The way we teach and the way students learn is changing.
For a very long time, a college student’s access to knowledge came through his or her professor. The professor synthesized and summarized information from a variety of sources, such as journal articles and books, and then integrated that research into the coursework. But with the advent of new media, most notably the Internet, students don’t need professors for information transmission. Student can access knowledge themselves.
Blended learning, which combines face-to-face and online instruction, offers exciting opportunities to leverage the information students can access all around them and use the classroom to reach deeper levels of learning. In education, we think of student learning in three tiers. The first level is receiving knowledge, followed by applying knowledge to real-world problems, and finally, creating new knowledge.
In blended learning, that first knowledge step can now take place outside of the classroom in the form of online readings and lectures. This allows more time in class for students to take advantage of access to an expert in the field, the professor, and progress to the two higher levels of learning.
A 2012 Pew Research Center report, “The Future Impact of the Internet on Higher Education,” predicted that by the year 2020, market factors will push universities to expand online offerings, create hybrid learning courses and encourage lifelong learning. In view of this trend toward increased online education, the College of Public Health and Health Professions formed a task force of faculty, staff and students who had an interest or experience in using the blended learning model.
Over a nearly two-year period, task force members have educated themselves on the philosophy behind blended learning and the technological tools available. The task force met with experts from all over campus, explored software programs, assessed what courses are best suited to blended learning, and determined what resources we needed to help interested faculty members transition to the blended learning platform. As a result, the college hired Dr. George Hack as an instructional designer to guide faculty members through the development of blended learning courses. The task force identified several classes to transition to blended learning in the first year and set an ambitious goal to increase that number every year so that by 2020, at least half of the college’s course offerings will use some variation of a blended learning format.
We expect the transition will be fairly easy for this generation of students, who grew up using computers and have a different approach to learning than the students from 20 to 30 years ago. The change may not come quite so naturally for faculty members, who may have less experience using online teaching tools and will need to invest a substantial amount of time in the beginning to convert courses to the blended learning format.
Ultimately, we have no doubt that this investment in blended learning will result in increased efficiency and effectiveness of teachers, and most importantly, improved student learning.