation and competition around the world for educational providers, being able to reach new sources of students is paramount to the long term success of educators. Many institutions, even the most conservative and reactionary ones, are finding themselves required to embrace the technologies and methods offered by distance learning in order to reach out to new potential markets. Already 12% and 13% of American students alone are involved in either distance learning or blended learning programmes respectively.  Institutions therefore need to seriously consider whether or not they will need to introduce new methods in delivering their courses to remain competitive in the fast changing education market.

Doing these things will of-course requires an outlay of expense. Researching, developing and implementing new and updated programmes of study is an inevitable expense that will come with any change that an educator might put into practice. However this is offset somewhat by the potential savings that such programmes can bring. While the individual fee for a blended learning course will need to be lower than one of full-time study, there is the opportunity to enrol many more students on an educational programme than might have traditionally been.

For example, using digital source materials and textbooks allow new copies to be produced virtually for free and on demand. Even more finite resources, such as classroom space can be managed to increase overall capacity for example by staggering classes. If an Engineering course for example takes place in a class room for twenty students, a Blended learning programme might run two classes with class A coming in for weeks 1 and 3, and class B coming in for weeks 2 and 4. In weeks when students are not attending they will be continuing their learning online.

This method is already being used by the Yale school of medicine. Running a programme for medical assistants using blended learning they have been able to increase the capacity of the course from 40 new intakes per year to 300. This is a fantastic way for any educator in possession of a physical campus to expand their student base without requiring the addition of new and expensive facilities.


Looking to the Future

Just as distance learning before it heralded a major new shift in how education can be delivered, blended learning offers educators and students alike the opportunity to combine the best of old style tuition with its intimate learning environment with the benefits brought by new technologies and methods.

Educators who can find a way to use their existing expertise in classroom education and innovate may find a rich new source of students by meeting the needs of today’s working learner.

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