Multi-modal Instruction: The New Student-driven Blended Approach to Learning

Concurrent Session 4

Session Materials

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Brief Abstract

This educate and reflect session outlines a new approach to blended instruction called multi-modal instruction. Multi-modal instruction is student-driven blended learning. Students choose each week whether to attend face-to-face or online depending on their needs in a given week. This runs contrary to traditional blended models which are faculty driven.


Dr. Ben Malczyk is an Assistant Professor in social work at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. He is the online director of the BSW program at UNK. Ben conducts research and has participated in policy work related to schools in high risk neighborhoods. Ben’s primary research interests include familial influences on adolescent behavior and wellbeing and student engagement, and online education as a means of achieving social justice.

Extended Abstract


Attendees will be able to:

  • Describe some of the benefits and drawbacks of faculty-driven blended instruction
  • Define and describe multi-modal instruction as a new form of blended instruction
  • Outline the benefits and challenges associated with multi-modal instruction from the perspective of a student, an instructor or course designer and an administrator

Blended instruction has been touted as offering the best of both worlds—the face to face interactions with faculty and the added flexibility of online education. While this may be true in many circumstances, courses in higher education that are blended are often blended on the instructor’s terms. The instructor decides how many times the class will meet face-to-face versus online and drives what time the class will meet. In this way, blended instruction may offer some added flexibility to the student, but there may still be weeks or times when class is held that are less than ideal for any student on any given day.

Multi-modal instruction serves as a student-driven approach to blended instruction. In multi-modal instruction, instructors offer a course each week offering the students the choice of which modality of instruction works best for them for any given week. Students can choose to join the face-to-face class, join synchronously via video conference or complete asynchronous activities covering the same material. When multi-modal instruction is offered students are given the power to choose what blended instruction means for them on a week to week basis. Students can choose each week based on their current circumstances how to learn. For instance, a student who is ill but really enjoys the face-to-face interactions can simply participate online for one week and join in person every other week. Another student who prefers synchronous video instruction because of a long commute may be in town on a given day and choose to join in the face-to-face course. Or an athlete who generally attends in person who is away for a game can complete the asynchronous tasks while traveling. Ultimately what blended means is up to each person. Blending can be dictated by the life-circumstances and preferences of each student rather than dictated once by a faculty member or university policy.

The presentation will highlight efforts to teach an undergraduate social work course using multi-modal instruction. Benefits and drawbacks to multi-modal instruction will be outlined from the perspective of the student, the instructor and the institution. The presentation will include a brief demonstration of what multi-modal instruction looks like in reality so that attendees can then consider its implications

Structure of the 10-minute Q&A group discussion

I would utilize the 10 minute Q&A in the following way:

For the first 3-5 minutes I would assign approximately 1/6 of attendees to take the role of the student and identify benefits of multi modal instruction. Another 1/6 would assume the role of students and identify drawbacks. Yet another 1/6 would take on the role of an instructor and identify benefits of this approach and 1/6 would identify drawbacks from the perspective of the instructor. Additionally, 1/6 would take on the role of administrators and identify benefits with the final 1/6 identifying concerns or challenges.

With the remaining five minutes I would encourage attendees to ask questions that they considered during the five-minute quiet time. Should there be few questions I would conclude by asking attendees to think of a class they are teaching and describe what multi-modal instruction would look like for one of their classes.