Blended Learning in K-12/Definition

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Dr. Margaret Driscoll identifies four different concepts in defining blended learning The first defines blended learning as meaning "to combine or mix modes of Web-based technology (e.g., live virtual classroom, self-paced instruction, collaborative learning, streaming video, audio, and text) to accomplish an educational goal." (Driscoll, 2002) Other authors also define blended learning according to Driscoll’s first. For example in the introduction to "Building Effective Blended Learning Programs", Harry Singh (2003) indicates blended learning models “combine various delivery modes. Anecdotal evidence indicates that blended learning not only offers more choices but also is more effective."

Dr. Driscoll’s second definition describes blended learning as meaning "to combine various pedagogical approaches (e.g., constructivism, behaviorism, cognitivism) to produce an optimal learning outcome with or without instructional technology." (Driscoll, 2002)

As Charles Graham points out in his introduction to the article “Blended Learning Systems: Definition, Current Trends, and Future Directions”, both of these first two concepts “suffer from the problem that they define BL so broadly that there encompass virtually all learning systems.” (Bonk & Graham, 2004)

The third definition from Dr. Driscoll (2002) defines blended learning as meaning "to combine any form of instructional technology (e.g., videotape, CD-ROM, Web-based training, film) with face-to-face instructor-led training." (Driscoll, 2002) Most authors echo this definition such as Gary Harriman, who indicated in his article, “What is Blended Learning” (2004), that “blended learning combines online with face-to-face learning. The goal of blended learning is to provide the most efficient and effective instruction experience by combining delivery modalities." (GrayHarriman, 2004) In addition, Judith Smith in her article, “Blended Learning: An Old Friend Gets a New Name”, defined blended learning “as a method of educating at a distance that uses technology (high-tech, such as television and the Internet or low-tech, such as voice mail or conference calls) combined with traditional (or, stand-up) education or training." (Smith, 2001) Simply put the Rochester Institute of Technology reported in the “Blended Learning Pilot Project: Final Report for the Academic Year 2003–2004” that "blended learning aims to join the best of classroom teaching and learning with the best of online teaching and learning." (Rochester Institute, 2004) New South Wales Department of Education and Training (2005) echoes the above authors in the article, "Blended Learning” by stating "blended learning is learning which combines online and face-to-face approaches." (NSW, 2005) Richard Voos (2003) also repeats this definition that blended learning is a combination of face-to-face and online media while he goes on to state that blended learning also results in "seat time" being “significantly reduced”. (Voos, 2003) Carla Garnham and Robert Kaleta (2002) identified blended learning or hybrid courses as joining the best features of “in-class teaching with the best features of online learning to promote active independent learning and reduce class seat time." (Garnham and Kaleta, 2002) Alfred Rovai and Hope Jordan (Aug 2004) in the article "Blended Learning and Sense of Community: A Comparative Analysis with Traditional and Fully Online Graduate Courses" indicate "a blended course can lie anywhere between the continuum anchored at opposite ends by fully face-to-face and fully online learning environments." (Rovai and Jordan, 2004) “According to Colis and Moonen (2001) blended learning is a hybrid of traditional face-to-face and online learning so that instruction occurs both in the classroom and online, and where the online component becomes a natural extension of traditional classroom learning." (Rovai and Jordan, 2004) e-Learning Centre's Library defines blended learning as "a learning solution created through a mixture of face-to-face, live e-learning, self-paced learning as well through a mix of media – ‘the magic is in the mix!’ or ‘the beauty is in the blend!’ " (e-Learning Centre, 2005) The Australian National Training Authority’s (2003) “Definitions of Key Terms Used in e-learning” provides a definition of blended learning from Flexible Learning Advisory Group (2004) as “learning methods that combine e-learning with other forms of flexible learning and more traditional forms of learning. “

The fourth concept from Dr. Driscoll defines blended learning as meaning "to mix or combine instructional technology with actual job tasks in order to create a harmonious effect of learning and working." (Driscoll, 2002) This fourth definition gives an indication as to the popularity of blended learning as part of corporate training. "Blended Learning is the latest buzzword in corporate training. Mixing e-learning with other types of training delivery." (Bersin, 2003)

