MET:Blended Learning

From UBC Wiki

Authored by: Sheila Hancock and Tamara Wong February 2011
Revised and reviewed by Osayma Al Nahlawi March, 2012


Different learning problems require different solutions, and each learner has a unique learning style and unique requirements. In the pre-digital age, combinitions of different learning contexts were used for teaching, but in the 21st century learning environments increasingly incorporate ‘e elements’ into varied instructional contexts. Early adopters have experimented with various media formats and delivery options, and realized that blended learning works best.

Definition in general

Blended learning is learning that is facilitated by the effective combination of different modes of delivery, models of teaching and styles of learning which are applied in an interactively meaningful learning environment As this is a general definition, we can abstract sub-definitions from it:

  • Blended learning courses combine online and classroom learning activities and resources in an optimal way to improve student learning outcomes and to address important institutional issues.[1]
  • Blended learning is the organic integration of thoughtfully selected and complementary face to face and online approaches and technologies.[2]
  • Blended Learning is defined as a combination of traditional face-to-face learning and online learning.[3]

Definitions in different perspectives

Although the application of blended learning has been practised for decades, there is no universally accepted definition. The definitions offered here reflect five different perspectives concerning blended learning:

Holistic perspective

The delivery of instruction using multiple media. [4]
This includes the integration of instructional media into a traditional classroom or into a distance learning environment. It also includes any combination of media that supports instruction, regardless of the mix of synchronous or asynchronous media.

Educational perspective

Courses that integrate online with traditional face-to-face class activities in a planned pedagogically valuable manner; and where a portion (institutionally defined) of face-to-face time is replaced by online activity. It is primarily focused on integrating two separate paradigms, the classroom (synchronous) and online (asychronous) [5]

Pragmatic perspective

Courses that are taught both in the classroom and by distance and that use a mix of different pedagogic strategies.[6]
More specifically:

  • to combine various pedagogical approaches (constructivisim, behaviorisim,cognitivism...) to produce an optimal learning outcome with or without instructional technology.
  • to combine any form of instructional technology (CDs, films, web-based training ) with face-to-face instructor led programming.
  • to mix or combine instructional technology with actual job tasks in order to create a harmonious effect of learning and working.[7]

Corporate training perspective:

The use of multiple instructional media to deliver one course or curriculum such as a sales training course with pre-reading, lectures and role play practices. [8]

Chief learning officer (CLO) perspective:

Executing a learning strategy that integrates multiple delivery modalities (both synchronous and asynchronous)and, in doing so, creating the best possible learning solution for your target audience.[9]

Evolution of blended learning


In the early days of distance learning,correspondence courses were the primary model, and the concept of blended learning was not yet developed. As technology evolved, more delivery tools emerged to the point where the instructional designer now has a plethora of choices that can be used singularly or integrated to create a blended learning solution. With the introduction of the computer, learning communities quickly realized the potential of this powerful technology and adopted it as a new delivery tool. As the computer continued to evolve, a new generation of computer mediated instruction arrived, and with the emergence of the Internet, new collaborative tools and delivery media also appeared.

The change is inevitable, and tomorrow will bring newer and better technologies, accompanied by a new set of challenges. However, the goal is always the same: Optimize the technology without sacrificing instructional quality.

“In this global, networked world, several technologies including search engines, blogs,podcasts,Web 2.0 applications and virtual worlds such as Second Life will be used for learning” [10]
The practice of blending face-to-face learning with online learning began in the 1990s and is seen by many to be an important trend in education. Pennsylvania State University’s president called blended learning “the single greatest unrecognized trend in higher education today.” [11] Further, the results of a survey administered to a cross-section of North-American educators indicate a shift away from fully online learning toward blended learning within the next decade; indeed, most survey respondents predict that the majority of all courses will be blended in the next decade [12]. Research shows that North Americans believe 40% of their courses will be blended by 2013- A sign that blended learning is not just a trend. [13]

Blended learning model components.

A model can be a description of a system or phenomenon that accounts for its known or inferred properties and used for further study of its characteristics. Therefore, a blended learning model can be used as a guide in evaluating and integrating separate components that would result in an instructionally sound learning situation. The components:

Learning environment component

Evaluates the learning environment (synchronous/ asynchronous) that supports the instructional objectives.

