Education: Will it blend?

Fear not, this post is not about throwing education into an industrial blender. Rather it considers the possibilities of blended learning. This involves the combining of educational technology with work done in a traditional classroom setting. Higher education is the setting with which this post is concerned.

A great deal of existing literature suggests a schism in how technology can be used in education which follows the same arguments found in educational theory in general. The traditional camps of Behaviourism and Constructivism advocate different values in how technology is used. Behaviourism favours learning technology’s suitability for objective testing and curriculum content delivery. Constructivism adopts learning technology’s potential for providing online asynchronous activities that encourage self-reflection and deeper levels of learning.

Ultimately, Social Constructivism has dominated the use of learning technology in higher education for over a decade assisted by the development of the World Wide Web. The asynchronous activities mentioned above have been given a great deal of attention using virtual learning environment discussion forums, wikis and ePortfolios to promote social learning. All of which has assisted the growth of online or distance learning that moves away from a traditional classroom environment, offering a previously unavailable level of access to higher education for those who could not physically attend a university.

Blended learning offers a third approach. This method attempts to combine Constructivism and Behaviourism in a manner that merges the advantages of online learning with the traditional benefits of face-to-face classroom teaching. In other words the best of both worlds. By making course materials and online quizzes which automatically generate feedback available we offer students the chance to revisit class materials and test subject knowledge in their own time. This should encourage a degree of student autonomy. Meanwhile we can take advantage of the traditional benefits of Constructivist teaching methods, face-to-face contact with a lecturer and in-class social learning opportunities.

Blender

“Kitchen Slectives Blender Recalled” by US CPSC

A significant feature of this in higher education is lecture capture. Lectures are videoed and then made available to students online, usually via the VLE as a revision tool after the classroom session. Students can re-watch lectures repeatedly and discover things they may have missed in real-time, reinforcing what has been learned in the classroom. However, there is also evidence in the wider world of higher education that shows levels of video usage by students is actually poor (Kurtz et.al, 2014, p.176). There is a suggestion that undergraduate students are unwilling to move away from the traditional (and comfortable) learning experiences they encounter while at school. It is a hurdle that may be difficult to overcome for as long as the methods traditionally associated with compulsory education persist.

This leads us to the concept of the flipped classroom. There appears to be an increasing momentum behind the drive to include lecture capture in the learning technology provision offered to students. There is evidence in existing literature that suggests this is highly valued by students and may soon become an expectation rather than an occasional offering. Therefore we may need to find the best way to apply it to curriculum design. In the flipped classroom materials are made available online prior to the classroom session. Effectively the classroom/homework structure is reversed. The lecturer is no longer restricted by the need for content delivery and can use the time for advanced learning activities instead. The need to watch captured lectures may intensify if they replace in-class content delivery rather than regurgitate it.

Therefore we can conclude that the answer to the question posed by this post is yes providing we can escape the paradigms created by the grip of compulsory education.

References

Kurtz, G., Tsimerman, A., & Steiner-Lavi, O. (2014). The flipped-classroom approach: The answer to future learning? European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning, 17(2), 172-182. doi:10.2478/eurodl-2014-0027

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