Blended Learning Tools
Blended learning has its roots in online learning and represents a fundamental shift in instruction that has the potential to optimize online student engagement in higher education. Although colleges and universities have been using technology for some time, until recently they haven’t generally used technology to provide students with a true blend of instruction that gives them some element of control over their learning. Enter, blended learning tools.
To successfully design an effective blended learning experience, it’s important to incorporate the blended learning platforms that support collaborative learning. Collaborative learning requires learners to work together to make connections, uncover new ways of understanding concepts, and achieve a shared goal (Laal & Laal, 2012; Falcione et al. 2019). It continues to be one of the most effective instructional methods for students. Studies show that online collaboration increases students’ academic achievement and self-efficacy. And while it may seem more challenging to facilitate collaboration in online learning, research shows that student participation in online collaborative learning activities are related to better course outcomes — which explains the rise of blended learning apps and blended learning platforms.
While there’s no shortage of technology for blended learning on the market, the best ones foster connection and community as well as provide learners with an active role and responsibility in their learning — working together to build knowledge, to explore ways to innovate, and to seek the conceptual knowledge needed to solve problems. In this article, we’ll explore some of those blended learning technology tools and share blended learning resources. But first, let’s explore the types and benefits of blended learning for students.
Types of Blended Learning
There are many types of blended learning. Here, we’ll share just a few.
- Station Rotation Blended Learning
Station-Rotation is just one of the models of blended learning that allows students to rotate through stations on a fixed schedule, where at least one of the stations is an online learning station. This model is most common in elementary schools because teachers are already familiar with rotating in centers and stations.
- Lab Rotation Blended Learning
The Lab Rotation model of blended learning, similar to Station Rotation, works by allowing students to rotate through stations on a fixed schedule in a dedicated computer lab allowing for flexible scheduling arrangements with instructors.
- Remote Blended Learning
Here, the student’s focus is on completing online coursework while only meeting with the instructor intermittently or as-needed. This approach differs from the Flipped Classroom model in the balance of online to face-to-face instructional time. In a remote blended learning model, students wouldn’t see/work with/learn from a teacher on a daily basis face-to-face but would in a ‘flipped’ setting.
- Flex Blended Learning
The ‘Flex’ is included in types of blended learning and its model is one in which a course or subject in which online learning is the backbone of student learning, even if it directs students to offline activities at times. Students move on an individually customized, ﬂuid schedule among learning modalities. The teacher of record is onsite, and students learn mostly on the brick-and-mortar campus, except for any assignments. The instructor provides face-to-face support on a flexible and adaptive as-needed basis through activities such as small-group instruction, group projects, and individual tutoring.
- Individual Rotation Blended Learning
The Individual Rotation model allows students to rotate through stations, but on individual schedules set by a teacher or software algorithm. Unlike other rotation models, with this blended learning approach, students do not necessarily rotate to every station; they rotate only to the activities scheduled on their playlists.
- Project-Based Blended Learning
One of the other blended learning models we’ll cover is the blended project-based learning where students use both online learning—either in the form of courses or self-directed access—and face-to-face instruction and collaboration to design, iterate, and publish project-based learning assignments, products, and related artifacts. This is a blend of synchronous and asynchronous learning.
There are other types of blended learning in higher education which can be explored using these resources: the Christensen Institute and blendedlearning.org.
Benefits of Blended Learning
While there are certainly many challenges of blended learning, the effectiveness of blended learning is wide ranging. In general, participants in blended learning courses experience greater efficiency, accessibility, and engagement when it comes to key benefits of blended learning.
Efficiency: Years ago, an instructor may have spent days explaining a complex math concept. It was difficult to assess student understanding and engagement. Today, blended learning can help instructors more quickly and accurately assess the student’s knowledge and teach concepts more efficiently. It is said that blended learning improves the efficacy and efficiency of the entire learning process for both instructors and students.
Accessibility: With traditional teaching methods, educational materials were only available during classroom hours. Students may have been able to take their textbooks home with them, but they didn’t have a way to actually interact with or engage the material. With new learning apps and other technological advances, they have more flexibility to access and engage with course material from home. This accessibility along with the opportunity to self-pace the learning could translate into more successful outcomes.
Student engagement in blended learning: Blended learning also presents more opportunities for students to connect with their peers and instructors. They can connect via chat, feedback, or on discussion boards. Courses with an online component is an effective means for instructors and students to become more engaged with one another outside of the classroom. In the end, the benefits of blended learning are powerful. Instructors can keep a better pulse on student progress and engagement, while students can ask more questions, collaborate more frequently with classmates, and gain deeper knowledge.
