What is the right level of digital blend? The colloquial answer to this question is: How long is a piece of string? There is no single correct level of digital blend. It will depend on the educational goals of the blended learning programme, the readiness of the students for blended learning, the skill of the teacher, the resources, connectivity issues, and whether the digital component of the programme will occur inside or outside the classroom.
What is blended learning?
In blended learning, the student learns at least in part through delivery of content and instruction via digital and online media. It also entails some element of student control over where and when the digital learning occurs, the pace of learning, and the pathway through the material. The digital component is combined in some way with face-to-face methods, and may be incorporated into the classroom instruction, or occur outside the classroom either before or after the face-to-face lesson. Blended learning is becoming increasingly common, not just in language learning, but also in professional development and training settings for teachers.
Various combinations of face-to-face and digital learning have been proposed:
- In the supplemental model, pedagogy is determined and delivered in the traditional way by the teacher using textbooks and other resources. This traditional teaching is supplemented and supported by technology.
- In another model, technology delivers the instructional content and this is supported and supplemented by an online instructor who might provide the support in a live, synchronous classroom, or the support may be provided asynchronously. An example of this model would be programmes developed and delivered by Pearson Business English Solutions in collaboration with a language school which provides the pedagogical support.
- A variation on the above model would be where the pedagogical support is delivered in a traditional face-to-face classroom rather than via the internet.
- A fourth model is the fully integrated classroom in which technology and live instruction work side-by-side in the classroom. The teachers do what they do best such as facilitating interaction in the target language, while technology does what it does best such as enabling individualised instruction. An example of this model would be the SMARTree Learning Program for elementary schools in which the digital and teacher fronted learning happens in the classroom.
A blended environment is intended to maximise learning by creating programmes in which teacher-fronted sessions are devoted to tasks that can best be done in teacher-to-student mode, and student-to-computer sessions are devoted to tasks where digital learning offers benefits that are not so effectively delivered in teacher-fronted instruction.
Using technology to develop individualised learning
One of the major benefits of digital learning is the potential to develop and deliver individualised learning. Students can focus on what they want to learn at a time and place of their choosing. In the multi-media learning centre at the University of Hong Kong, I once observed a student repeating a pronunciation exercise 76 times until he was satisfied with the result. This amount of repetition would neither be possible nor desirable in a teacher-front instructional setting.
The anecdote demonstrates another benefit of digital learning. The computer is a very patient tutor. It doesn’t go red in the face or start remonstrating with a student who fails at a task despite multiple attempts. For learners who are embarrassed when they make a mistake in front of fellow students, the computer provides a private space to make errors. Technology can also provide immediate, personalised feedback to students. This is impossible in a class of more than a handful of students. Assessment for learning, rather than assessment of learning therefore becomes a reality regardless of the number of students in the learning group.
Overlooked benefits to using technology in the class
As a learning management tool, the computer takes a great deal of the drudgery out of the teacher’s work. It can record and archive students’ work, calibrate grades and provide detailed records of achievement for the teacher, the school system, the student and parents. It can also diagnose an individual student’s strengths and weaknesses in areas such as grammar and pronunciation, and make recommendations for how the student might improve on their areas of weakness.
The face-to-face classroom, whether it be a “live” or virtual one, provides the “human” touch. It enables real time collaboration between teacher and students, facilitates student-to-student collaboration, and allows for the effective management of learning that is not possible in situations in which the learning is entirely digital. In other words, it caters to the affective domain, the emotional heart of the student, which is the ultimate driver of the learning process. With positive affect, all things are possible. Negative affect makes learning difficult, if not impossible.
Share your innovation for a chance to win the Pearson ELT Teacher Award
We’ve just launched a new Pearson ELT Teacher Award! Aiming to recognise and celebrate teachers, the Award is open for any English teacher who has developed innovative ways of teaching in their classrooms. You may have used technology or digital tools in unique ways or re-invented traditional tasks. The Award encourages teachers to enter who can show that their ideas are not only unique but have improved learner engagement, motivation and success.
Prizes include all-expenses paid trips to IATEL or TESOL. Deadline for entries is 1st January, 2017 so enter or nominate a teacher today!