The advantages of blended learning

Tags: Op-ed
The advantages of blended learning
DIGITAL TOUCH: While the concept of blending or converging learning environments supported by technology and internet is common in many universities, wide implementation is still very rare
Even though it has been talked in India for the past decade now, the blended learning process is still not a reality. Multiple reasons for this failure are put forward both by academicians and owners of colleges. The government’s initiatives are restricted to the bureaucracy’s rigid framework. Many advanced nations have also been struggling with the blended learning approach. In the west, a few universities are fully using this kind of an approach, whereas in many universities, there are still many questions that both, the teacher community and students are raising regarding the same. Therefore, the picture, to a large extent, is still blurred. Recently, I studied the success rate of some Asian and a few European countries which use blended learning. The results included interesting aspects which are of importance to Indian universities.

Higher education institutions that teach both on-campus and at a distance are challenged to provide all students with equitable access to learning. While the concept of blending or converging learning environments supported by technology and internet is common in many universities, wide implementation is rare. It was found that as teaching and learning environments are socially dynamic, strategic institutional change will only happen if there is a shared vision and energy that touches all parts of an organisation.

Bottom-up managed change processes offer the advantage to use the creative power of faculty to design and implement blended learning programmes. It was observed that there are four factors or crucial elements for a successful bottom-up change process: the macro and micro contexts, the project leader and the project members. The interactions with teachers reveal that with the necessary elements in place, a bottom-up change process leads to three important outcomes. First, the development of blended learning programmes which match the needs of faculty and learner. Secondly, incentives for new task forces to solve institutional bottlenecks, which only faculty could have, discovered. And thirdly, new and updated knowledge for institutes.

The relationship between student perceptions in blended learning courses and their in-course achievement were also carefully studied in European universities. Student perceptions were looked for overall satisfaction with blended learning, convenience afforded by blended learning, sense of engagement in their blended course, and views on learning outcomes. A remarkably strong relationship was found between perceptions and grades as well. Compared with low achieving students, high achievers were the most satisfied with their blended course, would take one again, and preferred the blended format to a fully face-to-face or online one. High achievers also found blended courses more convenient and engaging, and felt that they learn key course concepts better than in other traditional face-to-face courses they have taken. Another aspect that has become a focus of advanced universities is unpacking of online learning experiences, particularly from online learning self-efficacy and learning satisfaction that students get.

Self-efficacy is believed to be a key component in successful online learning. However, most existing studies of online self-efficacy focus on the use of computer. Although computer self-efficacy is important in online learning, researchers have generally agreed that online learning entails self-efficacy of multifaceted dimensions; therefore, one of the purposes of the study was to identify dimensions of online learning self-efficacy. Through exploratory factor analysis, five aspects of this type of approach were identified: (1) To self-efficacy to complete an online course; (2) to interact socially with classmates; (3) To handle tools in a course management system (CMS); (4) To interact with instructors in an online course; and (5) Interest in development of linkages with classmates for academic purposes. In addition, the role of demographic variables in online learning self-efficacy was investigated. Demographic variables, such as the number of online courses taken, gender, and academic status were found to predict online learning self-efficacy. Furthermore, it was found that online learning self-efficacy predicted students’ online learning satisfaction as well.

The use of online courses on European college campuses has grown substantially in recent years, despite limited information on how these courses are perceived by faculty and students, compared with traditional (classroom) classes. The study was, therefore, done on the perceptions of faculty and students by comparing the perceptions of faculty who have taught the same course using online and traditional formats with the perceptions of students who have taken online and traditional courses. Both surveys measured: (1) Perceptions of online versus traditional courses; (2) Perceptions of students who take online courses and students’ motivations for taking online courses; (3) Perceptions of faculty members who teach online courses; and (4) Demographic characteristics. Significant findings from this research showed that compared with faculty perceptions, students tend to see online courses as more self-directed and believe that online students must be more willing to teach themselves.

For a country like India, which is still uncomfortable with blended learning, there is a need for investigating why this method of imparting education, despite its many inherent advantages, has not been scaled up successfully. We can then refocus on this enriching method in a more sensible manner in our educational process.

(The writer is former chairman of UGC, former vice-chancellor of University of Pune and founder director of NAAC)

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