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Key challenges of a blended learning approach in higher education

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Many higher education organizations are moving away from traditional classroom teaching and are discovering the benefits of a blend of online learning and in-person teaching, or a blended learning approach, for students.

However, although hybrid learning and blended learning approaches can offer a number of benefits, it can also present a range of challenges too. Before making the switch to a blended learning environment, it’s important to explore what it is, the challenges for students in a and then explore the challenges for the organizations themselves.

What is blended learning?

Students in lecture hall

Blended learning is an approach to training and education that combines the best parts of classroom-based education with remote learning. Methods of blended learning can include webinars and providing materials online so that students can work at their own pace.

While a blended approach isn’t simply about combining technology with traditional instruction methods, this is a large part of the blended learning model. Some classes may be carried out online, often using pre-recorded materials. However, there can still be some traditional classroom based learning or training carried out via a more individualized approach. By moving away from group activities, students can develop in their own way while still connecting with their teacher and faculty staff.

Organizations have been increasingly developing the blended learning experience to help students to continue their education without too much interruption. This is useful during international emergency events such as the COVID-19 pandemic, and times when students may not be able to access an on-campus environment due to personal or geographical challenges.

Challenges of blended learning for students

While blended learning can provide a great approach, it also presents some challenges for students that have not previously been encountered with in-person learning.

Access to resources

Mature student using computer

During the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, it became clear that there is a digital divide and not all students have the same access to educational technology. Some students may rely on the computers and internet access that is provided in an on-campus setting and may not have the same type of technology available to them at home. This can be due to financial reasons or simply because they live somewhere where internet access is not as strong.

While it can be difficult to overcome these challenges, higher education organizations can support students by checking that the majority of students have access to the technology they need. With the financial savings made through blended learning, providing some students with computers on loan or ensuring they have a means of getting online could be a possibility for universities.

Lack of contact

When it comes to working away from campus rather than in a traditional classroom setting, the issue of isolation can become prominent. Students can become increasingly lonely with a lack of direct contact which can cause an increase in mental health issues and a disconnect from peers and tutors.

This makes it vital for organizations to offer resources for mental health support and to ensure that students can connect in a structured way, such as in an online classroom, as well as encouraging social events where possible.

Quality of education

One complaint about the move to online learning has been about the quality of education. Students feel that they are not getting the same benefits from their classes as they would in person and are concerned that it will have a negative impact on their course. To combat this, organizations should diversify their learning model to help with student engagement.

Help and support

When staff are on-site in a higher education setting, they are accessible to students, with office hours that allow them to provide help and support. However, with an online learning or blended learning approach, this can become more difficult. Students may struggle to get in touch with staff or know how to reach out for support when they’re not on campus or in lectures.

It is vital that faculty members make it clear how students can get in touch with them by providing them with virtual office hours, either for individuals to reach out or for group meetups. This should also be available when it comes to academic support staff.

Self-discipline

The main challenge of blended learning for students is that they are required to have a great amount of self-discipline to carry out their education remotely. Students must be given the tools to succeed in this, while staff also check in with them periodically to ensure that they are staying on track and are not becoming bored or complacent about their education.

Challenges of blended learning for organizations

Blended learning can help organizations to save money, time and space. However, there are still some challenges for higher education organizations to overcome.

Technology and time

Uni students in lecture

Many higher education organizations may not have the technology or infrastructure in place in advance of transitioning to a blended learning model. It can take significant time and resources to shift to a blended learning approach, particularly when it comes to updating technology.

Before implementing a blended learning approach, organizations should check how their current infrastructure matches up to what is required for blended learning and the resources available for the shift.

Once this assessment has been carried out, organizations can seek out the appropriate technology. It is also important to understand that having increased dependence on technological tools means that these must be available to both students and staff and have minimal glitches or faults to ensure that student learning is not affected.

Solutions such as AppsAnywhere can provide students with access to the resources and software they need, anytime and anywhere. This is crucial when students are working both on and off campus and provides them with more flexibility in terms of how and when they complete their studies. This also helps to improve the student experience by providing them with access as and when they need it.

Cost

Over the long-term, a blended learning approach can help to cut down on overhead costs but, the original implementation costs can be fairly high. Organizations should ensure that they have accessed several different approaches to find the right choice for their financial situation and invest appropriately while knowing there will be long-term savings.

The student experience

Organizations need to take the student experience into account when implementing blended learning. Retaining student satisfaction and keeping up with their quality of education can be difficult. However, checking in with students as much as possible and making the transition during quieter moments in the school year can help to reduce the negative impact of the change.

To implement an effective blended learning program, it’s important to understand how challenges can be overcome so that the approach will have maximum impact on the future of education and quality of education for students.

As you can see, there are many challenges that need to be overcome when transitioning to a blended learning approach however, with the right plan and technology in place, higher education organizations can make the change with ease. Getting the right support from Software2 can help to make the leap and enjoy a new way of learning more quickly and easily and in the most cost-effective way.