Blended learning in higher education: research findings
Charles Graham, Norm Vaughan, Charles Dziuban, Vitor Duarte Teodoro
The focus of this special issue of the International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education is on blended approaches to learning and teaching in higher education. It provides readers with current research and strategies to support a blended approach to learning and teaching at the course, program, and institutional level in higher education.
This issue contains the following four articles:
“Blended learning: The new normal and emerging technologies”, by Charles Dzuiban, Charles Graham, Patsy Moskal, Anders Norberg, and Nicole Sicillia;
“Integrating MOOCs in traditionally taught courses: Achieving learning outcomes with blended learning”, by Antonia Bralic and Blazenka Divjak;
“Seeking the best blend for deep learning in a flipped classroom: Viewing student perceptions through the Community of Inquiry lens”, by Ingrid le Roux and Lynette Nagel;
“Supporting decision-making processes on blended learning in higher education: Literature and good practices” review by Alvaro Galvis.
To begin, each of these four manuscripts discusses the challenges of defining blended learning in higher education. The article Blended learning: The new normal and emerging technologies by Dzuiban et al. (2018) describes the definitional continuum that ranges from Oliver and Trigwell’s (2005) critique of blended learning as being a vague concept to Sharpe et al.’s (2006) notion that the definitional latitude of blended learning is what enhances it’s contextual relevance. Galvis (2018), in his Supporting decision-making processes on blended learning in higher education: Literature and good practices review, adds that blended or bLearning is a multidimensional concept that allow distinct stakeholders to create different blends in their effort to transform educational practices that get the best from both face-to-face and virtual modalities.
Each article offers a specific definition or approach to blended learning. For example, the Dzuiban et al. (2018) study focus on the United States Department of Education approach to blended learning involving “a combination of online and in-class instruction with reduced in-class seat time for students” (Lewis and Parsad, 2008, p.1). Bralic and Divjak’s (2018) research involves the integration of a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) with a campus based course where students have the option of participating in a MOOC rather than completing project work. The article by le Roux and Nagel (2018) involves a flipped classroom. The authors indicate that this is a type of blended learning that reverses the traditional learning environment by delivering instructional content, often online, outside of the classroom. It moves activities, including those that may have traditionally been considered homework, into the classroom. In this study, students watched content videos online, outside of the classroom, with in-class time focused on seminars that followed a Harvard-style case method. Galvis (2018) emphasizes the importance of aligning strategic and tactical decisions in order to integrate the face-to-face and virtual modalities in a bLearning multidimensional educational model.
The University of Central Florida (UCF) has been at the forefront of blended and online learning research for over twenty years as they began a longitudinal impact study in 1996 with the start of their distributed learning initiative. During this time, they have been systematically collecting data about the student and faculty experience with blended and online courses. In their most recent research study, Dzuiban et al. (2018) focus on student access by examining success and withdrawal rates in blended learning courses by comparing them to face-to-face and online modalities for minority and non-minority students over an extended period of time at UCF. The authors found that a blended approach maintains or increases access for most student cohorts and produces improved success rates for minority and non-minority students alike. Student participants in this study indicated that the three criteria for success in any course modality are the clear establishment and progress toward course objectives, the creation of an effective learning environment, and the instructor’s effective communication.
A massive open online course (MOOC) is an online course aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the web (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2016). The majority of research carried out on MOOCs has focused on learner engagement and behavior in the online environment (Zawacki-Richter et al., 2018). Bralic and Divjak’s (2018) research investigates the integration of MOOCs into a campus based course. In their study, students can complete either course-based project work or participate in a MOOC. They found that the number of part-time students opting to follow the MOOC instead of doing project work is increasing each academic year. In addition, those students who select MOOC participation over project work are achieving higher final grades. Bralic and Divjak’s (2018) suggest this is because students can learn at their own pace, receive peer support, and gain regular assessment feedback in a MOOC.
