In this guide I will look at 5 areas that should be considered of high importance when developing a hybrid learning instruction, with a particular focus on a scenario where a face-to-face course is in the process of being converted to a hybrid learning instruction. These five areas, if dealt with appropriately, will help increase the effectiveness of learning for distance education students.
- What is hybrid learning and what are its advantages?
An understanding of the benefits of, and theories behind, distance learning is important for anyone looking to develop distance learning instruction as it can inform their decisions about whether distance learning is indeed a suitable choice for the specific case and influence choices to be made in the design of the instruction. Hybrid learning (or blended learning) is distance learning that occurs when instruction is offered partly through traditional face-to-face learning and partly through distance learning. It is suggested that if up to 80% of the studies are delivered through distance learning with the remainder offered through traditional methods then hybrid learning takes place (Laureate Education, n.d.a). Distance learning means that ‘interactive telecommunications systems are used to connect learners, resources, and instructors’, so hybrid learning offers all parties the opportunity to partake in study without having to be physically present in the same space (Simonson et al., 2012, p.32).
Having a distance learning aspect to instruction can be preferable to solely face-to-face learning for various reasons. The biggest advantage with hybrid learning is that it offers a higher degree of flexibility to students and instructors. There are also other practical advantages for institutions offering courses where not all students are required on site at all times. If students partake in some parts of a study programme from a distance instead of requiring face-to-face instruction 100% of the time, ‘you don’t need to have as many classroom buildings, you don’t need have as many parking spots, you don’t need to have as many, maybe even, dorm rooms’ (Laureate Education, n.d.b). Finally, distance learning can, in and of itself, also be a very rewarding means of studying for many learners. Distance learning involves interaction between students and instructors, and for certain learners the type of interaction common to distance learning can greatly enhance their learning experience. Discussions online, for example, can help ‘people construct their own understanding by actively processing content in order to establish their own meaning’ (Stacy, 1999). Students can actively consider the materials they are studying and develop meaningful contributions to share with classmates. This kind of thinking on collaboration between students developing knowledge through cognitive tasks is termed constructivist theory. For adult learners in particular self-directed learning of this nature can be very effective (Knowles 2012).
- Equivalency Theory
Equivalency theory is a concept that every instructional designer for distance learning education should keep to the forefront of their minds at all stages of planning and development. The notion of Equivalency Theory dictates that studies at a distance should not be identical to face-to-face education but that ‘equivalent outcomes… should be expected of each learner’ (Simonson et al. 2012, p. 52). For cases such as described in the scenario for this week it is extremely relevant as their can sometime be a tendency to assume just making materials from face-to-face instruction directly available at a distance without any adjustments would be sufficient for effective instruction. Dr. Michael Simonson, in discussing equivalency theory and distance education, admits that the initial thought when converting a course to distance learning can be ‘let’s duplicate that class’, but goes on to explain that the idea of being able to have an identical class at a distance in this way is a ‘fallacy’ (Laureate Education, n.d.c). Courses need to be adapted for distance learning so that students can experience, not an identical, but an equivalent level of education to students who would study solely through a traditional medium. In a case like the scenario we considered for this week the instructional designer should focus on achieving equivalent learning outcomes for the students and not on trying to replicate what has been tried and failed in face-to-face instruction already.
- Learner Analysis and Orientation
Whether instruction is being developed for distance learning students or students studying in a traditional face-to-face setting, a vital part of planning for instructional design is learner analysis. Morrison et al. (2013) state that ‘it is essential… early in the plannign process, to give attention to the characteristics, abilities, and experiences of the learners- both as a group and as individuals’ (p52). An instructional designer should seek to gain as complete an understanding of the learners as a group and individuals as possible before starting the design of the distance learning course. My tip for a designer of distance learning studies would be to pay close attention to the ‘specific entry characteristics’ that would be necessary for a learner to effectively study through distance learning. Successful distance learners typically possess a certain set of attributes that make them suitable for the challenges of studying remotely. It can be an important step for an Instructional Designer to take into consideration whether or not the group of learners in question have the required skillset to take full advantage of distance learning studies, and if not then to take steps to rectify these shortcomings. Wang et al.’s (2008) research suggests that there are four key characteristics that distance learners need to be cultivate to improve their chances of success. These are: 1) the ability to adapt to self-directed learning, 2) learning strategies 3) self-efficacy and 4) learning motivation. To give an example of how learners can be helped develop desirable attributes before their study begins: students can be asked to take a short survey or quiz before the beginning of any design of instruction to gain an understanding of what possible weaknesses they have in any of these four areas, and then an orientation course can be put into place to help improve areas of perceived weakness.
