6.5 – Blended Approaches to E-Learning

Earlier in this unit we mentioned  that as one moves from the left to the right on the e-learning continuum we introduced at the beginning of the course, the level of complexity and the need for a more managed approach to planning and development increases. In the middle of this continuum, is mixed-mode teaching, a blended or hybrid approach that involves a conscious reorganization of the time that students are asked to spend in the physical classroom as well as a strategic positioning of online materials and activities to effectively support student learning in ways not possible in the physical classroom alone.

Blended learning is closely related to the concept of distributed learning (as distinct from  distance learning). Carol Twigg (2001) offers the following description of distributed learning which is still quite useful:

“Distributed learning encompasses both on and off-campus online teaching and learning. The term had its origins in the networking community, where experts talk about distributed intelligence of the mainframe computer. The term suggests that learning is being distributed throughout the network.  Consequently, the kind of either/or (on/off-campus) distinction that the term ‘distance learning’ suggests is no longer appropriate.”

Blended learning holds a lot of potential for educational institutions as it allows for both new efficiencies in the organization of limited space on campuses as well as positive transformations in the manner in which students are asked to interact with content and with one another on-campus and online. In other words, mixed-mode approaches can potentially help to solve bottle-necks relating to access to campus resources as well as provide creative and innovative approaches to enriching the learning environment.

Modes of Delivery at the University of Central Florida

We are going to focus our discussion of blended learning courses and the implications that arise from such development by looking at an American university, the University of Central Florida (UCF). UCF is an interesting institution in terms of e-learning strategies, as it has consciously identified institutional goals that it is working to achieve through the provision of different forms of e-learning. At the same time as UCF is providing enhancements to existing on-campus courses, they have identified a goal to reduce the amount of time students need to spend on-campus by developing mixed-mode courses. They have also tied access to funding to faculty development initiatives. Faculty members who want to gain access to the resources to develop e-learning courses (either mixed mode or online), must first complete a post-graduate level training course, IDL 6543: Interactive Distributed Learning for Technology-Mediated Course Delivery.

The funding and resource models UCF uses are intended to provide support for the different kinds of delivery modes they use, e.g. Enhanced, Reduced Seat and World Wide Web.  We will explain these delivery modes below, and the readings you are asked to review provide more information on the resource implications that follow from the different modes. We are not as interested in the manner in which they support a particular mode (in terms of the type of development team that needs to be assembled around a particular project); instead, we are more interested in how a large institution has established strategic goals to improve access to its programs by carefully organizing the modes of delivery it would use to take best advantage of the different e-learning technologies it has at its disposal.

In order to deal with a dramatic increase in student demand for access to its programs but, at the same time, an on-going need to provide greater flexibility to students who were working full-time or had difficulty accessing campus, UCF came up with a plan to offer its programs using three modes:

Enhanced with media/electronic mail (E): Courses are enhanced with the WWW or other electronic media-based materials. These courses do not reduce seat time with electronic instruction.

Reduced seat time/mixed-mode (M): Courses require electronic media-based instruction that substitutes for some classroom time (reduced seat time). These courses have regular live meeting times. Students must have access to the Internet, a Web browser such as Netscape, basic Web browsing knowledge, ability to use e-mail, and basic computer skills such as word processing.

World Wide Web (W):  These are fully online courses that students study off campus and require students to their own computers and Internet access.

The UBC Flexible Learning Initiative

UBC recently launched its Flexible Learning Initiative which is aimed at using technology to enable pedagogical and logistical flexibility. The initiative has three goals:

  1. Enhance educational outcomes for students, building on existing UBC expertise and strengths;
  2. Enable greater access to UBC learning;
  3. Improve university operating effectiveness through new learning models.

The flexible strategy, Flexible Learning: Charting a Strategic Vision for UBC (Vancouver Campus) was released in September 2014. This is a document worth reading and it charts a course for a strategic institutional initiative that has high level support and funding to the tune of $5 million.

question_icon-e1409267488306Activity

Read the UBC Flexible Learning Strategy.

  1. Does it present a clear vision for the future?
  2. Is the meaning of flexible learning clearly defined?
  3. Is the role and purpose of e-learning in the strategy clear?
  4. Do you think this is something that the average faculty member will support?

Links

UBC Flexible Learning Initiative website
Flexible Learning Strategy