Online learning better than blended learning?

There’s a bit of talk at my current institution about adopting “blended learning”. The Vice Chancellor had this to say and various other folk have been pushing the idea. However, I do hear that there has been some disagreement about the exact definition of blended learning being used by various parties.

I believe one definition being used is this one from Griffith University

Blended learning involves integration of different modes of delivery, models of teaching, and styles of learning through strategic and systematic use of technology, combined with the best features of face-to-face interaction.

A definition that retains a fairly central emphasis on face-to-face interaction.

This particular definition was always a bit problematic for me within the local context as a significant proportion of our students, and until recently our only growing market has been distance education students. i.e. students who are likely never to attend a campus.

The Vice Chancellor has been using the Wikipedia definition

Blended learning offers learners the opportunity “to be both together and apart. A community of learners can interact at anytime and anywhere because of the benefits that computer-mediated educational tools provide. Blended learning provides a ‘good’ mix of technologies and interactions, resulting in a socially supported, constructive, learning experience; this is especially significant given the profound affect that it could have on distance learning.

This definition seems to be more appropriate for the local context. It doesn’t treat face-to-face as anything special and also doesn’t use the “strategic” word which I somewhat detest.

As a colleague of mine pointed out

The term has been used in so many different ways it is almost useless. There should be a clear definition of CQU’s concept of blending learning so that we can all understand.

Online versus blended?

Interestingly, the folk pushing the former definition of e-learning have also been using the recent report from the US Department of Education that evaluates evidence-based practices in online learning as support for the view. This report has been making the rounds in the blogosphere and due to my focus on the PhD I’ve ignored it (the fact I’m currently commenting on this gives some indication of the quality of my focus on the PhD at the moment). However, I saw this summary this morning in my tweet stream and it has something to say on the question of blended learning and face-to-face.

I’ll include the quotes I found interesting, you can read the blog post and the report yourselves. And I certainly must find some time to read the report.

Blended learning versus online

Blended and purely online learning conditions implemented within a single study generally result in similar student learning outcomes.”

Control and reflection

“Online learning can be enhanced by giving learners control of their interactions with media and prompting learner reflection.”

Online versus f-t-f

one should note that online learning is much more conducive to the expansion of learning time than is face-to-face

Value of this sort of thing

Of course, this sort of meta-comparison is often not all that useful in improving practice. These evaluations are generally testing applications designed by academics motivated, for a variety of reasons, to engage in “good teaching”. The trouble is that because of the context they find themselves and a variety of other reasons most academics are not and, in many cases, cannot engage in “good teaching”.

For me the big problem is not really finding out what is “good teaching”. Though this is important. So whether online is better than blended is better than face-to-face, is not really all that important. Though it can be useful to be aware of these sorts of quotes to counter pragmatic quoting from proponents trying to boost a particular approach.

The big problem is how you get the vast majority of academics to improve their teaching, and keep improving it.

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