Media component

Used to evaluate the most appropriate media to deliver the content.

Instructional component

Used to select the most appropriate instructional strategies that support the learning objectives.

Concept of elasticity in blended learning

“The power of blended learning is in its elasticity” Depending upon the cognitive level of the learning objectives and the learning environment, different combinations of instructional media and instructional strategies can support various levels of interactivity to attain the most appropriate “blend”. As the blend changes, the model becomes “elastic”, allowing the instructional designer to modify the blend to meet specific learning outcomes. “What’s the right mix?” There may be several “blended” solutions that can meet the instructional objectives. The ultimate goal is to increase performance through the systematic evaluation of intra-dependent variables that would result in the most appropriate integration of media.
Advising us not to attach too much importance to any particular type of instructional media, Richard Clarck writes: “The best evidence is that media are mere vehicles that deliver instruction but do not influence student achievement anymore than the truck that delivers our groceries causes changes in nutrition.. only the content of the vehicle can influence achievement”.
There’s an important point that is easy to miss in the frenzy of change. Web 2.0 is not about technology, and neither e-learning 2.0. The human element is what makes the web work. [14]

Blended learning advantages.

  1. It is a shift from passive learning to active learning. The focus of the classroom shifts from a presentational format to one of active learning. This involves putting learners in situations which compel them to read, speak, listen and think.
  2. It offers learners the opportunity to be both together and apart. The model of blended learning emphasizes bringing together of the online and face-to-face classroom components.In addition, a blended delivery system allows students to learn and access material in a variety of modes—an important feature since students often have very different learning styles. In fact, research indicates that blended learning increases students’ chances of meeting course outcomes over fully online and even fully face-to-face courses by decreasing dropout rates, increasing test scores and motivation in students. [15]
  3. It adds a human touch to the teaching. Interactive content enables you to create high interest, accountability, and real assessment.
  4. It enhances individualization, personalization and relevancy. It lets the teachers tailor learning content to the unique needs of different audience segments
  5. The model offers students the best of both worlds because teachers and students have greater flexibility and accessibility without sacrificing face-to-face contact. “A blended learning approach is an effective and low-risk strategy towards meeting the challenge of the transformational changes that technological developments bring to higher education.”[16]
  6. Finally, administrators praise the model for its cost efficiency [17].

Issues and challenges

Educators and researchers alike do not agree on a label for blended learning, nor is there a consensus on the amount of face-to-face time compared to the amount of online time. Other contentions include the teaching method employed in blended learning. Singh and Reed (2001) believe "Blended learning focuses on optimizing achievement of learning objectives by applying the ‘right’ learning technologies to match the ‘right’ personal learning style to transfer the ‘right’ skills to the ‘right’ person at the ‘right’ time.” [18] At the same time De George- Walker and Keeffe (2010) state that many programs are “blended teaching” and should focus more on the learner. The authors also argue that a blending learning environment should not just be a mindless compliation of online and f2f learning but a thoughtful integration of the two to promote learning. [19] Teachers have much to consider in order to overcome the many challenges they may face on the path to a successful blended learning implementation. They must also learn to integrate methods of assessing student learning within the context of blended learning.

Challenges include:lack of time, lack of support for course redesign,difficulty in acquiring new teaching and technology skills [20] There is a saying in the e-learning world that “if content is king, then technology is God.” This holds true when it comes to blended learning as well. Ensuring that participants have the needed hardware, software and bandwidth cannot be overlooked when implementing blended learning.The technology skill level of learners and facilitators can also be a key challenge for blended learning. Providing adequate technical support and training to participants and facilitators is critical to successful blended learning. Incorporating a blended learning approach may also entail a cultural shift both on the part of participants and their managers. Learners are much more familiar with in-person training, and managers may be more accustomed to sending staff to an off-site training where the time and space is clearly carved out for learning. Successful implementation of blended learning requires the active support and encouragement of managers and supervisors throughout the project. To learn effectively online, learners need a quiet, dedicated space on a staff computer to participate without interruption. It’s often difficult to find that space and carve out time for online learning while putting aside the daily demands of working in a library. Blended learning places more responsibility for learning in the hands of the learner and, for some learners not accustomed to independent learning, this can be challenging. Building in support for learners from instructors, supervisors and peers helps to increase course completion rates and learner satisfaction. Blended learning also requires an intentional approach to instructional design so that the program is blended in design, not just in delivery. Professional development for instructors to learn online teaching strategies and facilitation skill is important to any successful blended program. Instructors must also be familiar with all of the technologies that will be used in a blended program and be able to support learners.[21]

