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Blended learning – helping improve student success and learning experience

Stefano Ghazzali and David Snow

Whilst traditional teaching methods have the advantage of continuous face–to-face interaction and support, it requires physical infrastructure, academic availability, and structural curricula. Online learning, on the other hand, enables students to learn at their own pace, irrespective of locality and time. However they can sometimes feel isolated and unmotivated, due to the lack of any face-to-face contact, or interaction with peers. Hence the benefits of a blended learning approach, which offers the best of both worlds with face-to-face tutoring support, the ability to work with the content and to communicate with one’s peers online.

The British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (BECTA) describe the term ‘blended learning’ as a ‘combination of face-to-face and online delivery’, which can suit the widest range of learning styles.

For a blended learning approach to work, it needs to cover the whole spectrum of methodologies and offer learning experiences that are appropriate for the student at that particular time. Blended learning is not a cheap option, as many people think, as there has to be substantial investment in educational technology and support, with time and effort applied to the pedagogical structure and design of the course. Simply taking a traditionally taught course and putting it online will not suffice.

The education-funded councils are urging that blended learning be implemented, with both the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) referencing blended learning in their e-learning strategies.

Using a blended learning approach benefits the students, as the course is run with a wide range of learning resources and methodologies, recognising different student abilities and preferences. No one size fits all, so the range of approaches and resources allows the optimum result in student success and education.

Blended learning is not only about transferring the delivery medium, the programme also has to be reviewed and the course designer must decide what is expected from the students. Whether the students will take more control over the path of their learning or whether the course designer will enforce a strict path through the course is another decision area.

Manchester Business School (MBS) uses certain applications for its e-delivery, such as the virtual learning environment WebCT, which is standard across the University of Manchester. However, while we use WebCT for content delivery and for threaded discussion, and assessment at the module level, MBS Worldwide’s (the global flexible learning arm of MBS) own bespoke student support site is used to provide other blended attributes to the students.

The student support site is the first port of call for all MBS Worldwide students and is based around the idea of a Personal Learning Environment (PLE). The site provides a central area for communication and collaboration, and provides personalised information relevant to the student. The site contains a variety of tools and information, relating to the student, which allows the student to access a variety of learning objects. These include study guides, workbooks and the ability to upload assignments using our bespoke assignment upload tool. The site also contains video module introductions. It focuses on a student centric approach to learning, putting control back into the hands of the learner.

The site allows students to access and use tools of choice; for example, many students are familiar with blogs and wiki’s and Video on Demand (VOD), and other Web 2.0 technologies. The site allows the students to use these facilities, and integrate them with MBS Worldwide tools. We provide a good blend of resources and support to our students. Some of the Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) tools we use include simulations, reflective blogs, podcasts, vodcasts, mentor reviews, interactive materials, self-testing, e-assessments, and collaborative wiki’s.

Blending e-learning and traditional teaching methods allows a new relationship to develop between the students themselves, and between the students and the teachers. It put control back into the hands of students. Students report that it truly enhances their learning experience and takes collaboration beyond the classroom walls, bringing in new resources and opening new horizons to them as well as to the teachers. But when designing a blended learning programme, it is vital to start at the programme level and to think about the pedagogical issues, as well as the technology issues. Getting the programme design correct is the major part, technology is just a service used, and should not dictate how the programmes are designed. Sound pedagogical requirements, and clear learning aims and outcomes will create success.

David Snow is Head of Programme Development at Manchester Business School Worldwide and Stefano Ghazzali is a learning technologist. For more information visit www.mbs-worldwide.ac.uk


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