Blended learning, defined by Graham [2013, cited in Dziuban et al, 2018] as the integration of traditional face-to-face and online instruction, has rapidly gained popularity due to its perceived flexibility and adaptability to a range of teaching contexts and student learning preferences. At Learnship, our Sprint and Solo Platinum products combine live sessions with online activities that supplement the curriculum, creating a coherent language learning package that facilitates not only language acquisition but also learner autonomy.
Blended learning can be implemented as one of four models, of which one, the rotation model, can be further broken down into four sub-models. Each model has its own advantages.
“Flex” and A-la-carte models
The advantage of both of these models is increased potential for learner autonomy. In the “flex” model, the focus is on online learning, with face-to-face sessions being provided for those learners who request them. At Learnship, our Talk with a Teacher package, an add-on to the popular Solo product, offers just this flexibility. Trainers lead conversation or discussion-based sessions on a variety of topics, allowing learners to hone their communicative skills and activate language learned in the online, self-study sessions offered on our custom-built platform. Similarly, Sprint courses offer a 5-week, “flex-plus” approach, with 60 minutes of independent online learning to be completed before a one-hour online face-to-face class every week. In each case, the materials covered in the independent learning stage lay the groundwork for the highly-communicative activities of the face-to-face lesson, with each week building on those previous to consolidate the language learnt.
The a-la-carte model offers even more autonomy, with students being free to personalize their learning in line with their own wishes, needs and availability. Core training content can be supplemented with extra, complementary, courses. Learnship’s Solo Platinum package is such an example. Here, trainers are free to choose from a range of stand-alone lesson plans to dovetail with their learner’s specific needs and wishes. The result is increased student motivation on the one hand, together with a shift in trainer role on the other: from trainer to coach, able to focus on individual learner questions and needs in depth.
Here, the basic principle is that learners switch from one workstation to another, either in a traditional classroom setting or online. In a classroom, each workstation would comprise input or an activity presented in a different mode (e.g. written text, audio or visual material) and students work individually or in groups to complete the activities, which can be time-limited by the trainer. A virtual model would employ the same principles but have learners assigned to different breakout rooms. In addition, a classic workstation rotation format would see learners alternating between online classes, face-to-face instruction with a trainer and collaborative work sessions with other students. Further forms of the rotation model are laboratory rotation (where, for example, the online portion of the blend takes place in a computer (or language) laboratory setting with the support of a trainer rather than remotely); individual rotation, whereby each learner receives personalized, tailored learning materials from their trainer, and perhaps the best known of all, the flipped classroom model.
Enriched virtual model
In the enriched virtual model, almost the entirety of the learning takes place independently and online, with only occasional input from the trainer in the form of classes. This model is ideal for companies who wish to scale up their training to reach the majority of their workforce whilst keeping costs down, as well as those who value learner autonomy. Learnship’s Solo platform offers just such an opportunity, with blends of up to 100% self-directed learning available. These allow students to take responsibility for their own learning, enhancing motivation and encouraging engagement with the material, which in turn makes successful acquisition of the language more likely.
Advantages of blended programs
Apart from the benefits for the learner mentioned above, blended programs also offer certain advantages in terms of data reporting. With a suitable Learning Management System (LMS) learner engagement and progress through both the self-directed and trainer-led materials can be tracked, with variables such as learning hours, materials accessed and the results of any formative or summative assessments being easily captured from the self-directed portions of the course; and attendance rates or trainer feedback being available from any classroom sessions. Such data can be made available to training managers as well as being used by materials writers and pedagogic experts as part of the drive to improve the materials offered and tailor them more specifically to current learner needs. Here at Learnship, our Learning Sciences department does just that, monitoring access rates for materials and taking action where necessary to plug any gaps or bring existing courses up to date – both in terms of pedagogy and topics covered. This reactive quality of materials writing afforded by an LMS is another advantage of blended programs: high-quality materials can be produced more quickly than was previously the case, allowing training providers to stay up to date more easily than a reliance on textbooks alone would permit.
A challenge – and how to overcome it
Perhaps the greatest challenge for student and trainer alike is that of maintaining learner motivation. While initial engagement levels tend to be high, and studies indicate an increase in perceived motivation and satisfaction with blended learning programs on the part of learners, maintaining a level of motivation necessary to ensure progress throughout long programs, particularly those with a high level of self-directed learning, is a challenge. With Solo Platinum, learners benefit from both real-time communicative tasks and human contact in order to better ensure consistent motivation. Formative trainer feedback on speaking and writing tasks is one way to tackle the motivation challenge in face-to-face classes, while Learnship’s Solo platform also offers remote, asynchronous feedback on pronunciation and writing skills for those learners taking the 100% remote option.
With ever-increasing computer literacy and technological advances, blended learning programs are now a mainstream option. Learnship’s suite of Solo Platinum and Sprint products offers learners the support they need to make consistent progress, while program managers have the necessary information about engagement levels and learner success at their fingertips.
Dziuban, C., Graham, C.R., Moskal, P.D. et al. Blended learning: the new normal and emerging technologies. Int J Educ Technol High Educ 15, 3 (2018). https://educationaltechnologyjournal.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s41239-017-0087-5#:~:text=Blended%20learning%20(BL)%2C%20or,207). [Accessed 01.08.2023]