A study of blended learning in higher education

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The Blended Learning theory has come to the forefront in recent years as the solution to how individuals can learn in a way that achieves benefits for all stakeholders E.G Lecturer to student. I will critically examine this concept from a theoretical and practical perspective. Focusing on blended learning in higher education. Analysing the most popular form of blended learning, E-Learning. Discussing the synchronous and asynchronous instructions contained in blended learning and effectively implementing e-learning in to an organisation. Furthermore analysing two different jobs of Pilot and Mechanic to explore the different types of learners in the UK, concluding on my own learning techniques.

Blended learning is a mixture of traditional methods of learning and e-learning. E.G Face to face learning and online learning. It uses a variety of learning resources and communications. In implementing this blended learning technique there is no loss of face to face interaction with the added convenience of online learning. The learning environment therefore becomes greater and richer, utilizing all resources rather than choosing a traditional face to face or solely online environment.

"To date, the differences and similarities between online, traditional distance and

Physical-based teaching have been little understood, leading to confused

Notions of the panacea of "blend". (Salmon, 2005, p. 202)

Through the implementation of blended learning, the students can identify their personal preference of learning style. Blended learning has become extremely popular as a learning style used by lectures this could be because they feel with the intensity of the work load; they feel the work load could be too heavy for a solely e-learning course. Currently they tend to use blended learning as an extra tool in efficient learning, introducing the student to technology whilst being able to give face to face support to students. The main incentive for using blended learning is for financial and staffing resources incentives. Due to its popularity it's been thought that the use of physical library, are on the down turn and lectures are better connected with their students. Providing faster guidance and being able to identify slower learners. There are also benefits of part time learners to be able to learn freely at an opportunity that suits them. Online learning has become harder to evaluate as its main disadvantage. How should it be analysed through its financial incentives of cost effectiveness and revenue, the benefits of a practical nature to students, grade analysis or the attitudes and feedbacks of students. As these statistics and data varies due to stakeholder factors.

Blending learning in higher education

Blended learning is an important tool of most universities it offers students both flexibility and convenience. Blending Learning can be described as "blended learning is a hybrid of traditional face-to-face and online learning so that instruction occurs both in the classroom and online, and where the online component becomes a natural extension of traditional classroom learning. Blended learning is thus a flexible approach to course design that supports the blending of different times and places for learning, offering some of the conveniences of fully online courses without the complete loss of face-to-face contact". Colis and Moonen (2001) this results in a strengthened academic experience. (Blended Learning and Sense of Community, Alfred P. Rovai and Hope M. Jordan P93)

After analysis of the term Blending Learning I can identify there are different interpretations of the definition depending on the institution or organisation. I can understand that they have developed their own variations of language, typologies definition to describe their blended practices. I feel that the varying definition and adaptability of the term blended teaching contributes to its success. The lack of this definition allows organisations to develop ownership of their own unique variation; I have identified six key concepts used in blended learning. The delivery of the teaching of face to face education, mixtures of technology, chronology synchronous and a-synchronous interventions, roles disciplinary and professional groupings and class room based versus personal learning. There are requirements of extra resources for learning programmes that are conducted along traditional lines, through institutionally aided e-learning environments. New course level practices underpinned by radical courses utilise the use of technology to replace other modes of teaching and learning and there is also a holistic view of technology and learners using their own technology.


E-learning is the most popular tool used in blended learning it allows for organisations to provide the learning participants with current, efficient and vast resources. Cost effectively and a proven tool in blended learning. Factors affecting the drive of learning are that change is always constant; employees must be kept up to date and educated. Staff that are valued as quality are hard to employee. This creates major implications from a learning perspective. The most focused individuals are more likely to be intent vastly improving their skills and for an organisation with a comprehensive learning programme, is a much more attractive prospect for them. If appropriate staff can't be found for specific positions, the alternative is to retain current employees. This would result in a learning programme having to be implemented. The need to train are large number of employees in a slump isn't a logical or financially great move. The cost effectiveness of e-learning becomes the main incentive as more traditional based learning is much more costly. The high costs involved in transportation and premises of traditional learning are reduced in e-learning. A main disadvantage of traditional learning and e-learning is the difficulty to measure, although in e-learning there is a significantly more measurable data making it a more effective tool.

