The past 18 months have been a disruptive time in higher education, with institutions of all sizes quickly pivoting to online learning and blended learning due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This post is the second in a series. If you haven’t seen our first post, What Is Blended Learning?, read it now before continuing. In it, we cover in detail what blended learning is, and we discuss the most prominent models in use in today’s classrooms. You can also check out the following video for a synopsis of blended learning and its importance.
The importance of blended learning during the pandemic cannot be ignored. However, as institutions look to a future beyond COVID-19, it’s clear that the online classroom isn’t going away. Yet there remains much debate on how exactly the future of higher education should look.
Blended learning models were already gaining prominence before the pandemic and show no signs of fading away. As institutions look to bolster their offerings in a way that promotes long-term resilience, blended learning is a vital part of that long-term strategy. It brings many advantages to today’s colleges and universities, and there are challenges to consider as well. Perhaps most important are the long-term benefits that come from being a flexible, resilient college or university. But what are the advantages and disadvantages of blended learning?
Below is part two of our series: the advantages, challenges, and benefits of blended learning in higher education.
Advantages of Blended Learning
Implementing blended learning programs successfully offers a wide range of advantages to your institution. We’ll cover three of the most important here.
Expands Your Reach
Colleges and universities with effective blended learning programs in place expand their reach beyond what it would otherwise be. Not every student can (or wants to) attend in person and on campus for a full four years or more. Opening up courses so that they can be completed both in-person and online will allow your institution to reach new populations and is one advantage of blended learning.
These new populations can include working professionals, parents, and those living too far from your residential campus to commute. Such students often cannot relocate for multiple semesters or otherwise put their professional or caregiving responsibilities on pause. But many of them will pursue further education at an institution that will support their needs.
Can Increase Enrollment
This next advantage is closely tied to the previous one: blended learning programs can increase enrollment at a critical time for many higher education institutions.
Whether due to mandated closures, travel restrictions, personal health concerns, or even financial concerns, many students adjusted their 2020–2021 school year plans. Enough students bowed out entirely that many institutions faced enrollment pressures, with enrollment down 6% compared to the previous year according to NCES.
Blended learning programs allow schools to recapture lost enrollment from several angles, including mandated closures, capacity and travel restrictions, and personal health concerns. Schools can also attract new students through the flexibility that comes these alternate approaches bring.
Allows Education to Continue During Closures or Capacity Restrictions
In the fall of 2020, most colleges and universities faced mandated closures or capacity limits. Without blended learning in some format, these closures and limits would have been more of a threat to some institutions’ ongoing operations.
Blended learning was (and continues to be) an ideal solution when classroom attendance is limited or not available. This model allowed education to continue when it otherwise would have been paused.
Challenges of Blended Learning
As crucial as blended learning is for the modern educational institution, this model is not without its challenges. Here are three to consider.
Imposes New Burdens on Educators
A true blended model, where some students are in the classroom and others are learning remotely at the same time, can sometimes require more of educators than what traditional-format teaching requires.
With blended learning, there’s more to handle “live” while teaching, as instructors must interact with both in-person and remote students. Educators find their attention divided more than they would with in-person instruction alone.
Requires Greater Comfort with Technology
Teaching well in a blended learning setting requires more technology use than is usually needed for in-person teaching. Some faculty have no trouble at all making these adjustments, but the technology-averse will need training and ongoing support.
Remains Difficult Without Proper Technology Solutions
One of the challenges of blended learning is that doing it well requires the right combination of digital tools and services from a technology partner that understands the unique needs of higher education. D2L is here to serve you as you work toward these goals with our Brightspace platform and other tools.
Benefits of Blended Learning
Blended learning creates significant benefits for your school, some with long-term implications.
Learning Can Continue Unimpeded
The fact that educational opportunities can continue unimpeded is one of the advantages of blending learning. While in 2020 it was a global pandemic, it’s impossible to predict what the next significant challenge will look like, and local or regional challenges will vary from institution to institution.
But whatever comes next, a well-executed blended learning strategy will allow your institution to keep the learning going without interruption. It’s part of being (or becoming) a resilient college or university, one that’s ready for whatever comes next.
Prepares Institutions for Shifting Conditions in Higher Education
The landscape of higher education was already shifting before the pandemic. At D2L, we envision a future where lengthy, in-person terminal degrees may decrease in number and importance, but ongoing training and reskilling increase.
What precisely these new avenues for education will look like remains to be seen. The benefits of hybrid learning during COVID-19 were obvious. But now is the time to prepare for an agile future that contains much more online learning and hybrid learning.
D2L Is Here to Serve Your Blended Learning Needs
Today’s institutions face plenty of advantages, challenges, and benefits when they implement blended learning. But doing so is an essential characteristic for flexible, resilient institutions, especially in a post-COVID world. Ready to learn more about the future of higher ed? Check out our whitepaper, Higher Education 2020–21: The Hybrid Institution to keep learning.
Haley Wilson is a Content Marketing Manager at D2L, specializing in the corporate learning space. She holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Guelph as well as a Master of Arts focused in history from Wilfrid Laurier University.
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