Sunday, June 14, 2015

Hybrid / Blended Courses: Constantly Evolving for Optimal Effectiveness and Access

Blended learning can help overcome the limitations of face-to-face delivery. Blended learning can take many forms, and is easily adapted to specific needs and technical requirements. Incorporating elearning and mlearning (including synchronous and asynchronous), blended (often referred to as “hybrid”) courses can include face to face elements as well as a blend of different technologies and delivery modalities.

Types of Hybrid / Blended courses

Hybrid can incorporate a combination of F2F, elearning and mobile device-structured social media. 

Because needs are constantly evolving, and technology / access can be a moving target, the configurations of hybrid / blended delivery can be quite diverse. The can include:

•    Primarily F2F, with web enhancement

•    Primarily e-learning, with traditional LMS, with F2F facilitated discussion groups

•    Synchronous e-learning (webinars, etc.), with archived recordings, plus repositories with content, with learning “clusters” (small student groups that come together informally)

•    Conference with digital follow-up

•    Discussion-focused online, with readings / topic-structured forum, plus synchronous microblogging (tweets / chat)

•    Collaborative  project-focused online course with portfolio, plus synchronous microblogging (tweets / chat)

susan smith nash, ph.d.
Blended learning encourages dynamic collaboration.

Best Approaches

The philosophy of learning in blended courses is learner-centered, with an emphasis on making sure that there is a great deal of learner engagement and collaboration. Most blended courses are most effective if they are problem or project based, with very clear outcomes that require the application of knowledge and skills.

•    Pull not push content
•    Problem or project-based focus
•    Emphasize tangible, measurable outcomes that require collaboration
•    Optimize engagement via collaboration

Materials for Maximum Effectiveness in Hybrid / Blended Courses

It is very easy to overwhelm learners with too many instructional materials, that can range from digital texts to videos / audios / graphics / presentations. It is a good idea to look at materials from the point of view of how they would be used in conjunction with the collaborations and outcomes.

Further, it’s a very good idea to keep in mind that the core philosophy of blended courses has to do with constructivism, which involves optimizing collaboration and cooperation. Further, with a problem-based approach, the materials can be arranged in order to facilitate the outcome.

•    Digital readings that encourage active reading via collaboration / comments
•    Building blocks
o    Skills
o    Concepts
•    Collaborative activities that result in a tangible product / outcome
•    Shared experience / stories
•    Scaffolding points consisting of ways to identify relevant and useful prior learning

Conclusion and Example

Here’s an example that help us bring the approach into focus.

Let’s say that we want to develop a plan for analyzing the lithium content in different salt lakes, ranging from Utah (Lake Bonneville) to Bolivia (Salar de Uyuni). We will develop teams and each will be tasked with finding the best possible possible processing approach.

We’ll divide into groups and there will be a clear outcome, which will be fairly easy to complete because it’s a template.

However, analyzing and organizing the information is not so easy. That’s where the teams come in. It’s also where the design needs to help the teams attack information overload and get the information that they need, and then to discuss / work / play with the information.

So, clearly it’s necessary to find out where the students are, what their backgrounds are, and what kinds of technologies are available to them.  Then, knowing something about their background will also help.

The hybrid approach will need to be flexible in order to build on the strengths of the group. Then, when the outcomes are drafted, it would be good for the other teams / team members to be able to see and review each others’ work.


Gerbic, Philippa. (2011) Teaching using a blended approach - what does the literature tell us? Educational Media International. Sep2011, Vol. 48 Issue 3, p221-234.

Ghislandi, Patrizia M. M.; Raffaghelli, Juliana E. Forward-oriented designing for learning as a means to achieve educational quality. British Journal of Educational Technology. (Mar2015)  Vol. 46 Issue 2, p280-299.

Moeller, Stefan; Spitzer, Klaus; Spreckelsen, How to configure blended problem-based learning -- Results of a randomized trial. Cord. Medical Teacher. Aug2010, Vol. 32 Issue 8, pe328-e346.

McNaught, Carmel, Paul Lam, and Kin Cheng. (2012)"Investigating Relationships Between Features Of Learning Designs And Student Learning Outcomes." Educational Technology Research & Development 60.2: 271-286. Professional Development Collection. Web. 11 June 2015.

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