Organisations tend to invest in learning to their employees can become more knowledgeable resulting in better productivity and efficiency. The theory has been described as uncontrollable because it's hard to distinguish who is learning and whether the right people are learning or not, harder to evaluate and wasteful on resources. E-learning allows to make learning less time consuming and more efficient and accountable by getting the right training to the right individuals as quickly as possible, measuring the results to ensure its achieving its goals, and making sure it's done in a cost effective manner.

Although if there is no learning culture in the business environment within the organisation, the implementation of e-learning isn't going to have much of an impact. It only successfully works in an environment where staffs are committed to the idea of e-learning. This maybe why employers still use traditional methods as a means of learning because staff will be exposed to learning and understand its benefits, against an e-learning system which some might choose not to take part as its harder to control and encourage people to do so, as it tends to me a more personal form of teaching rather than compulsory.

Characteristics of E-learning are that it is primarily delivered on the internet, its easily adaptable to changing needs. The ways in which learners learn can be taken at a pace which suits them, which can relate to the motivation of learning. (Herzberg Motivational Theory, Convenience). However some E-learning teachers take students through modules at specific times. Many of the modules are normally only designed to be short and last no longer that 30 minutes. Learners can take breaks and by learning over a period of time could allow for learners to build up more skills. Instructors and learners can collaborate together and effectively give feedback on how to learn better, resulting in better productivity. Compared to traditional learning, it's more cost effective and faster way to teach to a larger number of learners. It can utilize a variety of mediums for learning in multimedia. Text, images, audio, visual and interactive and simulation tools. Which resources that are popular, measurement of accuracy and track progress of learns are advantages of e-learning.

You can see the blending learning in terms of the Human Resource Development philosophy and strategy Walton's definition of HRD is taken by Armstrong who states that:

' Strategic human resource development involves introducing, eliminating, modifying, directing and guiding processes in such a way that all individuals and teams are equipped with the skills, knowledge and competences they require to undertake current and future tasks required by the organization'. (Strategic HRM, Armstrong 605)

This suggests the need for e-learning in the working environment the face that all members require knowledge, skills and are equipped with objectives and competences. This approach is used by many companies in the form of part time e-learning from home or during periods set during the working week.

In an e-learning environment it's necessary that there is a personalised space for learning, a customized environment where they can store completed module information, results, information about teachers and form learning groups. Teachers, need to keep interactive with learners otherwise it can become a dull environment; there must be easy access to ask questions and receive guidance. Furthermore there must be stimulation, collaboration and assessment. Where by the quality of the environment is stimulated, and there new skills be put into practice. Interaction with fellow learners, e-learning actively encourages collaboration and the organisation needs to know the increase in knowledge of the learners, set targets to instantly achieve management goals and objectives.

Disadvantages of this area there could be a vast amount of technically difficulties due to faults or incompatibility issues. Using a lot if multimedia in E-learning can be distracting and not be able to view with some software. Due to slower processors or older technology, the only way to achieve and equal level of learner is to make sure all participants have up to date technology which is expensive. Also network and connectivity issues tend to burden the e-learning productivity. Motivation is difficult when learners aren't controlled or monitored in the traditional way, lack of attention, attitude about learning and focus are key issues. The Values of the teachers are also can become undervalued and without constant monitoring and progress can easily be missed as there is no physical face to face understand in support. Issues in Blended Learning are whether there an organisation can trust there learners to direct their own learning in a productive and time efficient manner. How do the learners understand the value of informal learning, does it seem beneficial to them.

In my conclusion the outlook that e-learning will eventually replace traditional methods completely is untrue. A critical function of traditional methods is that people find out more information, it can be easily more understood. A happy medium needs to be achieved e.g. learners could follow and learn the skills on the web but understand core objectives and key strategies in the traditional method.

