Photo by John Jackson on Unsplash

The fourth topic of the ONL191 course was devoted to designing learning process within online and blended environments. I was especially interested in the latter of the two. Throughout my education I was able to try out all three modes of learning in Higher Education: standard on-site classes, blended master’s program, and fully online courses. Blended learning seems to struck a great balance between the accessibility of the online environments and sociability of the regular classroom, which is why I was able to get the most out of it. 

In her presentation, M. Cleveland-Innes points to an underappreciated aspect of teaching in general – emotions. Without a proper emotional environment, and the adequate emotional presence conscious of people’s affects, emotions and feelings, learning process can be substantially hindered or, in extreme cases, completely impossible.

Emotions can be tricky to manage in a purely online environment, especially for those with tendencies to ruminate. Not seeing others may lead to the growth of negative emotions – an innocent remark devoid of the typical non-verbal characteristics, such as tone of voice, face expression or body language, may be taken as something insensible, offending, ironinc or with a hidden message. And without the visibility of emotional response the author of such remark may never even know about the negative emotions s/he has caused. Seeing people face to face helps relief the tensions and get rid of misunderstandings. It helps to ensure that “everything is OK”, bringing so much needed social feedback. 

Purely online environments may, and definitely should, introduce many aspects of, what Vaughan et al call, “Social Presence” in their Community of Inquiry Framework (2013, p. 12).  But it is much easier to work on open communication and group cohesion, if community is given opportunities to meet in a physical space. The study made Alfred P. Rovai and Hope M. Jordan (2004) showed that “students in the blended course exhibited similar sense of community and variability as students in the traditional course”, which was not true for the fully online course. Additionally, blended model allowed teachers to focus less on instruction itself, and more on the actual learning process. It also helped relief some of the frustrations connected to a purely online course.

In an increasingly digitized world, we are spending an ever-growing time in front of the screens, and not without reason – digital technologies make our lives easier and help us save time. Online learning brings convenience to students and teachers alike, helping them manage high speed of their professional activities. They offer accessibility, allowing students to set their own pace and absorb knowledge in the most appropriate to them way. They also allow teachers to minimize the amount of time and effort put into delivering this knowledge to students, shifting their focus to the support they can offer in learning and understanding. But this takes its toll, not only in the form of an eye-strain or sitting lifestyle, but also on the opportunities that we have to socialize with others, contributing to toxicity in online environments and growing loneliness. Blended learning is a middle solution offering the best of both – the sense of community without the burdens of everyday commute and standardized instruction.

Blended learning – balancing emotions and reason