8 Tips for Implementing Blended Learning in Higher Ed
Blended courses are gaining traction in higher education. In 2015, 42.3 percent of academic officers said the blended format held more promise than online courses (Allen, Seaman, Poulin, & Straut, 2016, p. 31). If you’re considering implementing blended learning in your program or higher ed institution, here are lessons I’ve learned from Spring Arbor University’s launch of a blended nursing program.
1: Start with the why.
Before investing time and resources, determine why you’re offering blended courses. Are you jumping on an educational bandwagon? Are you offering it because it’s new and innovative? Or are you meeting a need in the marketplace?
At SAU, we offer the RN-MSN program in the blended format. Students are typically practicing RNs who work 12-hour shifts while balancing family and other responsibilities. They don’t want to spend hours in a face-to-face classroom but they don’t want a completely online program. Blended learning makes sense for them.
2: Speak the same language.
As an institution, define blended versus face-to-face versus online learning. If you establish terms and criteria, it helps reduce confusion because people are talking about the same thing.
Oftentimes an instructor will contact our design team because they want to create an online course. When we ask a few questions, however, we realize the instructor really wants a web-enhanced face-to-face class. Having clear terms helps determine the format and how it should be designed.
3: Create a process.
You’ve established the why and the what. Now determine the how.
Establish criteria to determine whether a course can be offered in a blended format. Is it being offered in a blended format to accommodate the instructor’s busy schedule? Or is it for sound pedagogical reasons? Who makes the decision to make it a blended course? Is there a process that needs to be followed within certain deadlines so everything is set for financial aid or the registrar’s office? Does a blended course require help from your institution’s instructional design team (if you have one)?
At SAU, for example, we use a rubric to determine whether to offer an on-campus class in the blended format. Find a process that works for you and stick to it!
4: Spread the word.
Make sure your recruiters, advisers, and other relevant people have a basic understanding of blended learning. If they don’t know what it is, how can they accurately communicate it to students? It’s not fair to students who sign up for a blended program thinking it’s 70 percent face-to-face and 30 percent online only to discover it’s just the opposite once they begin.
Communicate clearly and communicate often.
5: Don’t neglect the administrative end.
Make sure it’s set up with the registrar’s office. How will blended courses be transcripted? When students register for a class, it needs to be clear they’re signing up for a blended versus a traditional face-to-face class or online class. This step reduces student frustrations and administrative headaches.
Years ago, a co-worker took an online class and later discovered she was required to come to the main campus (which was hours away) to take the final exam in person. She was angry and rightly so. If it’s a blended course, make sure it’s listed that way.
6: Set an attendance policy.
Blended courses are unique because you have students attending both online and face-to-face. Some students may blow off the face-to-face classes and/or some of the online weeks. In online courses, attendance typically is recorded when a student completes assignments and interacts with the learning management system.
Why is this important? Financial aid! Say it with me again: Financial aid! If students aren’t attending classes, they lose financial aid. Very important.
Create a clear attendance policy that is communicated in the student handbook and in the syllabus so students know what’s expected.
7: Set students up for success.
Studies show many students experience anxiety and stress about using technology to complete online coursework. To help students, SAU requires attendance of a blended orientation before they begin the program. The orientation is designed like a blended course. Students complete coursework online so they become familiar with the learning management system and then they meet face-to-face to wrap up the orientation. In a future post, I’ll discuss the orientation design in detail.
8: Set instructors up for success.
While instructors are content matter experts, they may be novices when it comes to blended learning. Instructors shouldn’t waste valuable face-to-face time lecturing from a PowerPoint. Instead, classroom time should be engaging, interactive, and collaborative. Spend time on group activities, presentations, guest speakers, etc.
Figure out a plan for faculty training so instructors and students have a great experience in the blended format.
So what do you think? Did I miss anything?
Hit the comment button and share lessons you’ve learned when launching blended courses.
Allen, I. E., Seaman, J., Poulin, R., & Straut, T. T. (2016). Online report card: Tracking online education in the United States. Newburyport, MA: Babson Survey Research Group and Quahog Research Group, LLC. Retrieved from http://onlinelearningconsortium.org/read/online-report-card-tracking-online-education-united-states-2015/