There are other authors who have defined blended learning by combining Driscoll’s first and third concept. The Royer Center for Learning and Academic Technologies (2004) defines blended learning as intermingling “multiple learning strategies or methods with a variety of media. In contemporary terms, learning strategies and media typically include aspects of face-to-face instruction and online (or distance) learning, in combination with a rich variety of learning strategies or dimensions." (Royer, 2004) From “The Node's Guide to Blended Learning: Getting the Most out of Your Classroom and the Internet” (2001), the Node Learning Technologies Network defines blended learning as learning that uses “multiple strategies, methods and delivery systems” including the “integration of multiple strategies, methods and delivery systems”.

"Good teachers have always used a mix of strategies, methods and media to reach their objectives–that’s not new. What is new is that today’s Internet-based tools can facilitate communication, interaction, and collaborative learning in ways that were not possible before. What’s also new is the relative accessibility of digital learning technologies and the ease with which instructors can blend them with classroom resources" (Node, 2003).

Purnima Valiathan (2002) in "Blended Learning Models” also combined the Driscoll’s first and third concepts of blended learning in stating that the term blended learning is “used to describe a solution that combines several different delivery methods, such as collaboration software, Web-based courses, EPSS, and knowledge management practices … to describe learning that mixes various event-based activities, including face-to-face classrooms, live e-learning, and self-paced learning." (Valiathan, 2002)

In defining “blended learning”, a few authors concentrate on the word blended. As defined in The Concise Oxford Dictionary, 8th edition, to blend means to “form a harmonious compound, become one”. (Concise Oxford Dictionary 8th edition,1990) As Peter Isackson (2002) emphasizes, the definition of blended learning needs to focus on the "blending" of the methods and strategies and not just the "tossing" together of the different modalities. Isackson (2002) uses the analogy of good blending "like a good Scotch whiskey"; Royer Center (2004) offers additional analogies of blending as "compared to gourmet coffees, wines, hybrid vehicles, and even gasoline. Each blend offers a variety of choices that form an appealing whole." (Royer, 2004) In connection with these analogies the Royer Center (2004) goes on to explain that blended learning can have a variety of flavors and thus “there is no single approach for ‘how to blend’ ”, just as there exist different recipes for one type of food dish. “Successful blended learning, like a successful recipe, mingles a range of complementary ingredients in order to support the unique purpose of each learning event." (Royer, 2004) Thus, as Isackson (2004) points out, “much of what people claim to offer today as "blended learning" isn't so much blended (like a good Scotch whisky) but "tossed" (like a salad).” There is the need to “distinguish between blended learning -- where there is a real input/output strategy and a dynamic structure -- and "tossed learning" where the form of input alternates." (Isackson, 2002) As reported in “The Node's Guide to Blended Learning: Getting the Most out of Your Classroom and the Internet”, "blended learning can be many things–there is no prescription and no recipe." (Node, 2003)

Finally, as there are a number of concepts for defining blended learning, Martin Oliver and Keith Trigwell (2005) in their article, "Can 'blended learning' Be Redeemed", are critical of using the term at all. Oliver and Trigwell (2005) argue that the term ‘blended learning’ is “ill-defined and inconsistently used. Whilst its popularity is increasing, its clarity is not.” Oliver and Trigwell (2005) state that definitions of blended learning lack “an analysis from the perspective of the learner." Oliver and Trigwell (2005) suggest the need for a "shift away from manipulating the blend as seen by the teacher, to an in-depth analysis of the variation in the experience of the learning of the student in the blended learning context.Along the same line as Oliver and Trigwell's (2005) criticism of the use of the term "blended learning", Don Morrison (2003) writes, "Personally, I’m much more comfortable talking about the strategic use of learning delivery channels than ‘blended learning’. Every enterprise has learning delivery channels—it's a question of identifying them and deciding which to use when." He continues by saying, "I have heard blended learning dismissed as the Emperor's New Clothes on the basis that all learning—from infancy, through the classroom, and into the enterprise—is blended learning." (Morrison, 2003)