Category Christian School Education
Title Why Understanding the Basics of Blended Learning Will Improve Instruction
Author/s Tanya Grosz, PhD
Preview Ideally, in a blended learning environment, the teacher takes the best of the online classroom and the face-to-face one. The sweet spot in the middle is that perfect blend of traditional and "flipped" learning (a type of blended instruction in which students do online work at home and work in the classroom with the guidance of the instructor).
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Ten years ago, I was lamenting the need to use two entire class sessions for essay conferencing in my large section of college composition. Dismayed, I conducted the next conferencing session online-and found that students were more honest with each other online, while I preserved my precious face-to-face time. I had accidentally discovered the brilliance of blended learning.

Ideally, in a blended learning environment, the teacher takes the best of the online classroom and the face-to-face one. The sweet spot in the middle is that perfect blend of traditional and "flipped" learning (a type of blended instruction in which students do online work at home and work in the classroom with the guidance of the instructor). Every good blended learning environment incorporates flipped learning.

Benefits of Blended Learning

  • The blended classroom maximizes active learning. By focusing on activities that reside higher on Bloom's taxonomy in class, teachers capitalize on their face-to-face time, leaving the online time for lower-level activities.
  • Content delivery online is perfected because it's easier to deliver a high-quality lecture when you have the ability to script, record, and edit it.
  • In a face-to-face classroom, you hear regularly from only a portion of your learners. In the online classroom, you hear from all students, since their points depend on participation.
  • Absent students catch up more easily because much of the instruction is already online.
  • The online classroom prepares a student for the faceto- face classroom as well as allowing a student to reflect upon the learning that occurred; this creates a more robust, more complete experience. The online activities can extend and make up for deficient time in the face-to-face classroom. The ability to rewind and review is built in.
  • A blended classroom creates and sustains a community beyond the physical classroom. For every class I teach, I begin by introducing myself online and letting the students introduce themselves. I love the way online community enhances the trust level in the face-to-face classroom.

In order to create effective blended learning environments, we must go back to the basics of creating measurable objectives, using authentic assessments, and balancing instruction through the strategic use of Bloom's taxonomy.

Measurable  Objectives

To keep learning from seeming superfluous, every unit and lesson requires measurable objectives that are aligned with the course activities and assessments. SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Targeted) objectives provide teachers with the anchors they need to keep students on track. At University of Northwestern-St. Paul, we created a Blended Learning Faculty Workshop in 2009 to assist faculty with blending a course. Many of the professors in attendance had never created a measurable objective. While they were experts in their field, they needed grounding in the basics of blended learning in order for it to be a transformative experience.

Measurable objectives should:

  • Focus on students
  • Use action verbs
  • Hone in on a single learning outcome
  • Include higher-order learning when appropriate

Variety of Authentic Assessments

There are three types of commonly used assessments: diagnostic, formative, and summative. It is best to use a variety of all three.

Formative assessments occur as learners derive meaning from new content and integrate it into what they already know. These may be as informal as observation of the learner's work or as formal as an essay. Self-assessments are considered formative.

Diagnostic assessments are a type of formative assessment often used in the online classroom. Low- or no-stakes diagnostic quizzes and assessments with immediate feedback are very helpful in providing the teacher and the student a real-time update regarding student learning.

Summative assessments take place at the end of a large portion of learning. Summative assessments have the least impact on improving an individual student's understanding or performance. Cumulative tests at the end of the semester are one example of a summative assessment (U.S. Digital Literacy 2015).

Assessments should be authentic, applicable to learners' lives (when possible), and varied. The alignment of objectives with activities and assessments should be foremost in teachers' minds as they plan instruction for both the online and face-to-face classroom settings.

Bloom's Taxonomy

Bloom's taxonomy classifies learning objectives into three domains: cognitive, affective, and psychomotor. Teachers can balance instruction by designing lessons that meet objectives at different levels of Bloom's taxonomy.

As a general principle, learning activities and assessments that are lower-level Bloom's (Understanding, Remembering, and Applying) are best placed online because students may watch and review guiding instructional content with lower-stakes lessons. Higher-level activities and assessments (Creating, Evaluating, and Analyzing) work better in the face-toface classroom, with a teacher who may guide and assist with challenging concepts, discussions, and questions.

Balancing Instruction

While there is no magic formula for balancing instruction in a blended classroom, teachers blending for the first time should focus on which environment (face-to-face or online) helps meet the objectives best. Pragmatically, a blended approach uses online classroom time strategically to enhance flexibility and maximize the impact of face-to-face time. A class that meets on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays may meet face-to-face on Mondays and Wednesdays but conduct Friday's class online.

Whatever the blend is, the teacher will want to think strategically about where the objectives for that lesson or activities may best be achieved. If you need to lecture and disseminate information, should you use face-to-face class time to do so, or could you script and record the lecture for students to listen to, take notes on, rewind, and review as many times as they want at the speed they want? If they need to work collectively on a case study in which they pose and answer questions together, which environment would be best?

Understanding the basics of blended learning will guide teachers' thinking about how to utilize the online and face-to-face portions of the blended classroom, and these efforts can simultaneously maximize learning and improve instruction.

References U.S. Digital Literacy. 2015. Assessment types. Retrieved September 25, 2015, at http://digitalliteracy.us/assessments.


Tanya Grosz, PhD, is the dean of graduate, online, and adult learning at University of Northwestern-St. Paul, where she has served for 14 years. Dr. Grosz facilitates the Blended Learning Workshop and teaches literature and online learning in various venues. 

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