Blended learning in secondary schools
With the dominance of computer technology in today’s society, it is not surprising it is being implemented increasingly in education. Since the government’s roll out of laptop devices to state secondary schools, the use of computers in the classroom has become a normal part of everyday life. In addition to the DEC provided devices, many schools now have access to other devices within the classroom such as smartboards and iPads. Teachers have to incorporate technology more and more in their lessons and programs. However, in order for the use of technology in the classroom to be effective and enhance student learning it has to be well thought out and planned for when designing programs.
Even though blended learning has been used extensively in higher education, it is one strategy secondary schools can use to integrate technology effectively into the classroom. Blended learning involves a combination of face-to-face and virtual instruction. The benefits of this type of learning are:
– Teachers can use various types of instruction (for example, present case studies, tutorials, self-testing exercises, simulations, or other online work).
– The focus of the classroom changes from presentation to active participation which enhances learning outcomes.
– It provides flexibility for students and teachers in terms of scheduling.
Despite the numerous benefits of blended learning, students and teachers need to overcome several challenges and issues in order for it to be successfully used in the classroom.
The first challenge is in program design. Stone (2008) states that programs using a blended learning strategy need to be designed from the beginning with both online and face-to-face components in mind. Some of the issues that are currently present in ineffective blended learning programs are the use of multiple interfaces, a ‘mish-mash’ of different technologies and a lack of integration of technology into instruction. It is important for technologies to be designed with instruction in mind instead of selecting an existing technology and inserting it into a teaching program. For this to happen teachers need to receive support and training when developing blended learning programs. They should also be involved in the development of the technologies to create customized online lessons.
The second challenge faced by both students and teachers is time. Despite the flexibility online learning can bring, it also requires students to have good time management skills. Time management is a skill that is developed over time through experience but it can also be specifically taught. In order for blended learning to be successfully used in secondary schools, time management skills would need to be taught to all students before they begin a blended learning program.
From the teachers’ point of view, blended learning programs require a big time commitment. These programs take time to carefully plan and create and the administrative duties throughout the implementation also require a lot of time. In order to overcome this, teachers need support. Programs need to be developed by teams of people where teachers are able to advise on content as opposed to creating material from scratch (Stone, 2008). Strategies also need to be devised to reduce teachers’ administrative duties throughout the implantation of blended learning programs so they are able to concentrate on the content and pedagogy.
Another potential challenge faced by both teachers and students is access. With the ability to post online and to contact others through discussions and emails at any time of the day (or night) students and teachers are more accessible. This can be quite burdening (in terms of time and cognitive load) for both students and teachers because the formal time constraints of the physical school environment are lost. This issue needs special consideration and guidelines need to be put in place in the planning stage of blended learning programs to ensure teachers and students do not feel over burdened by the 24/7 nature of online instruction.
Finally, a common challenge for both teachers and students is learning new technologies. Although secondary students today are classified as ‘Generation M’, (Vie, 2008) which means they are comfortable using various forms of technology, they still may need support in learning new technologies. This is particularly true if the interface being used is unfamiliar because it has been developed specifically for the blended learning program. Teachers also need to be supported in learning new technologies. This is especially true if they are under confident with using technology in general and because they will need to instruct their students on how to use the technologies and interfaces required by the blended learning program.
Even though blended learning programs are largely being implemented in higher education institutions there is potential for them to be used in secondary schools. The advantages of such programs are greater flexibility in type of instruction and scheduling, increased student engagement and learning outcomes. However, to be successful, schools will need to commit a lot of time, effort and funds to developing blended learning programs. These programs will need to be designed specifically for the combination of face-to-face and online instruction. They will also need to address the challenges teachers and students face when developing and participating in such programs.
Stone, A. (2008). The holistic model for blended learning: a new model for k-12 district-level cyber schools. International Journal of Information and Communica- tion Technology Education, 4(1), 56-71.
Vaughan, N. (2007). Perspectives on blended learning in higher education. International Journal on ELearning, 6(1), 81-94.
Vie, S. (2008). Digital divide 2.0: “Generation M” and online social networking sites in the composition classroom. Computers and Composition. 25, 9–23.