The pandemic has disrupted our educational realities, thrusting the academy into remote workspaces with very little notice or clarity about future mode of delivery. How might we as educators best leverage this moment in time as a catalyst to permanently transform the academy for the better? When asking myself this question, I thought about how the “flipped classroom” approach invited us to move beyond traditional thinking, and overuse of lecture-in-class and homework-out-of-class, to creating video lectures and other learning materials for learners to view asynchronously so that synchronous class time can be best leveraged for learner engagement and interaction. Now, we also have an opportunity to think about how we can be less reliant on the mode of delivery. How might the pandemic allow us to flip the academy where utilization of OLC Quality Scorecard Suite to outfit all programs is the norm and all courses are built with the quality standards promoted in tools like the QM Rubric? More discreetly, how can we put learning first, allowing the mode to support learning and not the other way around? I offer Mode Neutral not as a proposed solution, but as a frame to help us think differently about how we are approaching our current situation.
So, you may be wondering what exactly is Mode Neutral. It’s a constructivist approach that values learners and promotes a baseline for designing courses that facilitate learner engagement with the instructor, other learners, and course material in a virtual learning environment regardless of mode. Mode Neutral is in the similar spirit of Universal Design for Learning in that it also promotes flexible options for learners to interact with the content, be engaged, and assessed. If we start with having all courses built in the LMS adhering to quality standards, we should then use the flipped classroom approach to promote learning asynchronously to the greatest extent possible to help students achieve course outcomes. After the aforementioned is in order, we can then leverage a range of blended learning approaches and/or modes of delivery (if necessary) as a means of supporting the learning in ways unique to that mode. This approach is applicable to the design of any course. Imagine the benefit for an English composition instructor that has leveraged the LMS to reinforce the mechanics of grammar; math formulas in a calculus course; key terms in a music course; or core concepts for any other course. For any subject, can you think of certain objectives that would benefit learners to have extra personalized learning support achieving? Do you know any instructors that would benefit from having more time to help learners acquire new skills and learn core concepts?
Many institutions are attracted to the HyFlex model where courses have both f2f and online mode options for learner choice. I particularly like the potential Hyflex has for providing learning in both modes and reduce the impact of digital redlining in how it can serve as a means of providing equity and access to learners who may benefit from one mode more so than the other. However, if adopting this particular approach, we need not be so over reliant on the approach that we don’t pay attention to learning excellence. Independent of mode, learners need flexibility built into how they interact with the learning materials, other learners and the instructor. Further, courses should always be designed using backwards design principles in a learner-centered way that facilitate learning through social connection, provide formative feedback on performance, and encourage learner accountability towards course objectives. The degree to which a course is f2f, hybrid, and/or fully online can then be used to support the best type of synchronous or asynchronous learning. For this reason I offer us to take a step back and consider a Mode Neutral approach towards designing learning experiences regardless if your institution adopts Hyflex or any other model.
No particular blend of delivery options will benefit our learners unless it’s supported by an institutional commitment to learning-centered principles and practices. The pandemic forced a needed moment of reflection for an academy with much inconsistency in fostering quality learning experiences. So, let’s view our current realities as a call to action to bury the overreliance on traditional approaches in favor of what contemporary learning science informs us about learner capacity. In doing so, we all need to pay attention to the mechanisms we have in place that best allow for organizational alignment via a true digital learning strategy and professional development that empower instructors to enact best practices in every course. Let’s help instructors realize and leverage their capacities from already living in a blended world to advance the academy while assisting learners in building the 21st Century skills needed to excel in the new normal.
How can we leverage the situational factors of the pandemic to enable our institutions to better pivot in ways that advantage instructors and learners? How might we do it with human touch in a way that does not inadvertently harm some? As a 2015 Institute for Emerging Leadership in Online Learning graduate and now faculty member, I am fortunate to have my IELOL network to work through answering some of these questions and the administrative implications. Join us this summer if you are also interested in moving the academy forward during this pivotal time.
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Educause (2010). 7 Things you should know about the HyFlex course model. Retrieved May 13, 2020, from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/eli7066.pdf Field. A. (2013). Discovering statistics using IBM SPSS statistics, Sage.
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Reed, P., Smith, B., & Sherratt, C. (2008). A New Age of Constructivism:‘Mode Neutral’. E-Learning and Digital Media, 5(3), 310-322.
Tucker, B. (2012). The flipped classroom. Education next, 12(1), 82-83.