Tips for starting a blended learning program

Creating a successful blended learning program requires thoughtful analysis and design—just like any training program! Simply tossing together a mix of different online learning methods and in-person training won’t guarantee good learning outcomes or adoption of the program.To be successful, both the design and the implementation of blended learning needs to be intentional. Here are five key strategies for designing and implementing blended learning:

  • Designing
    • Clearly define your training objectives
    • Identify the skill gaps of learners and the characteristics of your audience
    • Match the content needed to achieve your training objectives with the most appropriate mix of learning methods
    • Build in good instructional design (including assessment) that takes into account how adults learn
    • Utilize subject matter experts when creating content
  • Implementation
    • Establish support for the blended program from your leadership and managers
    • Communicate the importance and urgency of the learning program to your learners
    • Teach learners how to learn online
    • Ensure learners’ success by providing them with appropriate technology and technical support
    • Keep learners engaged and motivated by facilitating and supporting your program

The key to successful blended learning is clearly defining your learning objectives and then carefully selecting the best mix of training methods. Consideration should be given to the content of the course—how frequently it changes, the level of interaction it requires and its complexity. Other key considerations include your target audience’s motivation and familiarity with technology.Time, budget and personnel resources should also be considered.The size of your audience and whether you will need to reach an audience spread across a large geographic area are also key determining factors when designing your blended learning course. Designing the course is only half the equation. Marketing, launching and supporting the program are also essential to the program’s overall success. [22]

Blended learning modes

There is no magic formula for selecting the best mixture of training modes to use in a blended learning program. Once you have clearly defined your training objectives and evaluated the skill gaps and characteristics of your audience, you can align the content with the most appropriate mix of learning modes The following blended learning continuum provide an overview of several different modes of blended learning that can be part of the mix. Blended learning modes offer a continuum of interaction levels for learners as well as a range of high and low-tech options for course designers.

Discussion Boards

Discussion boards are an asynchronous communication tool involving a user (usually an instructor) posting a question or assignment, and learners posting their responses at a later time. Because they are asynchronous, discussion boards allow the learner more time to reflect on a topic or question before posting a message. Theycan also help instructors monitor the participation and understanding of learners in a course. However, because discussion boards are asynchronous, it can be easier for learners to put off their participation unless clear expectations and requirements are established for discussion board use. Discussion boards can play an important role in blended learning programs, especially those using online, self-paced tutorials, by helping to facilitate the informal interaction that typically takes place during face-to-face training. This informal interaction among learners, as well as between learners and the instructor, strengthens learning. By keeping the tone of discussion boards conversational and lively, instructors can provide an environment, albeit a virtual one, for this type of interaction among learners.

Best used for: Group discussions, Resource sharing, Posting class assignments

File:Discussion board.jpg
Discussion Board, Webjunction

Benefits of discsson boards:

  • Offers free, easy access with an Internet connection
  • Can preserve discussions for later review or for new learners
  • Allows learners to access the discussion boards at a time convenient to their schedules
  • Provides learners with more time for reflection and creation of articulate responses
  • Provides interaction for learners and ability to ask questions of classmates and instructor
  • Can track and measure learner participation in discussions
  • Allows learners—on some message boards—to preview and edit their posts as well as include attachments such as course assignments


  • Time lapse between postings can slow the momentum of discussions and make it difficult to receive immediate

clarification on a question or comment

  • Commitment to monitoring discussions is required of instructors and learners
  • Many learners and instructors need initial training on use of message boards
  • Participants are unable to observe facial expressions, tone or body language, which can cause misinterpretations
  • Instructors need to develop good facilitation and moderation skills to encourage participation by all

