Put simply, blended learning – also known as hybrid learning in the US – is a combination of online/distance learning and on-campus learning.
Different universities use blended learning slightly differently, with some approaching all of their courses this way for 2020-2021 due to the Coronavirus Pandemic. But what exactly is blended learning and is it the right option for you?
Is it just online learning?
At present, almost all forms of postgraduate study are being offered through blended learning and this means the course will involve an element of online learning. Blended learning courses will have a few different approaches to how the course material is presented. For example, there may be reading, self-directed research and an online seminar, whilst other techniques could include online discussion forums, recorded lectures and online tests.
Will you be in a classroom?
You might also be in a physical classroom for a blended learning course or you might be in an online virtual classroom. Some blended learning courses will have the lecture or tutor in one place with the rest of the class in another or they might feature online learning with a field trip where the whole class will get together for an element of the course. With a blended learning class, you might find that almost all of your learning is online, but you should expect to have plenty of interaction with your fellow students and lecturer, even if it is mostly online, rather than working entirely on your own.
What are the advantages?
There are several advantages of blended learning for the institution, lecturers and students. For the institution and the lecturer, there are significant savings to be made in copying notes or papers for students to read, as these are all provided online through PDFs and digital images. This is of benefit to the students as these savings in course costs are often passed onto the students. When it comes to group work, the flexible communication options mean that you never have to get together at the same time, which is often the hardest part about group work, this is another advantage to the students as it gives them much more flexibility. Online formats and different options for communicating with students and tutors mean that everyone will find a way that suits them best. Many universities – such as the University of Plymouth – are investing in new technology to make blended learning experiences better and improve the inclusive nature of their courses for students.
Are there any disadvantages?
Blended learning relies heavily on technology, so if your computer or internet access isn’t up for participating in video conference calls, you will miss out. The ability to easily communicate with fellow students and academic staff can cause some students and lecturers to over-communicate adding to everyone’s workload. It takes time getting used to the different methods, so students and staff may waste time at the start of a course getting used to the software, but hopefully time spent productively at the beginning of the blended learning course will pay dividends further down the line. Sometimes not everyone is studying at the same pace and this can impact on the quality of discussions if not tackled efficiently and effectively. Another thing to look out for if opting for blended learning is to ensure you avoid plagiarism, which is easy to do accidentally if you are working online, copying and pasting content into your written assessments.
What PG courses are available via blended learning?
There are many different types of postgraduate courses available via blended learning, from MBAs to PhDs and covering all sorts of subjects. This table shows some examples of what you can choose from at UK universities.