By V. Joseph Xavier, SJ
Blended learning is a new approach to learning. While it was adopted earlier, the pandemic imposed it on every educational institution. It combines online and face-to- face learning to create a more student-oriented and student-led learning experience (Sharma, Monica, 2019). Many organizations and private universities and institutions are seeing the benefit of using blended learning.
They find the mix between face-to-face learning and technology-based learning enriching and beneficial. Learning becomes fun and exciting.
What is blended learning?
The essence of blended learning is that, learners integrate face-to-face learning and online learning to their advantage. Blended learning is the combination of different teaching models (Chen et al, 2013). The University Grants Commission (UGC) on its ‘Concept Note on Blended Learning (2021)’ says that blended learning, is not a mere mix of online and face-to-face mode. It is a well-planned combination of meaningful activities in both the modes. The blend demands consideration of several factors, mainly focussing on learning outcomes and the learner-centred instructional environment. It includes many modes of learning – face to face learning, online learning and distance or virtual mode. It also promotes use of vocational courses, multi-disciplinary courses and multi-modal approaches there by focussing on Blended teaching-learning”.
The context of Blended Learning in India
The UGC, in its 547th meeting held on 29 May 2020, decided that Higher Education Institutions should be allowed to teach up to forty percent of syllabus of each course through online mode and the remaining sixty percent syllabus of the concerned course could be taught in offline mode. The New Educational Policy (NEP 2020) too recommends it. “Given the emergence of digital technologies and the emerging importance of leveraging technology for teaching-learning at all levels from school to higher education, the NEP 2020 recommends blended models of learning. (Hindustan Times, 2021)”
Advantages of Blended Learning
The learner and the educator can interact with one another easily, even outside the class room. It encourages closer collaboration among the learners as they share ideas through group work and discussions, online and offline. The learner gets individualised support from teachers to meet her specific needs. She has greater access to learning materials from many sources like online platforms, blogs and learning management systems.
Since the student can learn at her own leisure, it gives her a sense of ownership over learning. Comprehensive evaluations are possible. Through machine learning, she gets a real assessment of her performance. She can have online access to material from any library across the world.
She learns by herself and this increases her research skills. She becomes self-driven, and she takes responsibility for her learning. She can focus better, will have lower anxiety level and experience less peer pressure.
Parents can have access to the learning of their children. This provides better support, increases communication, and they have control over their children.
Problems related to blended learning
The Indian education system, by and large, has been top-heavy. The learner is not encouraged to learn on his own. He is spoon fed and the examination system is memory based. When students are used to this system of learning, it may be difficult to introduce the blended learning, which is heavily dependent on individual initiative. The student may be reluctant to accept this mode of learning.
It has been found that students do not do the assignment or do not understand the modules assigned to them (Anil Kumar, 2021). Some of the students have a tendency to copy from others. Online evaluations of students’ assignments have revealed that quite a few students copy from the outline sources without understanding what they copy or they sit together and copy from one another.
Since they are used to the old mode in school, introducing this at the higher education institutions is difficult. Blended learning should be introduced from the early stages as done in many affluent countries. (Chen et al, 2013)
Individual differences among the students and their aptitude may not be taken into account, when institutions switch over to blended learning. Another thing that may be lost is the social aspect of learning. Studies showed (Anil Kumar, 2012) that the students sensed a loss of social life and ‘cohort cohesion’. They found it difficult to reconcile the differences between virtual and physical learning.
While blended learning went well with the well-to-do students from urban areas, poor students and students from rural areas found it difficult to cope with the digital mode as they could not buy the gadgets needed for the blended mode. The rural areas suffered from irregular power supply and lacked the needed band width.
Some of the faculty did not know how to integrate online learning with offline learning. In some places the ratio of faculty and students were too large for effective and regular interaction with students.
New role for teachers & students
Blended learning alters the role of the teacher. The teacher who was a knowledge-provider in the traditional mode becomes a coach and mentor in blended learning. He gets a more accurate picture of how each student is learning. Technology gives him detailed information about the specific skills the student is able to use at a given time. He could intervene, if needed, at an appropriate time, and give the student needed support. He gets to know their struggles and to coach the student.
Blended learning alters the role of the teacher. The teacher who was a knowledge-provider in the traditional mode becomes a coach and mentor in blended learning.
But for blended learning to be effective, the teacher should be willing to learn. He should access, analyse and aggregate data. He should use the data as an integral part of the planning process for each of his students. He must be open to new teaching strategies. He should have wide range of content knowledge as he has to guide each student. He should vary the instruction depending on the needs of each student. He must be a model learner who is able to show his students how to find information and answers. He must be an expert in leading students in project-based learning.
This new mode requires the teacher to be able to apply his knowledge to find answers. He should learn to reason out, integrate and demonstrate knowledge. Only then he would be able to guide the student to interpret and analyse information.
In blended learning, the student looks up to the teacher for guidance more than the traditional teacher. Hence he should be a subject-expert and at the same time a collaborator with the students in their effort to learn.
He should be patient and give opportunities to students to learn at their own phase. He must learn to differentiate the learning preferences of students and help them accordingly. As their evaluator, he must be able to give effective feedback to students.
Blended learning changes also the role of the student. He is enabled to become an active learner. He acquires knowledge by his own efforts and has control over his own learning.
The Indian Context
Development of technology in teaching and learning is the future of education all over the world. Many institutions, in semi-urban and rural areas may not have the required technology. They do not have the resources to make the required technology available to the faculty and students. A greater ratio of teachers and students is another requirement for successful blended learning.
It was found that many poor students could not afford a laptop. During the Corona lockdown, many students had to walk several kilometers to have access to net.
The present set of students, who were used to face-to-face learning, were all of a sudden introduced to online teaching, learning and evaluation. So blended learning should start from the school.
For rural students the advantages of face-to-face learning are many. It improves their communication and social skills, and imparts values. They get better prepared for the job market. Blended learning, on the other hand, encourages an individualized culture.
With all its advantages and disadvantages blended learning seems to be the future of education. There is no way of going back to the old, traditional mode of learning. Therefore educational institutions and governments should do all they can, without any delay, to make the best use of it for the sake of students, who have been affected in many ways by the pandemic that cruelly disrupted their educational and personal lives for more than two years.
Kumar, Anil: Blended Learning in Higher Education Institutions: A Comprehensive Study, Proceeding of International Conference on Business Management and Information System, 2012
Monika Sharma: The Changing Role of Teacher in Blended Learning, www.allresearchjournal.com, 2019
Shengjian Chen,Yun Lu: The Negative Effects and Control of Blended Learning in University, International Conference on Education Technology and Information System (ICETIS 2013)
UGC: “ Blended Mode of Teaching and Learning – A Concept Note, 2021
Hindustan Times: Can blended learning be the way forward in higher eduaction?, 2021
A former Principal of Loyola College, Chennai, and former Research Director at the Indian Social Institute, Bangalore, V. Joseph Xavier, SJ has worked in the field of Higher Education for more than 40 years. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org