Blended Learning Strategy as a Survival Skill


Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer, Online Learning Consortium

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Years ago when I was a faculty member at a community college in Illinois, I taught in a blended learning format. I don’t recall if we had a name for the modality, but I do know that I learned a lot – especially that learners want choices and flexibility in how we as educators impart our knowledge to them. 

Today, as we come out of the pandemic, I’m happy to see more administrators and faculty embracing blended learning. To me, it’s the sweet spot between traditional, face-to-face experiences and online learning. If done right, educators and learners get the best of both worlds — a flexible, technology-enhanced learning space that fosters deep interactions.

Blended Learning and Preparing Institutions for Outliers

Perhaps underrated until recently, blended learning has helped us better prepare for future disasters – and I don’t just mean pandemics. Natural disasters like floods, wildfires, and hurricanes can happen at any time and create disruptions for us in education. And, we’ve already seen the impact of online learning and social media when it comes to landmark international events like the 2010 Arab Spring and today, the war waged against Ukraine. 

Where do learners turn when their homes and schools are destroyed?

The truth is now lived; if we already know how to teach effective blended courses, it’s that much easier to ensure continuity in the pivot to fully remote experiences that leverage the technology. As more institutions focus on building antifragility – the ability to thrive under outliers and stress – online and blended environments are becoming a vital part of their strategies.

In the spirit of a new school year for many and bolstering antifragility, I want to focus on two key areas for teaching a blended course: technology and professional development. 

Technology Strategy – The Intentional Edit

When selecting technologies, I’m an advocate for choosing your toolset wisely and not just incorporating tech for tech’s sake.

Fashion designer Coco Chanel famously said to always remove one accessory before leaving the house. Similarly, any technology used in a blended learning environment must enhance the learning experience – not distract from it or exist as a mere shiny object. This includes designing the course in a learning management system and integrating general best practices for teaching in this modality. 

The Online Learning Consortium offers a free Scorecard for Blended Learning Programs, which offers Eagle-eyed insights on the technology and support needed for implementation of a quality program. (See the Quality Scorecard Handbook: Criteria for Excellence in Blended Learning Programs for additional details.) 

Professional Development as Oxygen

Also key to successfully rolling out or growing blended learning at your institution is providing appropriate guidance and immersive training. Think of skill- and character-building PD as mandatory to survive any challenges that come our way – the new oxygen to weather our evolving climate.

I know this was a challenge at the start of the pandemic. Too many faculty had not received training on how to teach in a virtual environment and tried to mimic the in-person experience when lecturing in web conferencing platforms. This resulted in a less than ideal experience for students and educators who often complained that they did not like remote learning.

It is critical that institutions examine how they can provide more diverse and global professional development opportunities to all faculty. As we all know now, a global pandemic and other natural or manmade disasters can happen at any time. Ensuring a smooth transition for faculty and students should be a top priority for sustainable institutional fortitude. 

Providing Solutions for Tomorrow, Today

OLC is working every day to address those issues – and we always have been. As an organization, we always advocate for quality blended learning by providing our scorecards, research, events and professional development

That said, the pandemic showed us that we must do more to support our members.  That’s why I’m pleased to share that we are now offering a Blended Learning Symposium as part of our 2022 Accelerate Conference. For senior leaders, our full-day Leadership Network Symposium also provides an opportunity to expand your overall digital and blended strategy.

As we stand upon the precipice of a new year – marking three years since the pandemic – I’m excited to continue championing those institutions and individuals who are channeling lessons learned to create the best learning experiences. I hope to see you at Accelerate where we’ll be planning, together, for the next three.

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