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In today's environment, blended learning is term used with increased regularity, both in academic and corporate circles. The American Society for Training and Development, in 2003, indicated that blended learning was one of the top ten trends to materialize in the knowledge delivery industry (Rooney, 2003).Blended learning offers potential for genuine transformation with the higher educational institutions. A National Research Council report by the panel on the impact of Technology on the Future of the Research University speculated that information technology will change the university's casual constraints of space and time, transforming how institutions of higher education are organized and financed.
Several research on blended learning has been conducted, in which the researchers have tried to answer questions like; how is blended learning different than other terms like distributed learning, e-learning, and hybrid courses? How to manage the roles and responsibilities of those involved in blended? How to create a seamless learning experience and environment? All of these researches have contributed one way or another, in giving readers more knowledge about blended learning. They however, haven't really talked about how blended learning affects the educational system which we observe in today's world.
The main objective of this research is to gain an insight into how blended learning helps in the current education system we see around us? The author would also be looking into what blended learning really is, why integrate blended learning into the existing educational system? What current blended learning models exist? The author would be looking, to develop an understanding of the barriers and challenges that learners encounter, and the ways these issues can be solved, and finally, what the future directions of blended learning systems are.
General Facts about blended learning
The first question that pops into people's mind when they hear about blended learning, is what is blended learning? The truth is that, although blended learning has become a very popular term in corporate and higher education settings, there is still a bit of ambiguity about the term and what is meant, while used(Woodcock, 2004). This section of the report aims to give readers an insight into what blended learning really is , why It should be integrated into current educational systems, and also to build on the knowledge they already have about blended learning.
There are various definitions of blended learning. Whitelock & Jefts (2003), Arbaugh (2005) and Peterson (2003) ,Alavi & Gallupe (2003) referred to Blended Learning as the integrated combination of traditional face to face learning with web based online approaches, the combination of media and tools deployed in an e-learning environment and the combination of a number of pedagogical approaches, irrespective of the learning technology implemented Blended learning could simply be defined as the combination of online learning and the traditional face to face method of learning.
There are numerous reasons why instructors, trainers, learners and other individuals might choose to adopt a blended approach towards learning. Six reasons why institutions of higher education might choose to design or integrate blending into their educational system were outlined by Osguthorpe and Graham. They are;
Access to knowledge
ease of revision and
To ensure success of a blended learning program, one must follow a well planned approach that includes high faculty development, theory based instructional model, course development assistance and learner support amongst many other things.
Research by the University of Central Florida (UCF) has shown that while student success and high level of student and instructor satisfaction can be achieved consistently in the fully online environment, many faculty and students complain about the loss of face to face interaction. Most faculties refer to blended learning as the best of both worlds, due to the fact that it also retains the face to face element.
Blended learning serves as a stepping stone for faculties who are yet to familiarize themselves with a fully online environment, by enabling them to start a course that mostly involves the traditional face to face methods of teaching then branching out as their level of expertise increases.
Another benefit of blended learning is the fact that most individuals find it to be a very convenient way of learning. Students indicated, that they like the fact that they can learn in the comfort of their homes instead of commuting all the way to school. Also they indicated they like the fact that they learn at their own pace. Faster learners can simply move ahead of the class while slow learners can continue to view materials and topics they had been taught to further improve their knowledge on that topic.
Blended learning also has its disadvantages. Some students especially freshmen find it difficult to adopt their learning habits to fit the online learning methods. This are students who are new to the higher education setting and who are already accustomed to the traditional face to face method of learning. Blended learning also brings about financial challenges. The cost of establishing a lecture room ,with internet capabilities, projectors and seating for a lot of students, can be a stumbling block for some institutions that simply cannot afford to do so.
Norm Vaughan, of the Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE) Chesapeake, VA, wrote an article for the International Journal on E-Learning on the Perspectives on Blended Learning in Higher Education.In the article he discussed the benefits and limitations of blended learning in institutions of higher education from the perspective of those who had experience with this method of learning. He further explained that Students indicated that students that enrolled in blende courses felt very satisfied with their overall performance in the course. He outlined that the reason why most faculty integegrate blending into their system is because it improves teacher student interaction, it also increases students engagement in learning,flexibility in learning and teaching environment and opportunities for incessant learning improvements.
He outlined that various Faculty suggest that blended courses create improved opportunities for increased student engagement in learning, student-teacher interaction.It added elasticity in the teaching and learning environment and enables opportunities for incessant improvement. They also stated that,lack of time,acquisition of new teaching and technological skills and support and reseources for course redesign were some of the challenges they faced with blended courses. From an administrative perspective, he pointed out that blended learning presents expansion opportunities to an institutions's educational offerings,opportunity to enhance an institution's reputation and opportunities to minimize overall operating costs. He outlined that administrators indicated that it was difficult for them to fuse blended learning with their instituitional goals.
Research on blended learning was undertaken by the Oxford Centre for Staff and
Learning Development at Oxford Brookes University for the Higher Education
The aim of the study was to review existing research and practice on blended learning, identify key studies and issues, and make recommendations to guide future
policies, practices and research.
The researchers also aimed at finding out, how blended learning affected the student experience. What are the factors to consider when integrating blended learning into their educational system? And, what monitoring and evaluation strategies are being implemented for ensuring and enhancing the quality of blended learning?
They adopted a methodology that combined traditional desk research with institutional visits and interviews with key personnels.
They discovered that the responses of students were overwhelmingly positive to the provision of online course information to frequent use of electronic resources with few reported problems of access.Also,that students make regular and particularly value flexible access both from home and on-campus.
Both research papers aim to give a better insight into blended learning in relation to the present educational system which we observe. Norm Vaughan basically, highlighted some benefits and limitations of blended learning in institutions of higher education from the perspective of those associated with this method of learning. The Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development at Oxford Brookes University for the Higher Education Academy identified key studies and issues about blended learning in their research. The articles would help the author to gain more knowledge about blended learning and particularly help answer the research topic, which is how; does Blended Learning help in current education system?
Scope and Limitations
When the author wanted to decide on the research topic, he looked for a phenomenon that was getting widespread attention and also a phenomenon that people wanted to know more about. Blended learning has gained increasing popularity all over the world and seemed like a very nice topic to talk about. Blended learning as a topic was very broad and the author had to focus on a particular piece of the broad topic. Many research had be conducted on the topic, answering many questions and clearing many doubts in the process.But, no one had yet conducted a research on the impact blended learning has on higher education today.
It wasn't difficult to find articles and papers that help broaden the knowledge in which the author had on blended learning. The author has the World Wide Web to thank for that. This is the first major research the author is going to conduct and the lack of expertise in the field of research means the author would have a mountain ahead of him. But with help from the internet and supervisors, the author feels the research he plans to conduct will go pretty smoothly and according to planed.
The author's intended audience is students, instructors, administrators and other individuals, who might have an association with any institution of higher education. No knowledge is a waste. The author feels, his research topic, will give the targeted audience an in-depth pool of knowledge about the research topic, to add to their existing pool of knowledge (if they posses any at all).
Blended learning in higher education is an involving phenomenon that offers promise for addressing challenges such as access, cost, efficiency and timely degree completion. In addition, this approach will impact aspects of the academy such as faculty development and rewards, student retention, college and department structure, as well as the notion of lifelong learning. (Dziuban, Hartman & Moskal, 2004) .A we head into the future,it is important that we continue to identify and implement more successful models of blended learning at all levels,that can be adapted to work in context.Blended Learning is here to stay. The author, believe it is the natural evolution of e-learning.