Getting Started with Designing a Blended Learning Course

A blended learning or course takes the “best of both worlds” by combining the best of face-to-face learning with the best of online learning. Technology may better facilitate some types of learning, and class time can be shortened and/or used for activities that better lend themselves to face-to-face interaction. An integrated course model accommodates a wider range of learning styles by offering flexibility, more options for learning, and integration of learning activities that lead to deeper learning. These are just a few techniques that instructors have used to design blended learning courses.

How to Design a Blended Learning Course

Questions to ask:

  • What do you want your students to be able to do, know, or value as a result of taking your class?
  • What learning activities or assessments will provide students with opportunities to develop or demonstrate achievement of the course learning outcomes?
  • Which of these learning activities or assessments would best lend themselves to an online format and which to a face-to-face format? What combination of online and in-class activities would best address the course teaching and learning objectives?

Online Learning Activities

  • Work collaboratively – Wikis and blogs allow students to collaborate in a flexible manner with fewer time and space restrictions. Have students compile a course glossary together, or work in groups to produce a proposal. Collaborative writing exposes students to various writing styles and approaches and provides them with more feedback on their own writing and ideas.
  • Prepare for in-class activities – In addition to assigning readings, providing some course content online through video tutorials or documentaries, for example, allows students to preview course material visually. Requiring students to take an online quiz before attending class can be a source of motivation while providing instant feedback regarding their understanding of the material.
  • Engage all students in discussions – Offering students the opportunity to discuss online accommodates a variety of learning preferences. Asynchronous (not confined by time) discussions allow students time to think and reflect before responding. Online discussions are also documented so students and instructors can always view, evaluate, and build on all contributions.
  • Develop self-assessment and peer assessment skills – Online assessment tools facilitate ease in giving and receiving feedback. Assignments can be posted online, and students can post instant responses or email their feedback.

In-Class Learning Activities

  • Pick one or two samples of online student work to discuss in more detail in class.
  • Have students present research findings through a presentation or conduct lab experiments.
  • Utilize active learning techniques such as composing quick writing responses, working in pairs to answer questions, searching online for relevant information or clarification, or simply having students compare their notes with or quiz their neighbor.
  • Prepare students for collaborative work with team-building activities that allow students to get to know each other, set expectations, and make work plans. For example, groups can create their own processes and procedures for when/if they encounter group problems.

Integrating Online Assignments with In-Class Activities

When reviewing or designing a blended learning course, ask how the online and face-to-face components work together to address the learning outcomes, accommodate various learning modalities, allow students to engage with the course content in meaningful ways, and lead to deeper learning.

Some examples of integrating online and in-class activities:

  • Online activities can prepare students for in-class activities and vice versa – Students work online on group projects and then meet face-to-face to plan and rehearse their final group project presentation. 
  • Interacting with content online can prepare students for in-class discussion – Students review content (readings, videos, etc.) and then take an online test before attending the class in which they discuss or debate topics.
  • Online interactions can reinforce or extend those that occur in the classroom and vice versa – Students provide feedback to each other online and then respond to the feedback in face-to-face sessions. Or students finish a discussion online that started in class.
  • Let online student work inform your lecture – For example, have students post key definitions online for the whole class to edit and refine. Before class, review these and pick one or two that deserve discussion; address learning issues or best practices (Sands, 2002).

Getting Started with Blending Learning

  • Start small – create one online assignment in a semester and gradually add more.
  • Consider time-on-task for both online and in-class activities; make sure the online components do not simply make the course more time-intensive.

Blended vs. Traditional Learning Overview 

Blended vs. Traditional Learning
Component Traditional Learning Blended Learning
Instructor Role
  • Authority
  • Assesses with quizzes, tests, and papers a few times a semester (“high-stakes” grading)
  • Facilitator
  • Guides students in learning
  • Provides frequent feedback with many small assessments
Student Role
  • Attend class
  • Do homework
  • Take tests
  • Depend on instructor to cover materia;
  • Individual or collaborative work
  • More responsibility for learning
Learning Environment
  • Class lectures
  • Perhaps some material is posted or organized online
  • Class time shortened and/or used more for interactive learning activities
  • Class activities partially online and partially face-to-face
Approach
  • Teacher-centered
  • Passive
  • Individual
  • Learner-centered
  • Active
  • Collaborative
In-Class Time 
  • Class time primarily used for lecturing
  • Less time lecturing
  • More time engaging in active learning activities such as problem solving, group work, case studies, or presentation
Out-of-Class Time
  • Group assignments
  • Studying for quizzes, mid-terms, and exams
  • Reading text book and other course materials
  • Online learning activities.
  • Online discussions and providing feedback to others’ posts
  • Watching videos
  • Reading or searching for materials
  • Online quizzes
  • Posting reading responses
  • Collaborative writing assignments with wikis and blogs

How can I Prepare Students for Blended Learning?

  • Explain rationale for using a blended learning approach and list the learning benefits (expect some resistance as students are pushed out of their learning comfort zones). 
  • Provide an orientation to technology required in the course and inform students of where to go for additional support.
  • Start with a “low-stakes” assignment to familiarize students with what is expected.
  • Discuss time management strategies and communicate expected time-on-task for online learning activities.
  • Have students create a learning plan for the course.
  • Explain how students will be assessed and what kind of feedback they can expect from you and their peers.
  • Provide structure to online activities. For discussions, assign students to respond to certain posts, or for peer feedback, provide guidelines or a rubric.

What can I do With Extra Class Time?

With a blended learning format, it is advantageous to have students engage with course content online, leaving more time in class for active learning. In addition to providing students opportunities to engage with the material in meaningful ways and to interact with classmates in their learning community, class time can be used to: 

  • Assess student learning more often with classroom assessment techniques. Using index cards, ask students to apply a concept to a real-world situation, or have them write down the most important point of the class and collect their answers to assess their comprehension. Using hands or classroom polling, have students answer multiple-choice questions to gauge understanding.
  • Provide more feedback by walking around and answering student questions as they work through and get stuck on problems. Before you answer questions, consider posing the question to the group first.

Resources

Garrison, D. R., & Vaughan, N. D. (2007). Blended learning in higher education: Framework, principles, and guidelines. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Sands, P. (2002). Inside outside, upside downside: Strategies for connecting online and face-to-face instruction in hybrid courses. Teaching with Technology Today, 8(6). Retrieved from https://www.wisconsin.edu/systemwide-it/teaching-with-technology-today/.

University of Central Florida & American Association of State College and Universities. (n.d.). The Blended Learning Toolkit.Retrieved October 10, 2018, from: http://blended.online.ucf.edu/.

Learning Technology Center. (2018). Hybrid Courses. University of Wisconsin Milwaukee.Retrieved October 10, 2018, from http://www4.uwm.edu/ltc/hybrid/.