There has been a great deal of debate about the use of flipped classrooms in higher education. Bergmann and Sams (2012) coined the term to describe an instructional strategy that reverses the traditional learning environment by delivering instructional content, often online, outside of the classroom. It moves activities, including those that may have traditionally been considered homework, into the classroom. In a flipped classroom, students watch online lectures, collaborate in online discussions, or carry out research at home while engaging with the concepts in the classroom with the guidance of a mentor. The concern for some educational researchers is that this instructional approach still relies on a passive approach to learning such as watching online video lectures (O’Flaherty & Phillips, 2015).
The research conducted on flipped classrooms by le Roux and Nagel (2018) indicates that the use of online videos helped students better understand the theoretical underpinnings of the course by being able to watch the videos multiple times. They also suggest that the in-class seminars allowed students to deepen their theoretical knowledge through collaborative problem solving and negotiation of solutions related to the case studies. In addition, le Roux and Nagel (2018) used the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework to underpin their study. The CoI model consists of three main elements; social presence, cognitive presence, and teaching presence (Garrison, 2017). Teaching presence is defined as the design, facilitation and direction of the educational experience. Roux and Nagel (2018) emphasize that these responsibilities need to be shared with the students (e.g., teaching rather than teacher presence) in order to focus and sustain an effective collaborative educational community.
Blended learning research in higher education often focuses on factors that could influence an institution’s decision to implement this modality at the course or program level. Recently, Porter et al., (2016) investigated the drivers and barriers to blended learning’s extensive adoption at the institutional level. Galvis (2018) builds upon this research in his literature and good practices review of institutional blended learning in higher education. He first demonstrates the institutional complexity of implementing and supporting bLearning environments. Galvis (2018) then provides a blueprint for supporting institutional decision-making processes related to Blended Learning through the examination of pedagogical, operational, and organizational conditions.
Bergmann, J., & Sams, A. (2012). Flip your classroom: reach every student in every class every day. Washington, DC: International Society for Technology in Education.
Bralic, A., & Divjak , B. (2018). Integrating MOOCs in traditionally taught courses: Achieving learning outcomes with blended learning. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, 15(3).
Dziuban, C., Graham, C. R., Moskal, P., Norberg, A., & Sicilia, N. (2018). Blended learning: The new normal and emerging technologies. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, 15(3). http://doi.org/10.1186/s41239-017-0087-5
Galvis, A. (2018). Supporting decision-making processes on blended learning in higher education: Literature and good practices review. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, 15(3).
Garrison, D.R. (2017). E-Learning in the 21st century: A framework for research and practice (3rd ed.). London, England: Routledge Falmer.
Kaplan, A. M., & Haenlein, M. (2016). Higher education and the digital revolution: About MOOCs, SPOCs, social media, and the Cookie Monster. Business Horizons, 59(4), 441–50. doi:10.1016/j.bushor.2016.03.008.
le Roux, I., & Nagel, L. (2018). Seeking the best blend for deep learning in a flipped classroom: Viewing student perceptions through the Community of Inquiry lens. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, 15(3).
Lewis, L., & Parsad, B. (2008). Distance education at degree-granting postsecondary institutions : 2006–07 (NCES 2009–044). Washington: Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2009/2009044.pdf.
O’Flaherty, J., & Phillips, C. (2015). The use of flipped classrooms in higher education: A scoping review. The Internet and Higher Education. 25. doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2015.02.002.
Oliver, M., & Trigwell, K. (2005). Can ‘blended learning’ be redeemed? e-Learning, 2(1), 17–25.
Porter, W. W., Graham, C. R., Bodily, R., & Sandberg, D. (2016). A qualitative analysis of institutional drivers and barriers to blended learning adoption in higher education. Internet and Higher Education, 28(1), 17–27. doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2015.08.003
Sharpe, R., Benfield, G., Roberts, G., & Francis, R. (2006). The undergraduate experience of blended learning: A review of UK literature and research. London, England: The Higher Education Academy.
Zawacki-Richter, O., Bozkurt, A., Alturki, U., & Aldraiweesh, A. (2018), What research says about MOOCs: An explorative content analysis. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 19(1), 242-259.
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