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The principle of blended learning can be defined as a mixed education composed of two or more elements. Man by nature tends to choose and combine different media, methods, and ways of gaining their skills and knowledge; it is by nature “mixed learning.”
Secondly, the concept of blended learning encounters a similar problem to the definition of e-learning. A large number of various approaches and a rapid development in ICT lead to a considerable inconsistency in the definitions and diversity of the concept.
For the purposes of this work, we stick to the concept that combines ICT technology and traditional learning, but we will keep in mind that there are other concepts in which the use of information and communication technology does not dominate, and the emphasis is on combining pedagogical approaches (constructivism, behaviorism, and cognitivism) or on the interconnection of the theory with practice.
“First” Generation of Blended Learning
By adhering to the definition that blended learning is a mix of e-learning and traditional learning, which So and Brush (2008) regards as the most widespread among the public today, then it is possible the beginnings of blended learning to be viewed as the next stage of e-learning.
It should be noted that this definition is subject to considerable criticism, because the definition of a new concept (blended learning) uses two other ambiguously defined terms. One of them is e-learning, and the other is traditional learning. Methods and techniques used in learning may be ‘traditional’ for one author, but for another not. Also in terms of time, it is difficult to grasp the concept of traditional learning, because what was traditional 10 years ago may not be traditional today or in a few years. Therefore, there is the question of whether e-learning methods and tools have no longer become part of traditional learning, so the concept of blended learning would be completely redundant.
So and Brush (2008) is aware of the lack of this definition and thus makes it more precise that first generation of blended learning was a combination of e-learning self-study and full-time classroom education.
Today’s Concept of Blended Learning
Today’s concept of blended learning was fundamentally influenced by two important moments during the development of ICT in the last 10 years. The first was the burst of the so-called “dotcom” bubble (sometimes also known as the burst of an internet bubble, or the end of an internet fever) in a year 2001, when the rapid investment in Internet companies, which was replaced by the collapse of many of them and slight aversion to everything provided over the Internet, or having it before its name almost magical “e,” including e-learning.
The second moment is the year 2004 and the advent of the so-called Web 2.0, which is the development phase of a global site focused on people, interactivity, dynamic content, sharing, and collaboration content. Its technologies (blogs, wiki, new uses of video, podcasting, social networks, and others) according to So and Brush (2008) very positively influenced blended learning. They contributed to a greater degree of its interactivity, improved communication with learners as well between students, and helped to develop informal, continuous, and community learning.
A very good definition of today’s blended learning is given by So and Brush (2008), who characterizes it as a solution that combines educational and development methods within different social educational contexts (self-study, individual education, group education) with the aim of increasing the effectiveness of education. It can also combine educational media through which the educational solution is mediated (face-to-face, online, offline, etc.) to optimize the economy of the educational solution. There is always a choice of contexts, media, and their combinations for a given solution formed in the response to partial educational needs and characteristics of participants while taking into account their practical limitations and possibilities for use.
Similarly, but somewhat more briefly, Barnard et al. (2009) also speak about blended learning, who see it as an elegant, tailor-made solution of the educational and development needs of individuals. Blended learning is an example of how the innovative and technological benefits provided by e-learning can be integrated along with the possibilities of interaction and engagement that can be found in the best of traditional education.
Blended Learning Models
The blended learning models very often reflect the needs of those who use or create them. Therefore, in the following, we illustrate the models that represent the organization’s approach providing education (skill-/attitude-/competency-driven models), a model distribution, which is probably the most common (synchronous and asynchronous models), the approach of professionals’ devoted to electronic education and training within organizations (alternative and complementary models and “program flow” and “core and spoke” models), and an approach representing organizations’ attitude toward blended learning (“anchor blend, bookend blend, field blend” models).
This model division is used by NIIT Company, a world leader organization for Talent Development offering their educational solutions in more than 40 countries across over five million participants per year.
Model aimed at developing specific knowledge and skills (skill-driven model)
As mentioned, this model is aimed at developing specific knowledge and skills. It uses a combination of self-study (studying at your own pace and time) and the support of a teacher or facilitator. He does not enter the class directly, but only serves as a “catalyst” – so he enables the educational process to be carried out and corrects it. He provides feedback to participants, assesses their progress and success of their self-study, and in particular, ensures that students do not feel isolated in their studies.