Discussion board tools:
A range of high-cost to no-cost discussion board tools is available to support blended learning programs. There are many different discussion board software packages available for purchase, but for most libraries, these packages are more robust than needed. Some learning management systems include discussion board software. WebJunction also provides private discussion boards to Community Partner members. Most blended learning programs’ discussion board needs can be met by free tools such as Google Groups.[23]

Online Instant Messaging Chat Sessions

Many learners are familiar with using instant messaging (IM) or chat for very informal and quickly composed messages to friends or colleagues (e.g., AOL Instant Messenger, MSN Messenger,Yahoo, etc.). Effectively integrating chat into a blended learning program requires defining the objectives for using chat sessions, establishing a clear structure and ground rules for the sessions, and effectively moderating discussions. Effective chat sessions take preparation by the instructor. Chat is a synchronous tool involving all participants being online simultaneously and often interacting at the same time. While this makes it a very dynamic and fast-paced mode of interacting, learners often don’t have very much time to reflect on discussion topics. To combat this, instructors can prepare students in advance with specific discussion topics or questions to consider prior to the start of the chat session. Because chat sessions happen in real time, instructors also need to establish clear procedures ahead of time to prevent learners from getting off-topic or from simply all responding at the same time. Many instructors are also finding instant messaging to be an effective one-to-one tool for conducting virtual “office hours” and for providing more responsiveness to student

requests for additional help.

Best used for: Informal check-ins, Small group discussions, Set “office hours” for students to ask instructor clarification questions

  • Free,easy access and simple for participants and facilitators to learn
  • Ability to preserve transcripts
  • Immediate feedback
  • Learners can develop a buddy list and have access to other learners when they are online


  • Difficulty keeping conversations focused
  • Inability to observe body language, tone or facial expressions
  • Difficulty knowing when response is complete
  • Time delay
  • Scheduling challenges Limited time for reflection on questions

IM tools: There are many competing IM networks for users, with AOL Instant MessengerSM, MSN Messenger and Yahoo! Instant Messenger as the leaders.[24]


The term podcast is a combination of the words iPod (Apple’s popular digital music player) and broadcast. The term is a bit misleading because users can listen to podcasts on other digital music players, smart phones or desktop computers—and they don’t have to tune in to a specific broadcast time. Essentially, podcasts are digital audio programs that can be subscribed to and accessed on a variety of digital audio devices at the listener’s convenience. What makes podcasting different from simply posting streaming audio or audio recordings on a Web site that users can download is that users subscribe to an RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed and the feed (called an aggregator or podcatcher) automatically updates anytime a new podcast is posted. This “push” technology saves listeners from having to check individual sites for new podcasts. The first step in creating a podcast is recording and editing the content. The MP3 audio files that are typically used in podcasts are fairly simple to create and don’t require high-priced equipment. The next step in the process is publishing the edited podcast to an MP3 format and uploading it to a Web server. The final steps in the process are generating an RSS feed and publishing your RSS feed URL. Multiple tools, many of them free and

open-source, exist to help with all of these steps .

Best used for:Lectures, Interviews with experts in the field, Recording classroom presentations or roleplaying exercises, Audio content that has previously been created and could be used as supplemental material

  • Learners subscribe to content and receive updates automatically
  • Little monetary investment required to get started
  • Content is portable and available on demand
  • Appeal to auditory learners
  • It provides a way for learners to review material


  • Time involved for creation of podcast—including planning the content, recording, editing and publishing
  • Users must have sufficient bandwidth to download
  • Careful planning and a commitment to continue producing content are required
  • Learners cannot quickly “skim” through a podcast

Podcasting tools: Podcatchers/aggregators:Juice,PodNova,HappyFish
• Audio editing software: Avid Pro Tools (Windows)

• Audacity: Open-source, free, multiple platform (Windows, Mac, Linux) application that will record your audio and export it as an MP3 with the help of the LAME MP3 encoder, which is also available for free.[25]

