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E-learning module goes back to school

T he reality of learning in the electronic age has demand-ed a rethink by academics, leading to the creation of a hybrid teacher-technician to facilitate a system that marries the computer and the classroom.

You can electronically deliver a picture of a tool or explain online the dynamics of using the instrument, but you cannot replicate the experience of putting a hammer in the hands of a trainee and its effect on a nail.

That requires instruction and a teacher with the skills to draw a line between the ultra-modern and the traditional.

Blended education and blended learning technologists (BLTs) are taking back control from the "techies", as David Dyet describes the technocrats who assumed total control of technology without regard to everyday application.

The manager of information, communications and learning technologies at Reid Kerr, Mr Dyet says the e-learning concept is quite "idealistic". The college and its partner institutions are developing ways of blending the traditional with the modern.

"The classroom is not dead; we have realised that in spite of what the techies told us," he says.

Reid Kerr is leading the Blend-Ed project, a pound;1 million program-me involving Glasgow's Cardonald College, Coatbridge College, Dundee College and the Glasgow College of Nautical Studies.

"E-learning is for yesterday. It is too idealistic to believe you can deliver all learning online. Blended learning is a hybrid of traditional face-to-face and online learning, where learning takes place in the classroom and the online component forms a natural extension. It has aroused significant interest internationally as having major educational benefits over e-learning. It recognises that e-learning on its own does not deliver the benefits. Indeed, it has gone through a boom and bust cycle similar to that experienced by the .com sector.

"However, like the .com sector, a new realism has emerged and the promotion of e-learning as a cure-all has been replaced by the recognition that its strengths can be harnessed while conceding that other, more traditional, methods should be adopted."

Mr Dyet argues that paper and electronic delivery can work together, and Reid Kerr is developing models. "We have created five hybrid teachers - the BLTs - who are teachers first and technologists second.

"They are the change agents, trained to manage people and projects and to identify the best ways to deliver education. The important thing is to empower staff to make the judgments.

"The tool analogy applies. You can describe a wood saw but you cannot relate the experience of sawing.

"Students can learn online and receive instant feedback and assessment through BlendEd. Alternatively, they can sit in a classroom. Paper or electronic: they both work."

In this new frontier of teaching, where "the techies are no longer in sole control", he says: "We are no longer seduced just by what we are able to do, but motivated by what we can usefully do."

Reid Kerr believes the BlendEd project offers a mix and match methodology, building blocks that control the path through learning. This means, Mr Dyet says, that topics A, B and C, for example, could be done at distance and D, E and F in the class. "However, experience might reveal that C would better be delivered before A," he explains. "That's the blending."

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