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What Is Blended Learning and How Can It Be Incorporated in Higher Ed?

What Is Blended Learning and How Can It Be Incorporated in the Classroom? 

The next time you are on campus, at an education conference, or in your office, perform this experiment: stop ten random individuals and ask them to define blended learning. My guess is that you’ll get a range of responses, with some answering that it’s about “bringing technology into the classroom”, others suggesting that it’s about using online tools in the on-campus classroom, and others sharing definitions like “flipped classrooms”, “personalized learning”, or “hybrid”.

The reality is that while definitions of “blended learning” differ, they generally stem from the idea that using technology in a classroom is a new concept – but it’s not. Let’s take a look at the past then fast forward to now to understand what “blending” really means. Once it is put into context, a path to successfully implementing it in a classroom becomes clearer.

Blended Learning is No New Concept.

Imagine a classroom where students use a device to collaborate in real time, pass messages, and share ideas. This “innovation” that I’m alluding to is a portable blackboard, which has been used in classrooms as far back as the 19th century. Since these devices were small, encased in wooden frames, and moveable, they enabled students to collaborate and share ideas in ways they couldn’t do prior. These are concepts that we commonly attribute to today’s smart phones, not devices created a couple hundred ago.

A similar story can be told about the slide rule and the TI-85 calculator – the key takeaway is that blended learning is not a modern concept. Education has always been blended; it’s the tools and technology that change. It is with this in mind that we must frame everything related to bringing technology into the classroom. It does not have to be the latest innovation, nor the most expensive, nor backed by a Silicon Valley startup to be considered “blended”.

Why Blend Learning?

There is an increasing body of research that supports the efficacy of implementing blended programs. In his January 2018 article “Empowering Learners through Blended Learning”, Dr. Ron Owston states that the choice and flexibility about when and where students can participate in the online portion of their course can lead to high levels of learner satisfaction, self-efficacy, and performance.  With blended learning, you’re meeting students where they already are. Their expectation is that we, the instructors and administrators, are as technically integrated as they are.

The LMS is the Gateway to Blended Learning.

Bringing technology into the classroom is deeply unique to each institution, discipline, and classroom and requires a plan. To determine a starting point that’s right for you, begin by looking at your LMS. While the LMS has become ubiquitous in the virtual higher education space, not everyone has one – but they should if they want to effectively facilitate blended learning. The LMS serves an extraordinarily useful role in blending learning through the support of interoperability protocols, which bridge the gap between the latest ed-tech tools and the student.

Connect Your LMS into an Emerging Ed-Tech App Market with Interoperability Protocols.

To explain what interoperability protocols are, think about the LMS like a smartphone you just brought home from the store. Out of the box, this smartphone will make phone calls, connect to your email, manage your calendar, etc. – but it’s the apps from the phone’s app store that really extend its capability and let you personalize it.

Tucked away inside virtually every major LMS on the market today is a protocol to connect your students with learning tools from all over the world, and the best part is it’s completely free. The Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) protocol is an open-source standard published by the industry group IMS Global. It effectively connects your LMS to hundreds of providers which includes free resources, such as Open Education Resources (OER), and licensed resources through commercial publishers such as Wiley.

Key Takeaways: How to Facilitate Blended Learning in the Classroom.

So how can you start blending learning in your classroom? Here are the top takeaways:

  1. The LMS is your gateway to blended learning.
  2. If you don’t have an LMS, or if your current one doesn’t support interoperability protocols like LTI, it’s time for an upgrade. Wiley offers a proprietary LMS built on Moodle™ to our partners.
  3. The LTI protocol is the means to connect your LMS into an emerging ed-tech app market of both free and licensed tools.
  4. Instructors are empowered to find and integrate the right LTI enabled ed-tech tools into the LMS that benefit their unique classrooms.
  5. Institutions can control access to LTI tools in the LMS and integrate licensed providers for access to expansive and deep resources.

If blended learning is truly synonymous with ed tech, make sure you’re choosing the right technology with open and interoperable features so you’re not locked out of the future. Most importantly, by leveraging a capability likely already in your LMS, the choices are yours in how and what you blend.

For more tips and strategies to increase learning engagement and technology in the classroom, see our Resources page.

Blaine Helmick

Senior Manager of Systems Engineering, Wiley Education Services

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