In the past 18 months, we’ve seen significant disruption in education due to impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. With very little notice, educators at all levels had to pivot to a 100% online learning model in March or April of 2020.
In the months that followed, educators and administrators grappled with what a return to education would—or even could—look like in the fall. Those institutions that reopened to in-person teaching knew they wouldn’t be able to accommodate all students at the same time, which meant some form of hybrid instruction would be necessary.
One term that rose to the forefront during this past year is blended learning. Often used interchangeably with hybrid learning but seldom defined, blended learning has been a point of confusion.
In today’s post, we’ll offer a brief definition of blended learning. We’ll also explore why blended learning is vital for today’s higher education institutions.
What Is Blended Learning? A Definition
Blended learning is an approach to education that combines in-person instruction with one or more forms of online, distanced instruction. There are several blended learning models in use today, including these:
- Nurture Model: Prioritise in-person learning for the earliest students, scaling to most- or all-online learning in upper grades/years
- Bookend Model: Host first-year and fourth-year students on campus while sophomore and junior courses remain online
- Rotation Model: Divide classes into multiple groups and rotate online, in-person, and collaborative or lab-based learning
The right blended learning models for a given school, academic level, or discipline will vary, of course. Your institution’s current technology offerings and physical space limitations also influence which model to use.
Why Is Blended Learning Important?
Education did just fine for decades—even centuries—before blended learning was a technological possibility. So why do we say that blended learning is crucial for educational institutions of every level today?
In short, it’s because the educational landscape has changed in several ways, and blended learning has become crucial for at least these three reasons:
- Student preferences when it comes to how they consume education are changing
- COVID-19 has massively accelerated the need for online instruction and blended learning
- Resilient educational institutions must be ready to adapt to current and future disruptions
Let’s explore each of these areas in greater depth.
Changing Student Preferences
Throughout many areas of society, we’re all seeing changes in consumer preferences. The internet has created new opportunities for the consumer, such as online shopping, grocery pickup, and even virtual medical appointments.
Innovations like these often start out as curiosities and novelties. They take time to catch on and become mainstream. But in some cases, before we know it, digital innovation becomes an industry disruptor.
When making our very first online purchase, few of us thought that online shopping would become such an indispensable part of many consumers’ lives—or that online-only retail would cause so much disruption in the physical retail space. And yet, here we are.
Blended and online-only education is another development following this path. It’s not exactly new, but it remained at least somewhat novel or niche until the last few years. Even before COVID-19, blended learning was growing in popularity. And COVID-19 seems to be the catalyst for widespread adoption that could become permanent for a growing segment of students.
A Key Component in COVID-19 Response
Education as a whole was ill-prepared for a pandemic that closed schools for months. Even still, some colleges and universities remain wholly closed to in-person learning, operating in an online-only mode.
Of the schools and colleges that have reopened, the vast majority use a blended model, with some students in the classroom and some engaged online. Schools of all sizes have worked hard to overcome the challenge of getting policies and infrastructure in place to support blended learning.
For those that had already built out infrastructure and created policies for blended learning, the transition was easier. Those that hadn’t done so faced more of a scramble.
A Crucial Factor in Long-Term Resiliency
COVID-19 may have been the catalyst for the widespread adoption of blended learning, but it is not the sole cause. And as we’ve seen across other slices of society, some percentage of people will not want to go back to the old way of doing things once the pandemic has passed.
Some who have been working from home for the past year never want to return to the office. Many who began using grocery pickup during the pandemic report that they will continue using it in a post-pandemic world. And there’s every reason to think that higher education will be the same.
Some institutions have merely been focusing on the immediate crisis, implementing just enough technology to get through COVID-19 and get back to normal. But here at D2L, we’re confident in telling you that education isn’t going back to how it was before COVID.
For those schools seeking long-term resiliency, blended learning is a crucial offering—one that needs ample attention and robust development.
Yes, we anticipate that in-person attendance will see an uptick once the current crisis has passed. But resilient schools will learn from this crisis, adapting to be better prepared for whatever comes next.
D2L Is Your Partner for Blended Learning
For several years now, blended learning has been an exciting growth area for higher education. And with COVID-19 creating seismic shifts to the entire education landscape, it’s never been more critical to offer a robust and effective blended learning environment.
If your institution seeks to remain resilient through whatever challenges may come next, it needs to create and nurture a blended learning environment built for long-term sustainability and success.
For well over a decade, D2L has been at the forefront of digital transformation in education. We’ve created cutting-edge tools trusted by educational institutions at every level, and we’re well equipped to support institutions as they transition to a hybrid or blended learning model.
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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