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Blended learning; What is it and why try it?

What is blended learning?

A blended learning approach to instruction combines face-to-face classroom methods with computer-based/mediated activities, resulting in an integrated learning experience for students. Blended courses combine face-to-face and online methods to varying degrees, depending on the discipline, the size of the class, student demographics, and the preferences of the instructor. There are no rules in place to prescribe what the ideal blend is.

For example, a blended approach to a traditional, face-to-face course might mean that the class meets once per week instead of the usual three-session format. Learning activities that otherwise would have taken place during classroom time such as lectures, an in-class debate, and a quiz on audio and visual material can be moved online with the help of different tools.

Note that the terms "blended" and "hybrid," tend to be used interchangeably but in current research literature, blended appears more frequently.

Why try a blended approach?

The goal of a blended approach is to leverage the best aspects of both face-to-face and online instruction for the students’ benefit. The advantage of using a blended approach is that instead of using classroom time for presentation of material, for example, you can use that time to engage students by handling and  clarifying their questions, to help them apply what they view/listen to in lecture, and to work with each other in face-to-face or team problem-solving.  As well, online activities and assessments can usually be completed at any time of day, anywhere the student has internet access.

The advantages of a blended approach are pushing more instructors to experiment with it. A 2006 research project surveying faculty and their perceptions of blended teaching and learning predicts a distinct shift in the use of web technologies for teaching: from the 2006 rate of about one-quarter of classes being blended today to perhaps the vast majority of courses having some Web component by 2013. See the EDUCAUSE article by Kyong-Jee Kim and Curtis J. Bonk.

Certainly at Berkeley this is the case: We have one bSpace site for nearly every course offered on the campus. The course instructors use bSpace to meet a variety of needs from administrative to communication and assessment. But that use is deepening as both instructors and students experiment and seek new types of delivery and engagement.

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