Many higher education environments are using Blending learning as new common practices, this extract a different situation that blend learning has been used and its effects. Extract About Blending Learning at Manchester Metro University -

"The Emerging Technologies and Issues first year module was redesigned to set

Students' expectations for university study. The course team used clear design

Principles to make explicit their intended outcomes and to inform the activities and

Assessment of the course.

One Design Principle was 'the tutor as expert of last resort'. This was designed in by

allowing access to tutors only for those students who had engaged with the online

environment. This was reinforced by showing usage data for online materials during

the lectures. The students quickly grasped what was expected of them e.g. "Don't

even bother asking - he knows you haven't had a go yet." Tutors noted that peer

support groups formed and that tutorials were 'intense experiences' of non-trivial


Another Design Principle was that students engaged regularly. It was felt that routine

was important in establishing good study patterns in this first year course. The course

team booked 10 hours of computer labs each week and scheduled students for one

hour each, each week. A tutor was on hand for ½ hour with each session. This

encouraged students to work on their assignments regularly."

The Structure of Blended Learning, Stubbs, Mark; Martin, Ian and Endlar, Lewis (2006)

This shows how the implementation of this way of learning is constructed through the ability to adapt the key model and apply to any situation in learning. It shows the development of technology in modern society and higher education while discover that the fundamentals and can be challenged at times, but the technique is fast becoming integrated into higher education learning.

There are a number of difficulties when trying to monitor progress and evaluation strategies in blending learning. There are a number of effective practices I have identified the implementations of regular evaluations in various areas of the learning process, evaluation of students, teaching, student unions identifying the stake holders. Drawing on possible the collection of rich data and plan longitudinal and ethnographic studies and finally the redesign and notes of changes and newly implemented strategy with a key of communication, motivation and support as key strategic points for the success to a productive learning.

The introduction of social media is proving a large participant in the success of blending learning. In relation to its stakeholders the most. Stakeholders for blending learning include the teacher, learner, government, institution and social factors. The need for fast pass updates of media is fast changing the way in which communication is shared in learning. Through updates on social media networks, regular push email and notifications.

"Stay connected and learn faster at Sussex University. Twitter and face book updates insure you know course information and announcements. Get hands on learning from online tutorials and lectures. Discover your peers views and questions. Explore a new way of teaching at Sussex University. Learn our Way!"

Exert taken from Sussex universities 2011 prospects brochure, suggests that the rise in e-learning and its benefits are used as powerful marketing tool and its ability to exploit the fundamentals and rules of this to an adapting social environment shows how effective and useful tool blend learning has become.

Motivational theory is a large factor in the ability and performance of blending learning theory, Herzberg identifies hygiene and motivation factors that need to be meet by the learner if they are not this is where the technique can become unsuccessful because of its informal monitoring and impersonal nature. Herzberg breakthrough identifies the lasting influence on human resource management. Concepts such as self-development and job satisfaction have evolved the insight that motivation comes within and individual. It's harder to motivate someone from a screen, and that's where decisions about the blending learning will always be parallel because the stakeholder factors for using this method would be too risky and unmanageable without.

"Too many organisations believe that the only motivation is work is an economic one. Treating knowledge assets like rats is hardly the way to get the best out of people." (The Business Resource, 2010 Gary Hamel P1187)

There needs to be a controlled line of parallel involvement from both traditional and modern methods otherwise targets, goals and skills aren't met and resources financially and efficiency aren't meet.

Blended Learning in a business environment. Many companies decide to train their staff with new skills or reminder of old skills and policies. The most popular blending learning is in the form of safety practices that's taught traditionally at the start of a position then it's taught as a reminder via an online test in most large companies every year and each team member must score above a certain level, otherwise they are face to face trained up again. The use of blending in learning has created a culture which is much faster passed, and encourages an employee to be involved and valued in a company. Possibly self actualisation of learning new skills and that the employee wants to help you do so is a real incentive to some. Although some employees might not be interested and cause de-motivation, in staff. With great leadership possibly a democratic approach the learners should be encouraged to learn new skill that will benefit them and the company in the future.

