Online + face-to-face = blended learning

June 11, 2013 By Käri Knutson

Blended learning gets talked about a lot in today’s educational circles. But what is it? And why is everyone talking about it?

More than 20 people spent a week learning about blended learning at the Blending Learning in Summer Session (BLiSS) May 29 through June 4.

Graphic: Educational Innovation logo


Appropriately, blended learning was used to teach about blended learning – meaning the session was a combination of face-to-face class time with online components.

The session was developed and offered by instructional support personnel from a variety of campus units, including DoIt-Academic Technology, UW Library Services, the Division of Continuing Studies, Wendt Commons and L&S Learning Support Services. It offered a framework and instructional design strategies for developing a unit — two to four weeks of  face-to-face instruction — from their course and developing it into a blended experience.

“Blended learning is about engaging students in deeper learning,” says Ron Cramer, senior learning technology consultant. “It’s about blending online and face-to-face activities together in a thoughtful way.”

Many instructors already implement blended learning, but the weeklong session allowed them to discuss their successes, challenges and ask questions about how to better teach their students.

“I think the students learn more when they’re interacting in a well-structured environment — things that stretch them but are attainable,” says Brad Barham, a professor in agricultural and applied economics. “It behooves us when the technology is available to take advantage of that capacity.”

“Blended learning is about engaging students in deeper learning. It’s about blending online and face-to-face activities together in a thoughtful way.”

Ron Cramer

Barham had already been using a blended learning approach and hopes to take what he has learned during the summer session to continue to improve his courses. The focus, as always, remains engaging students in learning.

“No matter how much we use multimedia, creativity is still at the core,” Barham says.

In addition to design strategies, participants were introduced to some technologies that can help them reach their course goals and implement their course map.

“This gives me a better idea of how I might use technology and who to go to on campus,” says Corrie Norman, senior lecturer in religious studies.

Norman is interested in using group discussions online to supplement those that happen in the classroom.

“Blended learning is a way of increasing communication between faculty and students as well as between students and students,” Norman says.

Blended learning is just one part of Educational Innovation, a campuswide initiative to create innovative approaches to education and research and set the university on the path to greater self-sufficiency. Over the past year, a greater emphasis has been placed on looking at new ways to innovate and to encourage an environment where people are always thinking of different and better ways to do things.

“This (session) is an opportunity for instructors to share ideas,” Cramer says. “That’s where we see the greatest value. Another goal is to improve fluency and develop a shared vocabulary around blended learning. Once we start getting that into the common vernacular, we can share conversations and ideas more widely.”

Participants brainstormed plans of what they can do specifically with their courses and were given a template for planning which includes prioritizing tasks, resources needed and estimating the time it will take to complete their work.

“I’m jumping into something I’ve never done before. I didn’t know what I was getting into,” says Aurelie Rakotondrafara, an assistant professor in the department of plant pathology. “Getting to talk to others this week has been very helpful.”

The tools they use to teach may be changing, but the goal of providing students a world-class education isn’t.

“The principles of teaching are the same,” says Chad Shorter, learning technology consultant. “The challenge is figuring how to apply those principles in a new modality. There’s a real opportunity here to improve the learning experience for our students.”

Learn more about blended learning and other Educational Innovation efforts on the EI website.