What Makes for a Valuable Blended Learning Course?

About six months ago I completed a blended learning course from a recognized publisher who is interested in offering such a course to individuals and institutions who would like to incorporate technologies into their own teaching and learning environments.   Just yesterday I completed a course feedback form regarding delivery, materials, and assessment from the perspective of both a course for consultants as well as a course for teachers and institutions.  During my reflection I began thinking about how others might feel about what a course in blended learning might look like.

The basis for any blended learning course really boils down to people, conceptualizations, and technologies (i.e., materials).  Addressing any one of these three aspects of blended learning (i.e., people, conceptualizations, and technologies) in isolation does little to provide the necessary context needed to better understand behaviors and points of view – the term technologies is meant to include any materials, web tools, or objects that practitioners interact with on a daily basis.  Conceptualizations might include ideas, beliefs, thoughts, opinions, perspectives, or frameworks that become the basis for social interaction.  I would argue that the complexity involved within this dynamic triad underpins the notion that we cannot remove individuals from the tools they use and that for all practical purposes, everything we do can be classified as being social.

When professional learning pursuits in the area of blended learning are needed, institutions typically have two options: internal professional development (PD) and external PD.  This is one of the key decisions that stakeholders make early on that are usually based on economics, logistics, and the perceived value that each type of PD may bring.  But regardless of the type, institutions may frame PD as training whereby educators leave the course being “trained”, or they may consider PD as more ongoing, open, and facilitative.  Courses may come “prepackaged” with fixed objectives or courses may be adaptable to what both the individual and organization needs or wants.  Depending on the readiness of those participating, the objectives of the course might be expressive or based on specific behavioral goals which both may be predetermined or which may emerge over time (i.e., rhizomatic education).

Another consideration when deciding on the most appropriate blended learning course relates to accreditation.  For instance, diplomas, accreditation badges, and certificates are just some of the options that recognize a person’s level of understanding and skill set.  Other forms of accreditation might be the recognition of a particular product such as an e-portfolio or open educational resources.  Depending on the type of accreditation, accreditors might either award participants for simply completing the work or may provide some indication of a level of completion based on pre-established criteria or certain standards (i.e., summative assessment).  Determining the most effective way to accredit or assess one’s competency will depend a lot on how participants communicate throughout the course.

Two types of communication are possible during a (blended learning) course: synchronous and asynchronous.  People who converse in real time, whether they are having discussions face to face or whether they are participating in a Google+ Hangout or webinar communicate synchronously whereas people who communicate via blogs, wikis, forums, Twitter, and social bookmarking communicate asynchronously.  Both synchronous and asynchronous forms of communication can reside in open or closed spaces which can either create credit-seeking participants with non-credit-seeking participants (e.g., MOOCs) or can restrict communication to only those credit-seeking participants.

Determining the right type of blended course for an institution depends on a variety of factors.  The learning theory or theories used will depend a lot on how people, conceptualizations, and technologies mesh. The way a blended learning course is delivered will depend on the technologies available and which are likely to be used and to what degree consultants from outside the institution are involved, if at all.  Finally, a blended learning course will depend on how participants communicate synchronously and asynchronously and to the degree that both types of communication are accessible to the general public (open vs. closed education).  These factors collectively must be taken into consideration based on the profiles of the educator and institution and the degree that course objectives can be adapted to the needs, interests, and learning preferences of the practitioner as a life-long learner.

Based on your experience and within your own context (people, materials, and conceptualizations), what type of blended learning course has or would work?  Or which blended learning courses have not worked for you in the past?

Image attribution: http://www.flickr.com/photos/opensourceway/5755219051/sizes/o/in/set-72157625612605617/

Benjamin Stewart holds a master’s degree in education, curriculum and instruction: technology and is pursuing a doctoral degree in educational leadership. He is an EFL teacher educator and researcher and is interested in how PLNs impact teaching practices and belief systems. Benjamin is founder of EduQuiki where he contributes to open educational resources, open courseware, and open research. His work in Edukwest is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

  • Anonymous


    It sounds like what you are saying is that a Blended course depends on a lot of factors. I for one would really have liked to see these factors displayed in some kind of graphic form.

    My big question relates to the term blended learning? Is that really the best term for what you are discribing? Maybe layered learning or hyper-connected learning would be better? I don’t know. But it sure seems like when anyone talks about Blended learning that it ends up sounding like a taxonomy rather than a strategy.