[Reflections of Topic 4: “Designing for online and blended learning”]

To share a post on how to design a course for Blended Learning (BL), l’ll first establish a common understanding of how I define BL. From which I then explain how COVID helped push online learning adoption overnight but in the process gave it a bad name. With the air clarified, we can proceed on how a good BL experience could be designed.

,”Blended Learning” by ,Johanna Kawasaki is licensed under ,CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Defining BL 2.0

Although nearly 2 decades old, I find this 2004 definition from Garrison & Kanuka, the most appropriate. They define BL as

“The thoughtful integration of classroom face-to-face learning experiences with online experiences”.

Learners’ behaviour patterns have shifted over the years. Long form lecture recordings are now passe. Learners expect well designed, bite-size content that is pre-recorded and made available to them before class. This embraces the flipped classroom model where precious class time is now spent on engaging with instructor / other learners on higher value learning activities done face-to-face (F2F) or virtually.

At the height of COVID-19 pandemic, all F2F classes were cancelled but learning still had to go on. So, F2F interaction evolved overnight from classroom to synchronous online learning. Hence, I feel that the 2004 definition of BL still stands true but with a caveat that classroom learning can now be done via F2F or virtually, and that learners embrace self-directed learning (SDL).

Why does BL have a bad name?

Due to the threat of COVID-19, institutions around the world mandated that all F2F classes be converted to online format. However, the speed in which this transition happened was unprecedented. Campus support teams were unable to suddenly support all faculty within such a short period (Hodges, C., 2020).

In such an emergency situation, courses were hurriedly put together & taught in an alternative delivery mode without careful design. This is what we call emergency remote teaching (ERT). Unfortunately, when people mention online or BL during these COVID years, they tend to associate it with ERT. We know this when we see their eye rolls and hear them sigh collectively. So, BL inherited much bad karma thanks to ERT.

How to design a good BL experience

I believe that effort saved upstream will compound several fold downstream. Thus, I’ll start by listing the things NOT to do, followed by Must do, good-to-have & lastly nice-to-have.

A. Key things You Must avoid:

  1. Jump straight into the shiny edtech tools. // Instead, focus on pedagogy.
  2. Design your content based on Learning Styles. // ,VARK has been around for ages, but ONL222 has opened my eyes to ,looking at learning preferences, rather than learning styles. Don’t waste unnecessary effort when it’s been proven that ,learners learn best through mixed modalities.
  3. Assume that learners are all digital literate and a whiz with technology. // Instead, do a proper Target Audience Analysis which will better determine how much scaffolding, training/ orientation and technical support is needed for the course to be successful.

B. Key things you Must do:

  1. Build around established frameworks suited for BL. // IMO the ,Community of Inquiry (COI) is best suited for BL.
  2. Follow best practices from experts in the field of BL. // Check out the official “,Guide to Blended Learning” written by Dr Cleveland-Innes and Dan Wilton. It’s a comprehensive guide covering appropriate theoretical frameworks that support BL, as well as strategies for successful BL deployment, and how to design/develop/evaluate BL courses. If you want just some key takeaways, check out my ,earlier blog post.
  3. Plan your learning outcomes. // Why would your learner even want to learn this? They will be thinking WIIFM? Use this to help plan your learning objectives. Yes, ,Learning outcomes ≠ Learning objectives.
  4. Plan your assessment. // Formative or summative? Is the rubric clear? Which quizzes count to the final grade? You could use an external tool (e.g. ,h5p or ,Panopto’s built-in quiz) to build quizzes to help with simple recall and use your native LMS quiz for the high-stakes quizzes. Not only will students appreciate the distinction, it also gives you cleaner analytics data to study students’ learning patterns.
  5. Build upon the success of others. // Use templates and BL toolkits that have been designed and refined by other educators in your field. Don’t go at it alone.

C. Good-to-have:

  1. Plan your synchronous and asynchronous learning activities. // Choose from the ,myriad of options which ones you feel works well; keep track how much time each activity will take and update your lesson plan [link to template coming soon]. Don’t bite off more than you can chew!
  2. Plan the sequence of your learning activities. // Factor enough time to keep learners occupied but also buffer in time for delays/ distraction and most importantly dedicate a segment to summarise learning and conclude properly by linking the learning to practical applications. Love this pro tip from Dr Robin Kay!
  3. Chunk and scaffold your content. // Create bite-sized portions so that the content can be consumed more easily. Honestly, when was the last time you were able to absorb more than 8 mins of content? No, bingeing on Netflix does not count. Follow Mayer’s 12 Principles of Multimedia Learning as you create these digital resources. As a fan of Mayer’s work, I wrote a ,blog post about this too.
  4. Controlled release of SDL content in a deliberate, specific sequence. // one module per week. This goes against the traditional Open Learning model where learners expect to see everything, like a buffet spread. However, my experience has been that a controlled release works better in keeping the cohort of learners together. Just because they follow a cohort does not mean that they are a learning community (White, 2022). However, keeping learners around the same pace allows more relevant and meaningful discussion.
  5. Promote Social Presence by encouraging discourse via forums. // Set clear guidelines and have a facilitator (e.g. a teaching assistant) to monitor this. ,LTLO’s facilitators (Dan & Angelo) do this very well. Check out their MOOC and learn from the best.

D. Nice-to-have:

  1. Embrace the 5Rs of Retain, Reuse, Revise, Remix and Redistribute. // Don’t reinvent the wheel. Much of the content probably exists in some form already. Leverage on ,OER to build upon the work of other like minded educators who believe in Open Learning and sharing. ,NUS libraries also curate free content for educators.
  2. Plan a combination of both individual (SDL) and group (collaborative learning) tasks. // Given the chance, won’t your students benefit more from also learning how to solve problems collaboratively?
  3. Pick your technology tools carefully. // While we all know that pedagogy is key, choosing the right technology is also important to increase success in creating an engaging online learning experience. The bad news, there are too many tools out there, we can get lost in the haystack and some are difficult to use. The good news, these tools are getting better (more intuitive) by the day. The trick is to identify the right one.
    1. Pro tip 1: most of the freemium tools will meet 80% of your needs. Trial with them first. If you grow past this stage, consider paying a little premium to unlock the hidden features.
    2. Pro tip 2: many software (,Miro) have education licences which gives teachers/ educators even more control at no cost!
  4. Embrace ,MVP strategy. // A good BL course is a product that is never finished. It will be continually evolving to changing conditions. Your course does not have to be perfect to launch. Test out your pilot with colleagues, trial run with a small group of learners, refine continuously. Progressive and steady improvement.
  5. Use memes. // It’s free, it’s fun and ,helps engage your learners. What’s not to like?

While these are the things I feel are key ingredients to designing a good BL experience, I believe there are many more pro tips out there. What have I left out? Let me hear in the comments sections. Made it to the end of this long post? Thank you!


Benedict Chia

03 Dec 2022

Designing a Good Blended Learning Experience