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blended learning

noun [uncountable]

a method of learning which uses a combination of different resources, especially a mixture of classroom sessions and online learning materials

blended learner

noun [countable]

'The American Red Cross Finger Lakes chapter in Geneva is offering the so-called blended learning option as an alternative to its four-hour classroom course. Blended learners sign up to watch video clips, read and take a test online. They also must schedule an in-person session … to demonstrate their skills to a Red Cross instructor.'

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle 14th February 2007

advocates of blended learning argue that an approach … which combines the benefits of new technology with the best aspects of face-to-face … teaching, will achieve better results

In an age dominated by new media and the Internet, there are so many alternative ways of learning. Gone are the days when, if we couldn't make it into a classroom, the only real option was to pick up a book, or when audio materials consisted of bad quality cassettes or sporadic radio and TV programmes. With the advent of broadband access to the Web, we have a whole new learning domain at our fingertips. Sophisticated learning materials in the form of text or high-quality audio are now available at the touch of a button, and tests and assignments can be submitted and marked online. Questions and answers can be posted on discussion forums, and wiki pages can be created for collaborative teaching and learning. Studying away from the classroom has never seemed easier. Yet many teachers would argue that face-to-face contact between teachers and students is an essential part of the language learning experience. Enter the concept of blended learning, an approach to education which seeks to combine the best of both worlds, incorporating both new technology and actual human contact.

Advocates of blended learning argue that an approach to study which combines the benefits of new technology with the best aspects of face-to-face (often abbreviated to F2F) teaching, will achieve better results. For example, there are some aspects of study, like practical sessions, dealing with more subjective queries, or tackling the needs of an individual student, which require face-to-face human interaction, whereas the more mechanical aspects of learning, such as practice exercises or answers to clear-cut questions, can be managed simply and effectively in a remote environment using new technology.

Blended learning therefore typically comprises a combination of F2F sessions and what is often referred to as e-learning, i.e. the use of Internet-based learning materials for reference, practice and electronically-provided feedback. The blended learning approach has proven especially appropriate in language learning. For example, in an ELT (English Language Teaching) environment, a simple scenario might be a classroom session where a teacher asks a group of students to use a wiki to create a text. Students then go away and compose and edit the text remotely. The teacher subsequently reads their collaborative efforts before the next class, and provides feedback during the next F2F session.

Background – blended learning

The fundamental principle behind blended learning is, of course, nothing new. Even conventional courses of study have tended to incorporate different kinds of resources, such as practical sessions or video/audio, as well as teacher-talk and text.

However the expression blended learning (sometimes also referred to as hybrid/mixed learning or combined resource teaching) is one of a number of educational buzzwords gaining ground in an era where electronic learning materials are becoming increasingly sophisticated, so there is the potential to combine and/or enhance face-to-face teaching with valuable interactive resources. A related term is distance learning, which refers to remote study away from the classroom, now based largely on electronic resources available online.

If you'd like to know more about the application of blended learning in ELT, you can order your copy of Blended Learning: using technology in and beyond the language classroom, written by Pete Sharma and Barney Barrett and published by Macmillan.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 16th April 2007.

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