November 21st, 2011

Getting Started with Blended Learning Course Design


Blended learning is often described as the best of both worlds because it combines elements of face-to-face and online learning. For an instructor getting ready to teach his first blended course, the temptation may be to look at his traditional course syllabus, pick which classes can be moved online and then leave the rest of the syllabus as it has always been.

“That’s one of the major pitfalls we see, but you really shouldn’t do that,” said Veronica Diaz, PhD associate director of the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative. “You really want to integrate those two components so we encourage people to take the time to redesign the entire course. In other words, break the whole thing down and reassemble it in the blended mode.”

In the recent online seminar Best Practices for Designing Successful Blended Courses, Diaz outlined a model for blended learning course design. The first step, she says, is to “modularize your course.” The modular approach creates a more organized structure, which benefits students, and makes it easier for the instructor to update and maintain.

The process of modularization begins with mapping a course that you want to design or redesign into a blended format to ensure alignment across course objectives, activities, technology used, feedback mechanisms, assessments, and other key components. In the case of a face-to-face course that’s being redesigned into a blended course that often means looking at what the instructor and student each currently do to support or meet those objectives, and then consider the different ways of getting students more actively involved in their learning.

Diaz noted that, unlike in most face-to-face courses, blended courses often have a better balance between what the instructor does to support learning objectives and what the student is asked to do in terms of interacting with the course content.

“A lot of faculty express that they often get some pushback from students, because in the face-to-face course, there’s a tendency for the instructor to do a lot more of the delivery and interaction with the content,” she said. “In a blended course, students are going to spend a fair amount of time out of class, and you want to make sure that they’re involved in the learning, probably in a much deeper and more active way than they were in the past.”

Another part of the redesign process is to identify and prepare for potential “student crisis points” – issues that may interfere with the learning experience. Crisis points include issues related to technology, a complex concept, or waning motivation. By being aware of possible roadblocks to learning, and informing students of them as well, you can often minimize the disruption.