Blended learning describes a teaching style which combines the use of technology and online educational exercises with traditional face-to-face activities in a planned, pedagogically valuable manner.
Even before coronavirus placed a spotlight on the digital readiness of organisations to provide online learning, there had been a steady, if slow, adoption of EdTech over the last decade. Providing they were effectively implemented, the value of these investments is now plain for all to see. The EdTech market is already massive and projected to grow rapidly, from £13.5bn in 2019, to £250bn by 2025 (a prediction made in late 2019 before the pandemic).
Despite this, it's important to be realistic about the scale of the task at hand.
Pivoting towards a blended approach will represent a huge shift for many organisations, particularly those with large, traditional programmes that have been in place for decades in some cases.
To really see the full benefit of a blended approach, it's not enough to simply transfer your existing courses from their current medium to an online platform - the capabilities of these systems will require broad changes across teaching, learning and assessment.
Perhaps the most difficult of these changes will be to culture - itself an unwieldy and often unquantifiable factor in the day-to-day success of an organisation. The government has already taken some action here, making it clear in its Education Technology Strategy that the ability to provide quality remote education is a must.
We all know that things are often easier said than done, and that those with “boots on the ground” will face challenges that might be produced by a shift from traditional to blended learning. For example, online learning can rely on learners driving their own progress, which can itself be dependent on the self-discipline of that individual - potentially favouring some learners over others. This is before we also account for the digital divide that exists between organisations and the learners they serve up and down the country.
Furthermore, how will being able to drive your own education impact on the traditional role of teachers and trainers? The next generation of instructors are now being promoted as “facilitators of learning” rather than “teachers of knowledge” in global policy making. The platforms that will be used to deliver learning online will also be used to bring a variety of resources into classrooms during face-to-face teaching, and with that, in-depth data and analytics - will this data be used effectively to ensure all learners progress and achieve with a reduction in those who are left behind?
Undeniably there are still hurdles for the FE sector to overcome in its full adoption of blended learning strategies and this is merely the tip of a very large iceberg. However, the benefits of having the right digital tools in place to ensure your organisation can cater for all learners in all circumstances is now impossible to ignore.
We know the reality is that not every learner responds identically to the same methods at the same time, but, a blended programme built upon a platform which enables greater flexibility for trainers and learners, both in resource available and the timeframe/location in which to complete them, will likely suit more learners than less. The benefits to learning outcomes, learner engagement, and efficiencies in (automated) reporting and subsequent administrative tasks, undeniably outweigh the costs - it's time to make the switch.
The utilisation of technology in our lives and in the educational landscape will continue to rise at a rapid rate - the transformation from traditional to blended/digital delivery models is happening NOW. Let’s make sure we set a baseline which works for the many generations to come.
Andrew Howie is a Director at eLearning WMB, the company behind the Open eLMS suite of learning management products. If you would like to learn more about how to implement a blended programme effectively, or about the system itself - reach out or visit our website - www.elearningwmb.com