BLENDED DISTANCE EDUCATION: PROMISING MODEL FOR THE FUTURE

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The Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study is to discuss the transformative potential of blended distance education in vocational schools and how best it fits for the present educational curriculum. In order to accomplish this aim, the study focus on finding answers to the following research questions:

  • How does blended distance education help students and vocational schools?
  • How does blended distance education fit with the current vocational education?
  • Can blended distance education meet the needs of vocational schools and students?

The Theoretical Background of the Study

While many researches have been done on blended education and transformative learning and their application in learning environment, there are little done for the combination of these two phenomena. Therefore, this research paper tries to reveal the blended and transformative learning and their potential in vocational schools. In addition, the authors subject a promising future model of blended and transformative distance learning for vocational schools.

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Blended Learning

Blended learning has many definitions in literature. According to Rosenberg (2008), blended learning is considered a hybrid training modality, which combines two different forces: conventional face-to-face instruction and e learning. Blended learning has enormous potential to transform the nature of the education experience with the use of direct and mediated communication and the rethinking of the educational approach (Garrison & Vaughan, 2008). Learning processes that are spread across face to face and online (Ginn & Ellis, 2007). The thoughtful integration of classroom face-to-face classroom experiences with online learning experiences (Garrison & Kanuka, 2004). Singh & Reed (2001) define blended learning as optimizing achievement of learning objectives by applying the right learning technologies to match the right personal learning style to transfer the right skills to the right individuals at the right time. 'Blended learning' constitutes a training modality that involves the use of different pedagogical methods and techniques, through a combination of classroom and online sessions, with the purpose of achieving the best learning outcomes (Rosenberg, 2001; Bersin, 2004; Graham, 2006). From these definitions, we can easily understand that there is a blend or a mix and it is all about the right blend.

Blended Distance Education

With the rapid growth of new technologies and the evolution of systems for delivering information, distance education with its ideals of providing equality of access to education, became a reality (Gunawardena & McIsaac, 2004). The term distance education described as a process to create and provide access to learning when the source of information and the learners are separated by time and distance, or both (Honeyman & Miller, 1993). According to Holmberg (1989), distance education is a concept that it is characterized by non-contiguous communication and can be carried out anywhere and at any time, which makes it attractive to adults with professional and social commitments. Distance education courses that require a physical on-site presence for any reason, including taking examinations, have been referred to as blended (Vaughan & Norman, 2010) courses of study.

Transformative Learning

When people critically examine their habitual expectations, revise them, and act on the revised point of view, transformative learning occurs. It is a process of examining, questioning, validating, and revising our perspectives. It is based on constructivist assumption. In other words, meaning is seen to exist within ourselves, not in external forms (Cranton, 2006). Transformative learning is the process of using a prior interpretation to construe a new or revised interpretation of the meaning of one's experience in order to guide future action (Mezirow, 1996). According to Mezirov's transformative learning theory in childhood; learning is formative (derived from formal sources of authority and socialization) in adulthood; learning is transformative, as adults are more capable of seeing distortions in their own beliefs, feelings, and attitudes.

Why transformative blended distance education?

Today nearly none of the students has experience life without the Internet, so we cannot see Internet and ICTs as something independent from their daily lives and learning environments. Hence, we should use the advantage of the technology in the educational programs by offering students flexible learning experience. The goal of a blended teaching is to bring together the best characteristics of both face-to-face and online instruction. Classroom time can be used to engage students in interactive experiences.  Meanwhile, the online portion of the course can provide students with multimedia content at any time of day, anywhere the student has Internet access, this allows for an increase in programming flexibility for students. In addition to flexibility and convenience for students, according to research shared at the ALN Conference Workshop on Blended Learning & Higher Education (2005), there is evidence that a blended instructional approach can result in learning outcome gains and increased enrollment retention.

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Using transformative potential of blended distance education will ease the limits of time and space for education activities. A state with an extensive distance-learning program reports that many faculties have discovered that good communication between teachers and students remains important but direct physical contact is less so. Blended distance education will bring the best lecturers to vocational students via new communication technologies anytime and anywhere. This sort of access is especially important for the increasing numbers of nontraditional students in vocational education, who often have job or family responsibilities limiting their school hours. Furthermore, blended distance learning helps self-paced learning with sensitivity to different learning styles and continuous assessment of student progress. The areas that can profit most from blended distance education opportunities are those subjects that have a high volume of students with general education courses like basic math, English, computer training, History and Turkish literature. In addition, students receive more instruction just in time, when they need it most.

However, blended distance education will empower students to have greater control over the learning process, with all the benefits associated with active learning and personal responsibility. Students will decide when to learn and how to learn and increasingly they will decide what to learn.

How to Blend?

There is not 'one size fits all' type of blend. Graham (2005) divides blended learning systems into three categories:

Enabling blends, which primarily focus on addressing issues of access and convenience-for example, blends that are intended to provide additional flexibility to the learners or blends that attempt to provide the same opportunities or learning experience but through a different modality.

Enhancing blends, which allow incremental changes to the pedagogy but do not radically change the way teaching and learning occurs. This can occur at both ends of the spectrum. For example, in a traditional face-to-face learning environment, additional resources and perhaps some supplementary materials may be included online.

Transforming blends, blends that allow a radical transformation of the pedagogy for example, a change from a model where learners are just receivers of information to a model where learners actively construct knowledge through dynamic interactions. These types of blends enable intellectual activity that was not practically possible without the technology.

According to Garrison& Kanuka (2004), successful adoption of a blended learning approach to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of teaching and learning will require the following:

creation of clear institutional direction and policy

frame the potential, increase awareness, and commit

establishment of a single point of support, quality assurance and project management

creation of an innovation fund to provide the financial support and incentives to faculty and departments to initiate blended learning course transformations

investment in establishing a reliable and accessible, technology infrastructure

strategic selection of prototype projects that prove to be exceptionally successful exemplars of effective learning

development of formal instructional design support available through a blended format

systematic evaluation of satisfaction and success of the teaching, learning, technology and administration of new course

create a task group to address issues, challenges and opportunities as well as communicate and recommend new directions to the University community.

A promising model

Transformative blended distance education offers great potential but in order to reap the benefits, institutions will have to transform themselves in fundamental ways. Traditional vocational education institutions face in transforming themselves to take full advantage of this new blended education model. With the combination of face to face and distance education opportunities blended distance model will appear and this will be the base model for the near future distance education model.

Use of technology

Face to face Blended Distance education

Time spent

Figure 1: Conception of blended distance learning - adapted from Heinze and Procter (2004)

CONCLUSION

Blended distance education is transformational and it can change the teaching is delivered. Blended distance education attempts to use the advantage of both face-to-face and distance education to enhance learning outcomes. Blended distance model can give the best of both educations. Considering the current education system in vocational schools, it would appear that blended distance learning add flexibility and transformation. Vocational schools must be open to progresses such as blended learning which shows the promise of being what the future education is.

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