In the current and post COVID world of VET, using more flexible approaches to learning are called for, especially blended learning.
What is blended learning and what represents good practice? Let’s explore!
So, what is this thing called blended learning?
Blended learning can be defined as combining face-to-face teaching with a wide range of technology-enabled modes of learning including online, virtual and mobile. Social interaction, collaboration, communication and support systems for students are really important in underpinning good blended delivery and are critical in making sure it works effectively as a learning approach
Blended learning is the a very good model for VET delivery as it adopts a range of delivery modes in varying proportions to meet the requirements of the course and each student’s circumstance and learning preferences. Importantly, it’s flexible and can also provide opportunities for synchronous and asynchronous learning and can help gain and cultivate important independent learning skills. However, the full potential of blended delivery remains unexplored and underutilised in VET, and we look at why this might be later.
What good practice in blended learning looks like
There are a few resources that take a look at good practice. One from the University of Western Sydney published in 2013 is worth a look. In addition, there are other resources, a good practice report, authored by Helen Partridge, Deborah Ponting and Meryl McCay and published in 2011 and one from Victoria University.
Some key design principles are summarised here, and this article by Connie Malamed has a number of links to other resources too. These include designing to meet desired learning outcomes and organisational needs, not just making use of particular technologies that might happen to be available. The message is:
You are in control, and the technology should serve you, not the other way around.
The learning approaches should be blended to work well together, not just be thrown together. In fact, it may be better to design from scratch rather than try to adapt existing materials but, having said that, using what is out there and making a cohesive package of new and ‘old’ materials and resources can be very useful and quicker than starting from scratch. However, any ‘old’ resources used need to be critically evaluated to make sure they are fit for purpose, and that is a skill resource developers and users need to develop.
Trials or pilots are useful too if you have the time, and continuing to evaluate the resources and processes once in use is also important. Finally, blended is a different way of learning and so supporting learners as they move to this new approach is important. It’s also important that the provider’s senior management and other key staff are on-board and supportive of the approach and that students have good access to necessary hardware and the internet.
While principles of good blended delivery are much the same as those of good traditional teaching, this does not mean that the latter always translates easily into the former. Good practice in blended learning needs highly skilled and knowledgeable teachers in using the approach. They also need to be good at troubleshooting and have empathy for their students. A paper by Li Na, Anna Daniel, Craig Poole delivered at the AVETRA conference in 2017 noted that to implement the approach effectively in VET required the right technological infrastructure, and potentially new digital skills and digital literacy for both staff and students. Work is also needed to overcome any attitudinal barriers to implementing blended delivery. Adequate time for planning and organisation has to be allocated.
Why don’t we do more of it?
Well, some of the reasons have been reported above. Preparing students to use the approach is important. Just because they use Facebook and other media online does not mean they are necessarily savvy in using this approach to learning. Teachers need to guide them into using the approach and make sure they have built their dynamic as a group of learners – which is often best done face to face before they are ‘cut loose’ to use the technologies to study, work together and communicate.
But two other things are vital: teachers with the skills to make best use of the approach and instructional designers – and teachers – who can develop the blended learning approach and resources. And, at the end of the day, you need a good learning management system (LMS) to bind the whole thing together. The trouble is, there is a lot of choice for LMSs out there, so choosing well is important.
Finding more information about it
The VOCEDPlus database has a teaching, learning and assessment practitioner resource. One of these focuses on blended learning and allows you to access some free resources and to access information relevant to VET stored on VOCED.