Line managers and human resource managers use blended learning as a tool to gain new skills, whilst being able to work around employees work and family schedules. Many firms offer incentives for e-learning studying for employees and this is a hybrid style is most commonly used, although if not monitored, the grasp of control and measure of accuracy can decrease. Tesco in 2010 decided to open up a new chain of in store electronics store, they recruited in house, to reduce costs of training. They used the money to retrain existing staff, at their own pace over a 4 months period with a combination of online tutorials and tests. Plus weekly seminar updates to fully check and support any workers which were falling behind. This allowed for them to efficient open up a new department in four months with fully trained staff that where already self motivated and had loyalty to the company. This technique made it cost effective for Tesco to retrain there staff, but by creating weekly seminars was able to motivate and track progress making sure management objectives were on target.

Blended Learning in UK Jobs

Blended Learning in the United Kingdom has been a fast growing method throughout the business environment, it's diverse and highly adaptable nature makes it easy to monitor and ability to be adapted to time and personal activities. Analysing to different industries I have concluded that there is a standardized set of rules which this method always uses. I studied the learning of an aviation pilot and mechanic. In the aviation teaching course its uses technology to be a more efficient learning tool, there are set class of the traditional method of 5 hours per week. Where by goals, progress and key objectives are learnt. Then they are given Cd-Rom software compatible with the latest 4 years of software for Mac and windows, this software contains 3D simulations and activities. They also must complete an online assessment every week from there selected reading titles. Interesting they use social media to update students of their records, class updates and announcements. There is a majority of E-learning with the key factors of motivation are achieved on a face to face traditional basis. Identifying Maslow key motivational theory triangle where self actualization is achieved in a majority E-learning environment, through personal social media feedback.

In The mechanic learning environment, its majority traditional hands on based teaching. There are elements of blended learning but only slightly although there impact improves the rate in which the learner gains skills and communication for support. Skills are taught via physical demonstrations on 15 hours a week basis, most of the skills are accessed and managed in the traditional sense. The use of blended learning comes in the form of Haffners Learning model. Where by live experience and formal education are the driving factors, but there is an online blog which allows for any questions or support for the learner to be achieved. There is independent study with every month online animated game style challenges are used to monitor progress. But there is little appraisal due to the large volume of learns in ratio to the teacher and the in personal learning approach.

These examples show the difference between industries. From the study I have concluded that more traditional careers use more traditional methods of teaching, still using small amounts of blending, but it isn't a key factor in the success of the development of skills merely a more efficient way of communication and that the motivational factors of the stakeholders are harder to monitor, access and give. Whereas in a more modern and dynamic industry that has larger financial resources uses this as a fundamental tool in learning, creating and using dynamic information technology online and software based exercise to encourage learning, identify progress quickly and efficiently. This also will help the business with feedback to improve the learning environment and benefit all stake holders.

In my own personal experience of learning I can identify that I feel that there advantages and disadvantages of blending learning are equal. I feel that with e-learning as a learner you are taught through online presentations of information, sometimes the information can't always be understood if you don't understand the key concepts that can be a problem. I feel that universities do use blending learning as a cost cutting measure, the level of teaching seems less and the volume of learners makes it harder for a more personal academic environment. The absence of online assessments weekly or monthly means that people do learn at different paces although there are learning plans, there is little assessment as to whether this is followed. The use of blending learning is that resources are always available, there is knowledge I can gain from other peers through online forums and boards. All the lectures and seminars are at my disposal. Furthermore the benefits are better acceptability, on a personal scale. Wider communication with other peers gaining their knowledge and more effecting and organized view of information.

In conclusion the benefits of blended learning benefits each stakeholder, it's a dynamic and diverse way of teaching to a large number of people with flexibility. Using the latest media and more embracing forms of education, there are no major disadvantages to the sole use of the traditional level. The technique can easily adapted and manipulated in a business environment and as part of a human resource management, its benefits would be reduced costs and ability to measure performance and maximise skill set efficiently, productively and resourcefully. I feel more companies would benefit for utilising the power of blended learning and use this technique to reduce cost and recruitment costs, it could give businesses a competitive advantage. In my own experience there are benefits to blended learning and with the expansion and adaption of the concept into social and on-demand media its set to become more successful.