Why the success of blended learning is all in the mix

11th December 2015 at 00:00
Combining online and face-to-face delivery can lead to impressive results – but the devil is in the detail

From schools to universities, the blended learning model has grown in popularity in recent years.

The approach involves learners being taught through digital and online media, as well as traditional face-to-face instruction. But while the likes of the Open University have been doing it for years, for further education it is relatively new.

At Barking and Dagenham College, we decided to set up a blended, two-year higher apprenticeship in project management at level 4, which launched in August 2014. Embedding this into our practice has been a journey of discovery.

Drawing on our experience, here are our five tips for creating a successful blended learning model in the FE sector.

1. Turn the course induction event into a networking opportunity

This event is not only a chance for students to meet each other and the programme leader.For apprenticeships, it can also be a great way to get key decision-makers from your employer clients to understand how the programme works, how it is delivered and what their role in the process will be.

As well as this, it’s an opportunity for both the student and their employer to meet the assessor who will visit them in the workplace to select and review the evidence that will support work-based competencies.

2. Beyond the student, invest the time and effort to ensure that your key players fully understand the demands and expectations of a blended learning model

Key players need to be identified from the outset, and a cohesive and collaborative partnership should be fostered well before the induction event.

These individuals vary from one organisation to another and may include the HR team, the talent development manager, the training manager or even the managing director.

If your blended learning apprenticeship programme is tracked, monitored and managed by the programme leader online, consider giving access to the key players, too, so that they can play an active role in supporting and developing their employee-student.

3. Don’t be rigid with the ratio of face-to-face versus online delivery

When scheduling your course tutorials, seminars, workshops and networking opportunities, be prepared to make changes along the way.

Face-to-face delivery accounts for about 25 per cent of our programme, with the remaining 75 per cent supported online. The balance needs to be flexible depending on the profile – and support needs – of the cohort.

4. Adopt a creative approach when considering communication

To support online delivery of learning, explore all the communication channels you have at your disposal to create a dynamic blend of contemporary resources and visuals. Our programme uses a mixture of videos, podcasts, online forums, articles, and other printed materials. As technology advances, we have an increasing number of options.

An online student forum is worth its weight in gold. It gives students a platform to share information and experiences, to build subject confidence, to provide feedback and to network.

5. Don’t underestimate the power of podcasts

A friendly, familiar voice, delivered right to students’ desktops, is reassuring and motivating. This concept of “bringing the tutor into our living rooms”, as one apprentice put it, epitomises the attention to detail that we have learned is essential to developing an effective relationship with students.

Our programme leader creates weekly podcasts quickly and easily using a smartphone app, and these are uploaded on to our virtual learning environment. We are planning to extend our repertoire to include guest lecturers and broadcasts created by students.

Tim Carey is curriculum manager for business and finance at Barking and Dagenham College in East London

How it works in other sectors

Blended learning generally involves a technology-based mix of computer learning and teacher-delivered lessons. It has proved popular in higher education, leading to suggestions that university lectures could become a thing of the past.

It is designed to be more engaging than traditional teaching, allowing students to work at their own pace and be more involved in assessment. The process is also intended to make teaching more efficient.

At school level, US pioneer Rocketship Education began by having pupils completing online learning in separate computer or learning labs. But it now favours a “classroom rotation” model where small groups of pupils switch between online learning, project work and direct instruction within the same room.

Ark, one of England’s biggest academy chains, is planning to set up an all-through school based on the blended learning model. Ark Pioneer Academy is due to open in London in September 2017.

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