A background to Blended e-Learning

What is blended e-Learning ?

The term blended learning is used to describe a solution that combines several different delivery methods. These can be a mix of various even-based activities such as face to face classrooms, live e-learning and software sharing, and self-paced learning.

 The teaching methodology has been developed through many stages. We can categorise these stages in 3 distinct forms: in-campus, distance learning and virtual teaching (e-learning).

 Traditional Universities:

The oldest method of teaching that is universally adopted all over the world is to offer lectures face-to-face in classrooms or theatres. Of course workshops are also carried out in laboratories and classrooms as well. The problem of this method was felt in the last decades of the 20th century. The demand for higher education increased sharply but the traditional universities could not catch up with the same paste.

Open Univerisities:

In order to solve this problem, the distance learning methodology was introduced and open universities were formed based on this idea. The main objective was to encourage students to follow the course by using self-paced material usually in written format and in some cases, audio/video materials up to 5% of the total content. Although this method proved to be cost effective and provided higher education to those who could not attend classrooms due to their working situations or otherwise, nevertheless, was not entirely successful in achieving quality students.

Virtual Universities:

By introduction of world-wide-web in Internet and spread of its network to almost any home, distance learning materials have been transformed into web based formats. The new technique was called e-learning and virtual universities have been created using this method of delivery. In e-learning, self-paced courses are offered to students. They can log into the course, read through all of materials and answer some questions online. Then students proceed to the next lesson and so on. Although this technique is highly successful and has been adopted or being adopted by many universities, it is not a perfect one. The online courses were not engaging and they were not motivating enough students to stick with it and finish the class. The social aspect of classrooms is missing in this method. This deficiency has been fulfilled to some extent by introduction of live classrooms via Internet.

In this approach, the entire class does not have to run in real time. One can blend the self-paced (asynchronous) e-learning with the live classes (synchronous) together to make an advanced virtual classroom. This can engage students and make them feel a part of “class” but with some extent of freedom in self-paced study. Ways of incorporating live e-learning experience are to have chats, discussion threads, group work, and real-time class meetings with whiteboards and file sharing.


Synchronous
e-learning imitates a classroom, which means classes take place in real-time and connect instructors and students via streaming audio or video or through a conference room.


Asynchronous
e-learning lets a student access pre-packaged training on his own time, working at his own pace and communicating with the instructor or other students through e-mail. Some vendors specialize in e-learning packages that run over a company's servers. Others use an application service provider model and handle everything from creating a training course to storing the information. Asynchronous simply means that the students and the instructor do not have the need to be working at the same time for the establishment of a teaching- learning transaction.

In distance education environments, students have an educational relationship mostly separated in time, place or both. Typically, media are classified in print, audio, video and electronic. Print, as in correspondence education is asynchronous; audio could be synchronous, such as an audio conference, or asynchronous, as an audio tape. Video could be asynchronous (a video tape) or synchronous (a videoconferencing session). On-line learning is mostly asynchronous because the courses and instructions are available 24/7 and the students can read and post messages anytime. However, with the increasing use of Virtual Classroom features for learning, some communication online occurs synchronously. In addition, audio and video streaming could be used in both ways, as a live or recorded learning activity.

 

Integrated Universities

What is Integrated Universities?

The future of e-learning lies in a more practical concept called blended eLearning. According to most industry experts the delivery method of choice for some engineering and managerial courses that involves soft-skills and IT training is still the classroom. It is worth mentioning that Instructor-led training has been the primary method of training for decades. But what is new is that this approach has been supplemented by such activities as reading books, doing research, using self-paced training material offered on videotapes or CD-ROMs, and direct interaction with tutors for workshops to form an integrated blended eLearning method that enjoys from benefits of all previous worlds.

Determining the right blend of technology-delivered and classroom-based learning is almost like perfecting a recipe, writes Justin Hearn. We, at ITU, think we have perfected a recipe for offering European standard higher education to students in the developing countries. This approach was first introduced by Dr SMA Shahrestani in 1987 and was adopted by UNESCO in the same year. It was then tested partially in TEMPUS programmes for 10 years (1990-2000) and in ICIS courses since 1990. The result was discussed with the General Secretary of FUIW in January 2001 and consequently an agreement under “FUIW Chair Program” was signed in July 2001.

Advantages of blended eLearning

The following figure shows the advantages of an integrated blended learning scheme created by ITU since 1987 and developed further to include advances of Internet to form blended eLearning:

Venn Diagram

ITU uses the classrooms of the traditional universities, the distance learning methodology
of open universities and latest techniques of virtual universities

Some advantages of bleded eLearning are as follows:

  (a)   Studying in the comfort of his/her own country, a student can obtain a Master Degree of western quality standard at a fraction of the cost compared to studying abroad.

(b)   It offers considerable flexibility and time saving because students can choose where and when to study using the teaching learning materials.

(c)    Students have regular interaction with the Module Leaders via E-learning. This enables them to discuss and clarify anything they could not understand from the teaching learning materials.

(d)   Direct face to face interaction with Local Teachers who can help students in their own language. Workshops are initially discussed with local teachers before their submission to the Module Leaders.

(a)   Students have fast access to the Programme Manager.

Students can choose the title of their dissertation to fit in with their interests and expertise. They can also choose the time of submitting their dissertation after the satisfactory completion of all taught modules.

 

Further Study:

There is a book titled “Blended eLearning” by Dr. Larry Bielawski and David Metcalf, Ph.D, examines the current “state of the art” and takes a broad look at the latest instructional techniques, tools, and strategies that will help you to more effectively realize the benefits of e-learning.

 

Moreover, the following are links which you might find useful:

 

Blended e-Learning, by Dorie Henrie

www.easternlincs.org/newsletter/ winter2002/Blendedelearning.htm

Blended Basics, How to pick from the best of both delivery worlds, by Justin Hearn

http://www.n-email.net/TRIMAX/blended_basics.htm

Blended Learning Models, by Purnima Valiathan

http://www.learningcircuits.com/2002/aug2002/valiathan.html

Blended eLearning software developed by filenet

www.filenet.com/English/Customer_Center/ Global_Learning_Services/eLearning