In addition to instructional efficiency, the blended learning benefits for teachers include greater insight into how their learners are doing. With blended learning tools, instructors have real-time insights to see whether students are engaging with the content and keeping on track with learning goals. They can see what’s working, so they can offer a more effective learning experience. The same goes for the organization’s learning departments. With blended learning, they have real opportunities to deliver faster outcomes at lower costs, as well as reach a much wider audience through the use of blended learning platforms.
Best Practices In Blended Learning
When it comes to best practices in blended learning, the key here is twofold. We must envision, adapt and then apply teaching strategies that mirror the goals of classroom instruction to an online learning environment, AND we must navigate the course development process in a way that leverages blended learning resources and asynchronous discussion tools designed to facilitate that mix of face-to-face and online instruction.
Let’s first talk about instructional strategies to improve student engagement in blended learning.
- Create collaborative community spaces. As more and more of the college experience moves (at least partially) into online spaces, so too must the social interactions among peers. Virtual communities are a great way for colleges to create new spaces for students to connect, ask questions, and offer support. Virtual social communities can be a highly valuable way for students to feel connected to their peers and foster a sense of belonging within the learning community. Instructional designers and instructors can use shared, collaborative spaces, like online discussion boards, to help reinforce the continuity between the asynchronous course materials and synchronous discussions. Students and instructors may share articles, videos, and podcasts that help deepen the conversation and enhance learning.
- Leverage the asynchronous time of blended as a flipped space. Many of us are familiar with the flipped classroom model. You can use that same framework for your asynchronous and synchronous sessions. Your asynchronous materials can help prepare students for the synchronous sessions and also serve as a debriefing space afterward. You can post your course materials online (readings, videos, links, images) and then use a tool like the discussion board to clarify, dive deeper, and explore other perspectives as students continue to reflect after the synchronous session.
- Use active learning techniques. Another way to reinforce continuity is by using active learning techniques. Assign activities during an asynchronous session and have the responses create the agenda or your talking points for the synchronous session. This approach provides ample opportunities for students to process course material through thinking, writing, talking, and problem solving — giving students multiple avenues for learning. It also allows the instructors to provide timely feedback and gives other students an opportunity to practice giving and receiving feedback.
- Refer to asynchronous materials during synchronous sessions and vice versa. This is one of the easiest, no-tech ways to encourage continuity between asynchronous and synchronous sessions. During asynchronous learning, be sure to incorporate how students should interact with these materials, where they’ll see them again in the course, and how you’ll use them in your discussion. During synchronous discussions, refer back to specific materials you shared in asynchronous activities. If students comment on a discussion board or prepare an activity for the class, make that a part of your synchronous session so you can respond to specific points or reinforce learning objectives.
- Build in simple interactions. During live instruction or in offline time, be sure to take temperature checks throughout the class. This could be a simple thumbs up/down or a yes/no poll. These will help you to make sure everyone is engaged and interacting. When teaching live, consciously design pauses into the lesson — using polls — that allow students moments to work with the information being presented and provide feedback. This practice illustrates the importance of technology in blended learning.
Together, these student engagement strategies can help you improve student outcomes in blended learning courses.
Tools for Blended Learning
One of the most impactful ways to engage students in blended learning environments is by mixing these asynchronous and synchronous examples using digital tools for blended learning. Using this kind of distance learning platform can foster better inclusion among all learners, and that often translates into more engaged students.
To achieve this, instructional designers are turning to a suite of online discussion and collaboration tools that are proving to be critical blended learning tools for teachers. These tools focus attention on the activities that drive student engagement, including:
- powering collaboration during course prep with instructors and among students.
- creating multi-directional synchronous and asynchronous communication pathways during coursework to build community.
- fostering inclusive opportunities by removing barriers, enabling flexibility, and expanding access.
These blended learning tools for teaching and learning increase the quality and quantity of student-to-student, student-to-content, and student-to-instructor interactions and include:
- Modern Discussion Boards
- Rich Multimedia & Annotation
- Built-in Chat, Polling & Q&A
- Tagging, Notification & Reactions
- Streamlined Grading to Save Instructors Time & Focus on Feedback
In fact, by helping to foster virtual connection, distance learning technology like this works to reduce the common barriers that often prevent students from fully engaging in their online learning, including minimizing the sense of isolation online learning can cause. In addition, the best tools for blended learning are LTI tools (Learning Tools Interoperability), which allow courseware and blended learning tools from different vendors to be launched within a blended learning platform, often an LMS.
Using technology for blended learning to incorporate an effective mix of synchronous and asynchronous online learning activities provides increased opportunities to engage — leading to higher likelihood of student engagement, retention and success.
Harmonize provides a suite of online discussion & collaboration tools that helps instructors increase student engagement in their courses. Built to integrate seamlessly with the LMS, Harmonize enriches the learning experience with tools that boost engagement, promote inclusive learning, and save valuable time for instructors.