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Why do we do blended learning?

Why do we do blended learning?

The following is the transcript of a short lighting talk that I just gave at work during our eLearning Showcase entitled Why do we do blended learning? Slides are at the bottom.


So, if you knew my writing at all you would know that I am fond of disclaimers and this talk is no different. Here the disclaimer has to do with my usage of the word “we” in the title of this talk – Why do WE do blended learning. What do I mean by we?

Well I do mean everyone that does blended learning.

It is impossible for me to speak for all of them. Still, I feel that I am a part of this group that does blended learning and this talk relates to not just why I do blended learning but why those that do blended learning do it. I do not, however mean to speak for specific individuals of this kind.

Some of you may know this I just completed a Master’s degree in educational technology. A part of me that misses being a part of a community of learners at the graduate level. I’m fortunate in the fact that I work in an academic environment, so I’m not completely removed from living in a community of learners. I’m also greatly blessed in the fact that I am immersed in learning communities online.

It was in the last year of my Master’s program that I really dug in and found networked learning community online. I started a blog and while I had been on twitter for many years, I started to use it for more than conference tweeting. I started to create, collaborate, connect, and network with others in my field across distance and time to discuss not just technology but the human elements of educational technology, explore community building, and create rich experiences online that are focused on how technology can support human learning. This totally renewed my love for online learning as I met colleagues from all over the world who were willing to challenge my thinking and expose me to new resources.

The main subject of this talk is why do we do blended learning, but before we go there I would like to discuss the – why of why – with you a little bit. I often get asked about the why of blended learning by various constituencies – yes here at Capital but also out in the world at other schools or at conferences and online. So I would like to explore some of them with you.

Again, I don’t want to paint with a broad brush I’m just relating some of my experience here and it is subjective. But some faculty sometimes want to know why we are spending energy on something that requires more time of them. Especially, in a small school environment where they can see their students face to face on a regular basis.

Although not as often, I have had some students question me about the need for technology in education. I once had to explain to a very annoyed young man that my office was not pushing technology onto his educational experience but rather responding to a very real world that he was going to enter upon graduation.

And finally there are some in leadership who are not so concerned about the why but rather are bedazzled by the promises of increased enrollments and revenue streams. And while I would argue, that the potential for this most certainly exists, in the same way that the potential for any GOOD program to attract more students and bring in greater revenue exists, … that this is not WHY we do blended learning.

So, there are lots of definitions around the university and out in the world about what blended learning is. And if you come to see me over in CELT I will need to get more specific and talk to you about things like percentages of direct instruction and we will try to quantify things like a reduction in seat time. But for this presentation we are simply going to talk about Blended as an umbrella term around the idea of mixing distance, online, experiences and relationally close physical, face to face, experiences. Also, realize that could include the possibilities of fully online courses paired with fully face to face courses.

In the early 2000’s people started talking about and publishing on this idea of the digital native and the digital immigrant. Suggesting that somehow those that grew up in certain calendar years were of a different breed than the rest of us. That somehow because you were younger things like socioeconomic status or race or religion or gender did not matter in terms of the way that you approached and related to technology. Besides the cultural insensitivities of this metaphor it has set us back decades in terms of setting expectations around how to learn in a networked and connected world.

In a recent article entitled Death of the Digital Native Donna Lanclos was cited as saying:

If your university philosophy is grounded in assumptions around digital natives, education and technology, you’re presupposing you don’t have to teach the students how to use tech for their education. And, furthermore, it will never be possible to teach faculty how to use that technology, either on their own behalf or for their students’. ~ Donna Lanclos

On a similar note a quote from one of our own local professors Neal Schmitt in a recent conversation hit on the same vein.

I grew up with a kitchen in my house – that does not make me a Master Chef ~ Neal Schmitt

A better metaphor is that of residents and visitors which if you do some googling you will find a lot of information on – it was actually developed by Donna Lanclos (quote from the slide before last) and David White and some others. This metaphor does not assign a person’s digital literacies to the year that they were born but rather realizes that the relationship between people and their tools is a complex and nuanced one that deserves a closer look. That some of us may be resident on say using library databases while only occasionally visiting facebook or vice versa depending on the person.

A better question is to ask where are you resident online. Because the simple truth is that there are a large number of humans living, working, and learning online and some use some tools better than others. Some of this is good and some of this not so much. Doxing is real, cyberbullying is real. But so are….

Remote Job Interviews

Online Activism

Virtual Internships



Participatory Culture

Collective Collaboration

and Open Education

We need to realize that our students are not necessarily as digitally aware as the stereotypes tell us. Bonnie Stewart in a recent blog post stated:

“Not that fears and cautions and skepticism about the logics of media and capital that drive the internet aren’t warranted. Many, many are. But the dominant narrative tends more towards essentializing the face-to-face and reducing the digital to instrumental, task-based impersonality, rather than recognizing it as a human space with all the potential – educative and destructive, both – that that implies.” ~ Bonnie Stewart

So, Why do we do blended learning?

Because we don’t take for granted that our students know how to learn online. Learning online is different from learning face to face and it takes a whole other level of literacies and practices to be successful in an online environment and students will graduate into a world that is saturated with online expectations both in public and in closed environments.

Finally, we do blended learning because online/virtual learning experiences can be really dull and boring and static and we need an iterative process of continual improvement to fight the mediocrity and reach toward a place where we are creating a distinctive online learning experience focused on the human learner and not the technology for technology’s sake.  And so it is on that note that I give you today two cases where online educators here at Capital are taking on that charge to give their students opportunities to learn how to learn online.

Image Credit: CC BY Metal kaleidoscope spinner by Patrick Hoesly

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