Beyond Blended Teaching to Self-blended Learning

Blended learning is a hot topic today, as is self-directed learning and customized learning.  Put them all together and you get a self-blended model like this.  It is a laudable effort with good potential.  This idea of the self-blend is a powerful concept and I would like to expand it beyond just this one approach.  In order to do so, let me suggest a few thoughts and questions.

Before we talk further about self-blended learning, consider this short explanation of blended learning. “Blended learning is the thoughtful fusion of face-to-face and online learning experiences” – Garrison & Vaughan in Blended Learning in Higher Education. Or, we can look at the good work coming out of the Innosight Institute.  They name two characteristics that distinguish blended learning from other types of learning strategies. The first is that the student is spending at least a portion of the time in a “supervised brick-and-mortar location.” The second is that, “students experienced online delivery with some control over the time, place, path, and/or pace.”  You can read this and more at the Innosight Institute web site.  By the way, if you want an excellent introduction into blended learning, be sure to also read their three white papers on blended learning.

In most references to self-blending, people stop at the idea of students mixing and matching online and face-to-face courses.  They are blending different types of courses to meet their needs on a program level.  This would be like the college student who takes some classes on campus, some classes at an off-campus site, and yet other online courses. The have essentially created a self-blended program.  It is an important concept, one that many higher education institutions are wise to consider, because most college students today will do it with or without the help of their University.  I’m talking about the thousands of students who take far less expensive online community and technical college courses and then transfer them into their liberal arts college.  More and more schools are finding their students getting portions of their general education credits through this type of blend.  For those institutions, they have a few choices.

  1. Be more restrictive on what credits students can transfer.
  2. Allow it.
  3. Join the game and offer some high quality online options of their own, ones that align more closely with their overall general education outcomes. Of course, this doesn’t address the cost differential that so often informs student’s decision to self-blend across institutions, especially when we consider potentially disruptive innovations like Straighterline.

These are important decision for higher education institutions today, and it requires an understanding of this type of self-blending.  And yet, there are other types of self-blending that are worthy of our attention as well.  Allow me to start the conversation about them with a few questions.

Most of the literature that I have reviewed on blended learning looks at it from the teacher, school or instructional design perspective.  However, I recently read an excellent post (with an accompanying video interview) by Howard Rheingold called, “Assessment: Turning a Blunt Instrument into a Powerful Learning Tool.”  It is a thought-provoking article that invites us to consider what would happen if we put assessment  into the hands of the learners.  In the same spirit, let me ask a similar question about blended learning.  Blended learning is a powerful and promising strategy, but what happens when we flip the blended learning model and think of it from the self-directed learning and the student-centered learning perspective?  What happens when students choose what and how to blend? 

Here are a few questions to get us thinking about other forms of self-blending.

  1. What does it look like for a student-initiated flipped classroom, where each learner or groups of learners begin to create the video content that others use as a learning resource, regardless of whether or not the instructor is involved with it?
  2. What does it look like when students choose when and how to prime or extend face-to-face classroom activities through online social interactions?  Again, consider when and how this is initiated by the learners and not an instructor.
  3. What does it look like when a course is designed in a way that each learner can choose to attend sessions in person, choose to attend using a variety of synchronous tools, or chose to take part using asynchronous tools after watching a recording of the sessions? What if the student chooses how to blend these as he or she sees fit?
  4. What if you place the rotation model described here into the hands of each learner and groups of learners?

It seems to me that this is the power of things like self-organized learning environments described by Sugata Mitra.

What are your thoughts and experiences with these sorts of self-blends?


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