Photo by TPEGroup Photography & Design

A dash of VLE, a pinch of f2f, and a large dollop of motivation. Blend well. Blended learning has been around for a while, and some studies claim that it can be more effective than purely f2f learning. But as with any course, you´ll get some good blended courses and you´ll get some bad ones. The key question is – what makes the difference? What makes a good blended course?

8 critical success  factors

A good place to start is 2007. In 2007 Selim identified eight critical factors for the successful implementation of blended learning (in this case at university level)*:

  1. instructor’s attitude towards and control of the technology
  2. instructor’s teaching style
  3. student motivation and technical competency
  4. student interactive collaboration
  5. e-learning course content and structure
  6. ease of on-campus internet access
  7. effectiveness of information technology infrastructrue
  8. institutional support of e-learning activities

* See more here.

Based on Selim´s list, and my own experience of online and blended teaching and course design, I’ve boiled this down to a few of the basic things that I think make a blended course ‘good’.  Here they are:

1 Expectations: Participants´ expectations need to match course content and delivery mechanisms. According to research, a major cause of dropout is caused by a mismatch between expectations and reality. Make sure your course aims are clear and match course design and delivery. Selim doesn’t mention this one, but it’s a good place to start.

2 Tech savviness and experience: Of both participants and course tutors. This is related to Selim´s factors 1 and 3. It is self-evident that less tech-confident course members will need more support during the online phase(s), and that tutors should have minimal tech trouble-shooting skills.

3 Online tutor skills: Tutors need to know how to create a good group dynamic, be ‘present’, motivate participants, provide ongoing feedback and guidance, summarise, weave and carry forward forum discussions, provide timely focused questions to encourage critical thinking…and more. I’ve blogged about key online tutor skills here, and about how to evaluate online tutors here.

4 F2f and online link: In a blended course the online and f2f parts need to be clearly linked. If the online and f2f tutor is not the same person, there needs to be regular liaising. How does the online aspect of the course complement and enhance the f2f part? Where is the added value of the blend? You will also need institutional support and buy in for online part. Is it possible to have international cohorts for the online part?

5 Access: Where and when are participants accessing the online part of the course from? Bandwidth issues can affect their experience of content (e.g.videoconferencing will be difficult or impossible from a dial-up connection). If work and family commitments make it tricky for participants to log on regularly, this will affect online pair and group work. How will you deal with this? What about making participants aware of the wider issues of time management needed for online work?

Clearly (all) learning is situated in a social context, and we ignore factors beyond the course content itself at our peril. Keeping these factors in mind should inform all stages of blended courses: from planning, to delivery, to evaluation.

What about the blended course(s) you are involved with? How do they measure up against Selim´s list, and my 5 things above? Could they help you to get the right blend?

Nicky Hockly
The Consultants-E
April 2011