Blended learning - blending face-to-face, in-classroom instruction with active online learning - is still a relatively new and emerging educational trend permeating the changing landscape of higher education. In spring 2005, Penn State Berks, a commonwealth campus of Pennsylvania State University, was an early adopter of blended learning with the mission of enhancing the learning environment and improving student success. The Penn State Berks CIO and associate dean of Academic Affairs chose to design a blended learning course for Chemical Principles, a commonly failed course with low retention, yet high enrollment rates, shares EDUCAUSE Review Online. Administration envisioned that a blended design would boost average course GPA, student satisfaction, retention and cost. The vision proved to be true.

The classroom design focused on a student response system using clickers. Clickers fostered collaboration and enabled the instructor to modify coursework to accommodate individual student needs. Along with a clicker-focused curriculum, the blended learning design team created an interactive online study tool (also known as technology-based blended learning class guides, accessed through a course management system) for connecting in-classroom and out-of-classroom experiences.

The results were eye-opening. More students received a passing grade and grade point averages for the course increased, which ultimately enhanced student achievements. Students who spent more time on the innovative class guides scored higher on the final exam. The interactive multimedia and digital lecture materials fostered classroom and online teamwork, peer-led settings, and engagement for diverse learning styles. Learning success and course retention also improved.1


Blended Learning Expansion

Single blended courses have evolved into complete blended learning institutions designed to develop blended learning models and offer academic alternatives for nontraditional students. Our career-focused and blended educational school, Penn Foster, offers this type of flexible and personalized, yet affordable learning solution. Ray McNulty, Chairman, Penn Foster High School Board, shares how partnerships between traditional high schools and online career colleges can also offer perhaps the most effective blended learning model cultivating future opportunities. With a traditional class curriculum plus technology-based active online learning, high school or college students can earn a diploma or degree while acquiring the specialized skills to be college or career-ready, respectively.2

Digitizing the Academic Space

Blended learning and its significant use of technology to "reach and teach students more effectively," in the words of TeachThought, isn't without its criticisms. Naturally, deviance from tradition and conventional thought typically arouses uncertainty. But with deviance and uncertainty comes revolution, even in education. Blended learning technologies create unique student connections using dynamic material. Internet-based coursework and communication engage students with varied learning styles. TeachThought addresses how many blended classrooms rely on a course management system (CMS) for online learning and interaction, including video lectures and assignment tracking, for example. CMS applications Blackboard and Moodle are widely recognized and adopted for this type of pedagogical management.

Blended learning has even expanded into the adapted education model called "flipping." Under this flipping model, instructors digitally deliver lecture materials and assignments using online media. Students receive and independently review the materials outside of the classroom. Then during classroom periods, students can engage with one another and the instructor for in-person discussions and support. Flipping promotes self-guided learning while fostering online and face-to-face interactions within a holistic learning environment.

A new landscape of educational technologies changes relationships between people, explains "Success Factors for Blended Learning" by ascilite 2008 Melbourne. "Technology mediates interaction and learning between the virtual and the physical," writes the authors of this concise paper.3 These types of learning technologies include podcasting, vodcasting, Web-based audio and video communication, e-portfolios, social networking platforms, blogs, and wikis.

Technology elevates academia and expands the spirit of learning. For example, Udacity and Coursera, online educational organizations offering massive open online courses (MOOCs), also serve as influential virtual learning tools. MOOCs are online courses offered to an unlimited number of global students for free and via the Web.

Keep in mind, MOOCs are not blended learning models; however, MOOCs promote distance education and can supplement a blended academic setting. Similar to the blended-based "flipped" learning model, MOOCs deliver and support nontraditional education as an adaptive learning application.4 In 2013, Penn Foster College announced that it accepts MOOC-earned credits evaluated and endorsed by the American Council on Education. Completing an MOOC course to earn a Prior Learning credit by Penn Foster College serves as an additional way to further higher education and advance toward career objectives.

Pedagogical Growth

Blended learning has empowered the academic landscape by opening up nontraditional learning options and challenging conventional education methodologies. Embracing new technologies and offering flexible, personalized learning experiences tailored to student needs breaks barriers. Blended learning's influence is alone an achievement, in addition to school and student benefits.

A blended infrastructure can create cost-efficiencies for institutions. Students can practice independent time management and take ownership of their learning processes. Schools can harness cutting-edge technologies to educate and prepare students for promising career paths. Instructors can design blended models with a customized scholarly and transformative approach. The blended learning model is still novel and an emerging pedagogical concept, which also makes it an exciting modus operandi in continuous development to observe and watch evolve on new academic terrain.


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