Rapid e-learning

Rapid e-learning software allows you to quickly and costeffectively create self-paced tutorials, either from PowerPoint presentations or by recording your computer screen. In the past, creating a tutorial frequently required working with an outside contractor for months and could cost tens of thousands of dollars. Today, many organizations find that with a minimal investment in rapid e-learning software they can use existing PowerPoint materials and convert them into Flash-based online tutorials that can be authored in a matter of days or weeks and made accessible to learners online. Some of the available software packages include assessment and tracking capabilities that are AICC- and SCROM-compliant. AICC and SCROM are both standards for how a course communicates with a learning management system (LMS). Courses that follow these standards can be imported into any compliant LMS and work correctly in terms of learner tracking and course content sequence. There are even some rapid e-learning development tools that are available for free. While these tools provide only basic features, their output can rival that of the professional tools that cost between $300 and $600.
Best used for:

  • Providing basic knowledge transfer for learners in sessions that are less than one hour in length.
  • Training that is standard for all audiences and does not change often.
  • Building on existing content for self-paced tutorials.
  • Training that needs to be deployed quickly to a wide audience.


  • Trainer can avoid repeated delivery.
  • Software tools are fairly inexpensive, easy to learn, and offer a huge cost saving over outside development.
  • Quick creation of professional-looking materials.
  • Ability to leverage existing content.
  • Software builds on trainers’ and learners’ familiarity with PPT.
  • Tools allow course designers to update and edit tutorials.
  • Tutorials can be integrated into an LMS.
  • Learners can participate at their convenience.
  • Training provided quickly to a large number of learners or learners spread out geographically.


  • Instructional design skills are critically important Challenges.
  • Time needed to develop and create training.
  • Temptation to recycle inperson training and simply convert it to a boring, ineffective self-paced tutorial.
  • Learners with dial-up access may experience delays downloading tutorials.
  • Learners need computers with speakers or headphones, an up-to-date browser and Flash plug-in versions.
  • Learners need to be comfortable with technology and online learning.

Tools used for e learning rapid:
All of these tools record onscreen activity, allow you to add narration and output various video formats, including Flash video: Captivate,Camtasia Studio, Viewlet Builder
PowerPoint (PPT) to Flash presentations: All of these tools will convert an existing PowerPoint presentation to Flash (swf) format suitable for use on the Web: Articulate Presenter,Adobe Presenter[26]

Web confrencing

Live online learning has many names: synchronous learning, virtual classrooms, e-meetings, webinars, webcasts. All of these are about delivering information live over the Internet to multiple learners who can be located anywhere—and they most commonly use a Web conferencing tool to transmit that information. During a Web conference participants sit at their own computers and are connected to other participants via the Internet. Using a Web conferencing application, presenters are able to display content, usually in the form of a PowerPoint presentation, on the screens of all the participants. The presentation is accompanied by voice communication, either through a traditional telephone conference call or through Voice over IP (VoIP).
Best used for:

  • Important announcements, updates or demonstrations for large audiences.
  • Q & A sessions utilizing expert .
  • Remote software application training.
  • Meetings or discussions for learners in different locations.


  • Saved travel time and costs.
  • Immediate interaction and feedback.
  • Ability to adjust instruction and check for comprehension.
  • Sessions can be archived
  • It quickly fosters a sense of community


  • Instructors need facilitationskills specific to live online learning.
  • Technical hurdles for users.
  • Thoughtful design required.
  • Learners may find it difficult to limit workplace distractions

Tools used for Web conferencing: Web conferencing services are typically hosted by a vendor and made available either on a usage basis (pay per use) or for a fixed fee (pay per “seat”). Many vendors charge set-up fees. Also, be aware of potential overage charges for exceeding your number of seat licenses. WebJunction’s Live Space,
Combines Horizon Wimba’s conferencing tool with enhanced library-specific training and support:Horizon Wimba,also, Building Success for E-learners, 24 Hours in the Life of a New Synchronous Learner [27]

Success story

Success Story: University of North Texas LE@D

LE@D solves the problem of lost time and productivity by bringing library training to the desktop