This model uses a number of online (WBT) and offline (CBT) study materials, as well as classic study aids (books, flyers, brochures, manuals) in order to achieve learning goals. An essential part is also the tools for synchronous and asynchronous communication between the learner and the teacher/facilitator (discussions, forums, e-mail, videoconferencing, chat), and in some cases, traditional classroom instruction is also used.
The aim of this model is to influence the behavior and attitudes of the participants combining traditional classroom learning and online collaborative (interactive cooperation in the group of learners) education. For this model an interaction among the participants is the most important, as they can newly acquire knowledge of soft skills in a risk-free course environment.
This model often uses simulations of real life/work events, role-playing, discussion forums, webinars (online synchronous learning via web) and online discussions, and group projects.
As the name suggests, this model aims to develop competencies. Competences are understood here as the ability to create the right decisions on the basis of acquired knowledge and acquired principles. However, to make the right decisions at the right time, it is necessary not only mentioned explicit knowledge but also certain tacit knowledge, which one gains by practice or by observation and interaction with experts in the field.
It is the mediation of tacit knowledge that is the essence of the model. Abundantly there is a use of mentoring and e-mentoring (ICT-based mentoring), workshops, discussion forums, and other means of electronic communication.
Synchronous and Asynchronous Models
This concept of blended learning probably best reflects its perception in the Slovak Republic. Most often, the blended learning is considered as a combination of classical full-time teaching and e-learning. The focus of these models lies in the extent of using synchronous forms of teaching (full-time teaching in classes, online teaching) and asynchronous forms of teaching (CBT materials, asynchronous WBT).
Combination of e-learning with classical full-time teaching – teachers and students meet in person in the classroom; e-learning serves for self-study and verification knowledge.
Combination of e-learning with virtual full-time education – this concept can be considered, according to the definitions given in this work, only as a form of e-learning, not blended learning.
Combination of e-learning with virtual full-time education complemented by full-time teaching – in this model the majority of the study workload is realized through e-learning; the full-time part is then realized by a specialist or a specialist in the field to ensure maximum understanding of topics and their practical implementation.
Alternative and Complementary Models
The author of this division is Means et al. (2013), who based on ways of delivery of an educational solution (or according to the choice between them) distinguishes two “faces” of blended learning, alternative and complementary.
In an alternative model, each delivery method is autonomous source of knowledge and is completely independent of other delivery methods used in blended learning solution. An example is a classic lecture in a classroom and transmitted synchronously in the form of online video. Students then decide which delivery method of the educational content they choose. So whether they will physically come to the classroom or whether they will watch it over the Internet. However, they always use only one option.
However, according to So and Brush (2008), blended learning should not be a question of “either and or.” If you create such a blended learning solution in which every way of its delivery will be equivalent and full, it will almost certainly not be the most effective solution. Therefore, you only get the advantages, but also the disadvantages of the method based on the type of delivery (no overlap, synergy, or elimination of disadvantages) plus you pay for full development of every solution. The choice of delivery method should therefore be taken as a good “by-product” of a blended learning solution, but not as its primary purpose.
The second model is a complementary model. In this conception Means et al. (2013) do not consider methods of delivery as alternatives but as complements that are reciprocally interrelated, interacting, and complementary. He also assumes that the learner will have to use a larger number (or all) of the means of delivery to get a full educational basis effect. On the basis of the previous lecture example in this model, the attendance at the lecture could be possible or its online monitoring on the Internet. These two options would be also extended with the ability to view (download) the lecture record asynchronously. Along with this record, presentations or other lectured material would be available supplemented by information which didn’t fit into the lecture or arose by suggestions in the discussion after the lecture.
“Program Flow” and “Core and Spoke” Models
Alonso et al. (2005) uses these two basic model approaches to blended learning. These models combine different types of media (technology, activities, and educational events) in order to create an optimal educational program for a given audience.
The first is the “program flow” model whose name could be transformed as a model with the planned course. This very well describes its essence. The model has a clear basis consisted of step by step tasks, while in its curriculum, various media are integrated into the study program. The individual steps follow each other in a precisely given order, and the students go through them according to plan (and mostly linearly). It is possible to apply (even several times) tools for practicing and evaluating students’ learning progression during the program, and at the end of the program, there is a final evaluation and feedback.
Some of the advantages of this model are that students feel involved, know what they require from them, what are the requirements for successful completion, and what and when to do. Basically they are used on this model because it is common in school education. Another advantage is the ability to monitor the progress of a student success, which helps to identify the potential problems in the education process. The model with a planned course is suitable mainly in situation when students need to master all modules (sub-thematic units) of the educational program. Moreover, this model is simple to modify and maintain.
The disadvantage of this model is a certain rigidity and a feeling of bondage that students can gain because the model may not accurately cover their educational needs or respond their needs in terms of organization and course of teaching in time.
Second model is the “core-and-spoke” model whose name might be freely translated as a model of a solid core and a radial overlap. This model is built on one basic medium (usually on personal participation in the classroom or on the web-based educational software), and other media just surround it and complement it. It can be various additional and extending resources, materials, simulations, and other activities they may have optional or merely advisory nature. Unlike the model with planned course, the order and the extent of their use are driven only by the student’s decision.
The advantage of this model is that once the “core” is built, the education can be started, and the “packaging” has been continuously developed in response to the specific needs of students. Students will then appreciate the possibility to choose from the packaging what best suits their educational needs and study type at a time that suits them.
The significant disadvantage of this approach results from the fact that it is only effective for highly motivated learners, who are also experienced and are to some extent, experts in the field. Only then they are able to choose the right media leading to effective success.
“Anchor Blend”, “Bookend Blend”, and “Field Blend” Models
Wu et al. (2010) presented this type of division. The purpose of their work was to examine the common blended learning components and how organizations are preparing for the successful implementation of this new learning trend. Therefore, the following models are described from the perspective of the employing organization.
The first model is an “anchor blend,” whose name could be translated as blended learning solution with anchoring events. Such a solution begins with the in-house events with personal participation in the classroom where students/employees gain a basic understanding of the issue, but also all the necessary information about the organization. They will learn what to do with them during their studies and what activities and results are required from them. They get the information they need on the timetable of study and also about how and which media they will use in the following (self) study, to whom (or where) to consult if necessary consultations, or other help. This anchoring event is followed by a wide variety of interactions with the recommended media and resources.
The second model called “bookend blend” could mean something like a blended learning solution with consolidating events on the end. This model consists of three parts, with the most emphasis on the last third part, in which the knowledge of the second part, which forms the basis of the study, is organized and fixed. Equally important task of the third part is also to help learners to transfer their knowledge and skills to practice using, for example, different “on the job” educational methods associated with online support. The first part of the model usually serves for the primary orientation of students and for possible preliminary testing, which will serve for individualization of study plans.
The last model is “field blend,” which is considered as operational blended learning. This model is fundamentally different from the previous two by its strong focus on employee. The employee is directly surrounded by educational opportunities of all kinds that can be used at any time. The aim of this model is to maximize the continuous growth and the employee development.
Future of Blended Learning
Authors expect and agree that there will be a massive expansion and development of blended learning. It will be mainly due to its modularity and ability to address individual learning needs more effectively.
Changes in workplaces
In the area of technology development, education will be affected the most, including blended learning, even more by intensive technology penetration into the everyday life, development of the high speed Internet connection, expansion of wireless networks, and development of portable imaging devices (“smart phones,” tablet PCs).
In the area of demographic change, it will be the emergence of a new “digital” generation entirely familiarity with ICT, increasing demands on work-life balance and related part-time work and work from home. Also the impact will be caused by higher workforce turnover and higher requirements to maintenance talents for organizations.
Changes in the workplace will reflect the demands for a new approach to education, when building up a large-scale just-in-case education system will be replaced by narrower, more flexible systems capable of responding quickly to the individual educational needs whenever they occur (just-in-time). This inclination to the individualized addressing not only for employee education and development, but also for career development planning, will be vital for blended learning.
Another vision of future education consists of nonformal education. So, if blended learning does not implement tools for supporting this type of education, it has nothing to offer in the future.
This contribution is a partial outcome of the scientific project VEGA 1/0210/19 Research of innovative attributes of quantitative and qualitative fundaments of the opportunistic earnings modelling.
- Means, B., et al. (2013). The effectiveness of online and blended learning: A meta-analysis of the empirical literature. Teachers College Record, 115(3), 030303.Google Scholar