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Blended learning is a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through delivery of content and instruction via digital and online media with some element of student control over time, place, path or pace. While still attending a “brick-and-mortar” school structure, face-to-face classroom methods are combined with computer-mediated activities. A lack of consensus on a definition of blended learning has led to difficulties in research about its effectiveness in the classroom.
Proponents of blending learning cite the opportunity for data collection and customization of instruction and assessment as two major benefits of this approach. Schools with blended learning models may also choose to reallocate resources to boost student achievement outcomes.
The concept of blended learning has been around for a long time, but its terminology was not firmly established until around the beginning of the 21st century. One of the earliest reference to the term appears in a press release in 1999, when the Interactive Learning Centers, an Atlanta-based education business, announced its change of name to EPIC learning. The article mentions that “The Company currently operates 220 on-line courses, but will begin offering its Internet courseware using the company's Blended Learning methodology.” The meaning of blended learning widely diverged to encompass a wide variety of synthesis in learning methods until 2006, when the first Handbook of Blended Learning by Bonk and Graham was published. In this publication Graham challenged the breadth and ambiguity of the term's definition, and defined 'blended learning systems' as learning systems that "combine face-to-face instruction with computer mediated instruction." Currently, use of the term blended learning mostly involves "combining Internet and digital media with established classroom forms that require the physical co-presence of teacher and students."
The terms "blended," "hybrid," "technology-mediated instruction," "web-enhanced instruction," and "mixed-mode instruction" are often used interchangeably in current research literature. However, recent researchers[when?] in the United States tend to use the term "blended learning" with more regularity.
Technology-based training emerged as an alternative to instructor-led training in the 1960s on mainframes and mini-computers. The major advantage that blended learning offers is scale, whereas one instructor can only teach so many people. One example is PLATO (Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations), a system developed by the University of Illinois and Control Data. PLATO in particular had a long history of innovations and offered coursework from elementary to the college level. Mainframe-based training had a number of interface limitations that gave way to satellite-based live video in the 1970s. The advantage here was serving people who were not as PC-literate, The major challenge was the expense required to make this work. In the early 1990s, CD-ROMs emerged as a dominant form of providing technology-based learning as bandwidth through 56k modems weren’t able to support very high quality sound and video. The limitation to CD-ROMs was tracking completion of coursework, so learning management systems emerged as a way to facilitate progress tracking. The aviation industry used this heavily to track how well one did on courses, how much time was spent, and where someone left off. AICC, Aviation Industry Computer-Based Training Committee, was formed in 1988 and companies such as Boeing used CD-ROMs to provide training for personnel. Modern blended learning is delivered online, although CD-ROMs could feasibly still be used if a learning management system meets an institution’s standards. Some examples of channels through which online blending learning can be delivered include webcasting (synchronous and asynchronous) and online video (live and recorded). Solutions such as Khan Academy have been used in classrooms to serve as platforms for blended learning.
Although there is little consensus on the definition of blended learning and some academic studies have suggested it is a redundant term there are distinct blended learning models that have been suggested by educational think tanks and some academic studies.
Face to face driver - where the teacher drives the instruction and augments with digital tools.
Rotation - students cycle through a schedule of independent online study and face-to-face classroom time.
Flex - Most of the curriculum is delivered via a digital platform and teachers are available for face-to-face consultation and support.
Labs - All of the curriculum is delivered via a digital platform but in a consistent physical location. Students usually take traditional classes in this model as well.
Self-Blend - Students choose to augment their traditional learning with online course work.
Online Driver - All curriculum and teaching is delivered via a digital platform and face-to-face meetings are scheduled or made available if necessary.
Examples of how models of blended learning are being applied are generally mixed in and found in the evaluation of E-learning.
Proponents of blended learning argue that incorporating the "asynchronous Internet communication technology" into higher education courses serves to "facilitate a simultaneous independent and collaborative learning experience", and this incorporation is a major contributor to student satisfaction and success in such courses. The use of information and communication technologies have been found to improve access to as well as student attitudes towards learning. By incorporating information technology into class projects, communication between lecturers and part-time students has improved, and students were able to better evaluate their understanding of course material via the use of "computer-based qualitative and quantitative assessment modules" in a study by Alexander and McKenzie (1998). Students with special talents or interests outside of the available curricula use e-learning to advance their skills or exceed grade restrictions. Some online institutions connects students with instructors via web conference technology to form a digital classroom. These institutions borrow many of the technologies that have popularized online courses at the university level.
Some advantages of blended learning, particularly at a Kindergarten to grade 12 level of education can be found under the general concept of E-learning.
Blended learning has a strong dependence on the technical resources with which the blended learning experience is delivered---these tools need to be reliable, easy to use, and up to date in order for the use of the Internet to have a meaningful impact on the learning experience. Additionally, IT literacy can serve as a significant barrier for students attempting to get access to the course materials, making the availability of high quality technical support paramount.
It has been observed that the use of lecture recording technologies can result in students falling behind on the material---in a study performed across four different universities, it was found that only half of the students watched the lecture videos on a regular basis, and nearly 40% of students watched several weeks' worth of videos in one sitting.
A learning management system helps develop a better feel for an online community where discussions can be held to better aid students. This Virtual Learning Environment helps connect professors with students without physically being present, thus making this a 'Virtual Cafe'. Many schools use this online tool for online classes, classwork, question & answer forums, and other school related work. Blended learning yielded positive results from the online community, such results were compared and showed similar results from that of Alcoholics Anonymous and Weight Watchers.
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