Dale Fleeger, former coordinator of the North East Texas Library System; Phil Turner, University of North Texas’s Vice Provost of Learning Enhancement; and Arlita Harris, former Associate Dean of the School of Library and Information Sciences, wanted to create library training courses that could be replicated and utilized for all libraries across Texas and the nation. Previously, Dale had been bringing in costly subject matter experts for face-to-face training sessions that required his staff to travel long distances and often close their libraries while they were in training. This process was time consuming and expensive, and it did not offer much opportunity for additional learning or follow-up support once the training was completed. Interested in finding a better way to approach this problem, this group created Library Education @ Desktop, or LE@D, which sought to incorporate the following elements into the new staff training program:

  • The ability to participate as a group or individually
  • Content developed by recognized subject matter experts
  • Content based on results of needs assessments that gather input from a broad range of administrators, staff and supporters in various institutional sizes and locales.
  • Courses that can be completed in one to two hours and offer students the flexibility to work at their own pace.

Through the LE@D program, short, selfpaced training modules designed specifically for library staff were developed. The first course, called “Library Privacy and Confidentiality: Law and Policy,” was created just after the passage of the Patriot Act. Developers promoted the course only among the North Texas Library system to see what type of response they would receive. When 515 participants signed up for the first course the developers knew they were on to something! The group then applied for a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to design seven minicourses. Their grant funding allowed them to keep the fees to learners very low and provided an inexpensive and rapid way for large numbers of library staff to participate in online training developed specifically for their needs. LE@D courses are developed after reviewing past course evaluations to identify areas of interest and need. Subject matter experts are identified and asked to provide the content while LE@D instructional designers polish and format the course. Facilitated by someone from LE@D, the learners’ experiences blend the asynchronous self-paced course material with online discussions that allow participants to share experiences and support one another during and after the training. Often, a group of library staff from the same organization participate in LE@D courses. Library managers can purchase a course at a discount for his or her whole staff. The facilitator from LE@D acts as the common thread among the participants and helps them bring their learning experiences back to the day-to-day life of their libraries. When individuals purchase the courses separately, they are grouped with others who are taking the same training and are assigned a LE@D facilitator. Interestingly, LE@D facilitators have found that these discussions can sometimes be more productive among a group of peers who do not work together because the autonomy allows for a more free and in-depth discussion.
Library Education @ Desktop

  • Provides a series of online continuing education courses for library staff
  • Offers high-quality, Internet-delivered continuing education so economically that entire library staffs can be trained

TheLE@D developers began the program by requiring that a minimum of 35 individuals participate with one facilitator. However, the realities of staff turnover and individual training needs among groups from the same organization resulted in LE@D developing a course format that can better accommodate individuals and groups, which was a very successful change. LE@D began offering training packages for new employees, new managers, youth librarians, etc., to tailor training to the learner’s specific role or situation. Training packages are available to individuals or can be purchased at a discount for groups.
The developers of LE@D offer the following steps in order for an organization to integrate an online training plan into its library:

  • Promote—using broadcast e-mails, by creating a registration link for staff on your own Web site, and

offering continuing education credits.

  • Participate—establish your continuing education coordinator as a course facilitator for your LE@D class, allowing him or her to build LE@D expertise.
  • Integrate—recognize and reward staff members who reach milestones, establish usage and completion goals.
  • Follow up—discuss courses in your staff meetings, share experiences, collect feedback.
  • Share—tell LE@D staff the success stories in your organization. Share with them so they can share new ideas, best practices and techniques for getting the most from LE@D courses with other organizations.[28]

Related topics

Sociocultural-Constructivist, Constructivism, Constructivist Learning Environments, Multiple Intelligences, Collaborative Learning, Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, Blended Learning in a Post-Secondary English Classroom, Blended Learning in an Adult Literacy Classroom, Synchronous and Asynchronous Communication:Tools for Collaboration, Wikis in Education, Authentic Learning Environments, Computers and Instructional Design in Foreign Languages, Computer-Assisted Language Learning, Integrating Technology to Enhance Classroom Instruction: Ideas for Projects and Activities


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Further Reading:

Best Practices in Online Teaching—Pulling It All Together - Teaching Blended Learning Courses

Blended Learning: Best Practices

Seven Reasons Blended Learning Makes Sense:

Maintaining quality in blended learning:

Enriching Students experience with blended learning:

Blended learning guide: