8/30/2008 (Week One): Our first class met before the semester actually started because of the lost day due to Labor Day this year (to ensure we got our money's worth)! The readings and lecture centered on "blended learning". Although there are several definitions of blended learning, in today's context it can be defined as a mix of online and face to face learning. Blended learning can vary greatly in its ratio of online and in person instruction; from utilizing small amounts of web based applications to supplement a traditional class (enhanced blend), to the opposite, supplementing primarily web based instruction with face to face instruction. Learning can be also be blended at various levels; activity, course, program, and institutional, depending on the goals of the institution.
Blended learning has exploded over the past several years for a number of reasons. Technology has improved rapidly and prices have come down, allowing more people access to the internet and other technological gadgets. Also blended learning is useful in bringing educational opportunities to people who might otherwise not have the chance, such as people located remotely or in large populations that may not otherwise have the infrastructure to support face to face instruction for all potential students. Finally, blended learning is cost effective and convenient for students; often providing them the freedom to participate from home, work, or wherever they may be, whenever they have the time. This convenience is one of the primary reasons for the explosion of blended learning; that is, it has really opened up educational opportunities to adult learners who also have family and job responsibilities.
Blended learning also comes with its challenges, such as providing realism in instruction, teamwork and collaborative skills, etc. Luckily Dr. Kurt Bonk has published a book (of which I can't remember the name right now) describing a number of these potential problems and their solutions. Generally the internet and its applications are vast and powerful enough to solve these problems. For example to add realism students might be assigned to participate in computer simulations, and to facilitate teamwork they might be assigned to do so in groups.
In the near future blended learning will be a term of the past. Remote and face to face learning will be so integrated and so common, it will all just be called learning.