- Plan carefully for student discussions
It has been posited that students of distance learning develop by engaging with coursework in three different ways: (1) learning from resource content like reading materials, recorded media etc., (2) interacting with their instructor and (3) interacting with other students. Anderson (2012) neatly explains this in a visual way by using this diagram:
Anderson elaborated further on the importance of student-student interaction by stating that ‘work on collaborative learning illustrates potential gains in cognitive learning tasks, as well as increasing completion rates and acquisition of critical social skills in education’ (p57). Thus, if a distance learning module is going to involve interaction between the students, through discussion boards, blog sharing, wikis or otherwise, the importance of interaction between students suggests that the instructional designer should be planning for effective implementation of this from very early on.
Students have their own responsibilities for ensuring that the standard of posting in distance-classroom forums is high. However, on the planning and implementation side of things the instructional designer and instructor also have a major role to play in the success of this key area of distance learning. Instructors need to be active members of the learning community. Dr. Piskurich has discussed how it is crucial that distance learning instructors get involved in all class discussions; this needs to be kept in mind by the designer and relayed clearly to instructors (Laureate Education, n.d.d). The instructional designer in this scenario and most other distance learning scenarios too, also need to set very clear expectations for what is expected of students in each discussion. For students to effectively be able to partake in a meaningful and focussed debate with other students it is crucial that the discussion questions ‘clearly define expectations… for each assignment’ (Durrington et al., 2006).
- Visual Appeal for Online Classes
One thing I have learned from developing my own instructional courses is that the visual appeal of the classroom and learning resources is critically important. If students are expected to spend time partaking in self-directed learning in the classroom, they need to be visually stimulated by the online environment. Having different types of media to learn from (so not just large amount of text to read), presenting the material in an attractive and user-friendly way, using pictures and diagrams to aid understanding of key issues are just some examples of how the visual appeal of online classrooms can be enhanced. It is a detail that can be easy to overlook but that can have an important positive impact on students’ study experience.
- Anderson, T. (2008). Theory and practice of online learning (2nd ed.). Edmonton: AU Press.
- Durrington, V., Berryhill, A., & Swafford, J. (2006). Strategies for enhancing student interactivity in an online environment.College Teaching, 54(1), 190–193. Retrieved from http://www.redorbit.com/news/technology/433631/strategies_for_enhancing_student_interactivity_in_an_online_environment/
- Knowles, Malcolm S., Elwood F. Holton, and Richard A. Swanson, (2012)The Adult Learner: The Definitive Classic in Adult Education and Human Resource Development. 7th ed. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
- Laureate Education (Producer). (n.d.c).Theory and distance learning [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu
- Laureate Education (Producer). (n.d.d).Facilitating online learning [Video file]. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu
- Laureate Education. (n.d.a). Theory and distance learning. Retrieved November 9, 2014, from https://class.waldenu.edu.
- Laureate Education. (n.d.b). Distance education: Higher education, K–12, and the corporate world. Retrieved November 9, 2014, from https://class.waldenu.edu.
- Morrison, Gary R., Steven M. Ross, Jerrold E. Kemp, and Howard K. Kalman. (2013) Designing Effective Instruction. 7th ed. Hoboken, NJ: J. Wiley & Sons.
- Simonson, Michael, Sharon Smaldino, Michael Albright, and Susan Zvacek (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: foundations of distance education. Boston, M.A: Pearson.
- Stacey, E. (1999) Collaborative Learning in an Online Environment International Journal of E-Learning and Distance Education14(2), 14-33. Web. 11 Dec. 2014. < http://www.ijede.ca/index.php/jde/article/view/154/379>.
- Wang, Y., Peng, H., Huang, R., Hou, Y., & Wang, J. (2008). Characteristics of distance learners: Research on relationships of learning motivation, learning strategy, self-efficacy, attribution and learning results. Open Learning: The Journal of Open and Distance Learning, 17-28.