The technological revolution of the last few decades has completely changed how we do most things, and education is certainly no different. The possibility to network with others on a global scale has meant that the traditional paradigm of teacher-students-classroom has shifted considerably, particularly in the last decade. The opportunity to learn, develop your knowledge and gain qualifications in your own time, and from the comfort of your own home, sells itself as a concept, really. It affords people the chance to pursue their goals and better themselves in a way that can suit them, and not be made to fit a rigid timetable.
The only challenge then becomes how to most effectively use the technology available to us, and how to create the most efficient, and comprehensive, learning experience possible. Educational institutions, in particular, have recognised that online learning is the broad direction that education is heading, but the challenge of choosing the right path poses an issue. As Starn and DeMartino wrote: "That same mindset – not sure where higher education is going but making sure to be on board – is prevalent at many institutions, but provides no assurance that going along for the ride will benefit our students."
E-learning has many distinct advantages, both to students and teachers. Firstly, the fact that it can be accessed anytime, anywhere, any place. It means that it is mutually inclusive as so many more can access learning programmes than they otherwise would have. The courses, themselves, are interactive, flexible and cost-effective. However, learning purely online eliminates the very real and beneficial aspect of face-to-face learning. And the main issue for online learning, according to Lewin and Markoff writing in the New York Times, is the high dropout rate for those who sign up to courses. They wrote: “[Programmes] attempt to overcome the biggest failure of open online courses today – their 90% dropout rate. Despite high enrollments, about half the students who sign up for such courses fall away at the beginning, never even looking at the first assignment. Some… just need more support.”
Thorough engagement between student and teacher is what is required to maintain and develop a distance learning programme. Over the last few years, the most efficient and effective way to do that has been through blended learning. So what exactly is blended learning? Patricia McGee and Abby Reis offer the following definition: “Blended course designs involve instructor and learners working together in mixed delivery modes, typically face-to-face and technologically mediated, to accomplish learning outcomes that are pedagogically supported through assignments, activities, and assessments as appropriate for a given mode and which bridge course environments in a manner meaningful to the learner.”
So, blended learning aims to provide the best of both worlds. It brings all of the online resources and material to the learner in an interactive, almost bespoke way that doesn’t leave them feeling in any way isolated or detached from the material. They are able to fully engage and integrate with the course. They are neither a passive recipient of information in a classroom, nor are they simply reading lecture notes online and answering questions at the end. As Kaleta et al describe the advantages of blended learning: “These benefits included increased student learning and the potential to get students to work independently and become more responsible for their own learning.”
Learners are not the only ones who benefit. Educational institutions have recognised that blended learning can combine the good elements of both, as Osgunthorpe and Graham have pointed out. They said: “Those who use blended approaches base their pedagogy on the assumption that there are inherent benefits in face-to-face interaction (both among learners and between learner and instructor) as well as the understanding that there are some inherent advantages to using online methods in their teaching.”
It isn’t difficult to imagine why blended learning has become an emerging force within education. The ability to do gain a fully accredited degree, like the MSc in restorative dental practice blended programme from Aberdeen University and Healthcare Learning, which you can access when you want and how you want. You can fit it in if you have a long daily commute, relax in the evenings and access all you need in your living room, all while being able to sustain yourself and fit it around your work schedule. The MSc in Advanced Restorative Dental Practice, specifically, is designed to fit in with your busy life and uses the very latest technology to deliver a rigorous and comprehensive programme through a mixture of webinars, online lectures and face-to-face tuition. It is perfect for a fully qualified practitioner looking to take the next step in order to give them the knowledge, experience and the network to take their already well-established skills and make their business thrive.
It is programmes like these that appeal the most to students and teachers, alike. It is also expected that blended learning will become the prevailing standard. A US Department of Education report on e-learning stated that: “Instruction combining online and face-to-face elements had a larger advantage relative to purely face-to-face instruction (or)… purely online instruction.” Students perform better in blended learning programmes than they do in either of the single components alone.
In a world of student loans, competitive job markets and numerous financial and social pressures, a blended learning qualification can relieve some of the stresses and strains involved with making the commitment to education. It allows you to support and sustain yourself, while developing the skills and experience to give yourself that extra step, to give you the edge. John Watson, from the North American Council for Online Learning, said that: “The blended approach combines the best elements of online and face-to-face learning. It is likely to emerge as the predominant model of the future – and to become far more common than either one alone.” Blended learning, most definitely, is on the cusp of innovative learning at present, and has the potential to become the dominant mode of learning in the future.
To find out more about Healthcare Learning’s blended MSs in Advanced Restorative Dental Practice, provided in association with Aberdeen University, please click here.
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Patricia McGee and Abby Reis, “Blended Course Design: A Synthesis of Best Practices,” Journal of Asynchronous
Robert Kaleta, Karen Skibba, and Tanya Joosten, “Discovering, Designing, and Delivering Hybrid Courses,” Blended Learning: Research Prospectives (Sloan Center for Online Education, 2007
Harry Starn Jr, Cia DeMartino, “Assessing the Empirical Evidence and Creating and Facilitating Blended Learning Undergraduate Classes”. California Lutheran University
Russell T. Osguthorpe and Charles R. Graham, “Blended Learning Environments: Definitions and Directions,” The Quarterly Review of Distance Education, Volume 4, Issue 3, 2003
John Watson, “Blended Learning: The Convergence of Online and Face-to-Face Education”
US Department of Education: “Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies”