What is the Right Blend?

image source: www.bigstockphoto.com
image source: www.bigstockphoto.com

With the ever-increasing availability of technology in education, and ever-shrinking institutional budgets, there seems to be a lot of movement towards online learning.  Blended learning combines face–to-face and online activities, and is much better suited to language learning than online learning alone. The opportunity to use language in real-time situations is important for developing good communication skills. Well-developed blended courses provide an experience for the student where the face-to-face and online parts work together to support the learning in an integrated way.

From an institutional point of view, online and blended courses have the ability to provide more revenue with less overhead owing to the cost savings realized by potentially allowing for delivery of the course to a greater number of students, while at the same time freeing up physical space.  Pedagogically, students are not only able to learn how to use a language, but also how to use technology.  A blended set-up looks like it is beneficial from many points of view.  But how do students and teachers feel about blended language learning?

From my experience teaching a blended course, I find some students love a blended learning environment.

Here are some of the advantages that blended learning offers:

  • Flexibility the ability to do the online work at a convenient time
  • Autonomy – the ability to peruse the course and do extras, or try things using interesting technology
  • Reduced anxiety some students prefer to do presentations online, as opposed to in front of a group, which helps them develop confidence in their speaking

However, there are some disadvantages as well, including:  

  • Distractions – Many students find it very difficult to complete the online work at home because they have small children or other family responsibilities. 
  • Technological Challenges – For some older students, the technology acts as a barrier. 
  • Cost & Convenience – Others may find the cost of a computer and internet access to be unaffordable, so must find alternative locations from which to study. 
  • Isolation – In the last blended class that I taught, all of the students preferred the face-to-face component.  They liked the friendly, social atmosphere in the classroom and the camaraderie of their classmates.

The first time teaching a blended course, it seems like you are getting paid the same amount of money for less work.  I can definitely tell you this isn’t the case.  While teaching online, you spend your time in many new and different ways. 

Things to consider:

  • The Learning Curve – First of all, there is likely to be a learning curve in terms of technology.  You need to understand how to use the learning platform and be able to explain how to use the learning platform to the students. 
  • Work-Life Balance – Second, you have to check your email and the discussion forums often so that students taking advantage of the flexibility of learning from home can get their questions answered.  With the ubiquity of internet access, sometimes setting the “work-away from work” boundary is challenging.

As with all teaching situations, blended learning offers pros and cons.  Is blended learning more beneficial than traditional face-to-face language learning situations?   If so, who benefits?

What do you think?

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