Education has come a long way from the days of teachers imparting knowledge upon their wide-eyed pupils. Thanks to technology, more and more academic institutions are embracing blended learning methods – any combination of face-to-face lectures and technology, online or hands-on practice based lessons.

One of the biggest trends in teaching, this form of instruction includes swapping brick-and-mortar class time for time spent reporting in the field or on site visits, rolling back time spent in class in favor of online activities like blogging or taking a quiz, and having students learn a new program on their own ahead of in-person meetings, so they are primed for discussion.

The University of Central Florida has been leading the charge in developing online tools to support blended learning courses since the mid-1990s. Kelvin Thompson, a member of this team, sees no drawbacks to strategically implementing blended learning methods provided a course is thoughtfully designed. The team developed a Blended Learning Toolkit to provide resources for instructors looking to design blended courses. Thompson said almost as an afterthought, the group developed a subject-neutral MOOC to teach educators and developers the ropes for designing these classes.

While no more than 100 enrolled in the first online class, more than 2,800 registered for the last round, which ended in June. Turns out this course is particularly valuable to instructors who do not have much institutional preparation or support, or those who simply want to supplement their training.

Thompson sees the boom as evidence that educators are more interested than ever in breaking away from in-person only instruction. “We’re hard pressed to find a purely face-to-face course,” he said. “I have not run across a course yet that couldn’t benefit from being blended.”

There is however a caveat: The spectrum of higher education includes institutions with different values, and schools need to be strategic in adding what makes sense in their situation. For example, liberal arts schools typically consider small, in-person seminars a cornerstone of a student’s learning experience.

Thompson also said blended methods can capture the best of both online and traditional courses. Like online-only classes, blended courses can spark more student ownership and involvement while allowing more flexibility. And maintaining strategic face-to-face meetings also means instructors can continue providing the structure and support of a traditional class.

As technology continues to change, education developers look to keep experimenting with new technology-based tools both in and out of the classroom. Read more to see what education strategists have in store for the future. (Image via Shutterstock)

Source:  Katherine Krueger | No Chalkboard Needed: J-Schools Experiment with Blended Learning | August 25, 2014 | PBS.org

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