We read a great deal about blended learning, but I remain amazed and excited about growing examples of self-blended learning. The Innosight Institute describes self-blended learning as instances where, “students choose to take one or more courses entirely online to supplement their traditional courses and the teacher-of-record is the online teacher.” According to this use of self-blending, it is largely focused upon individual students taking some courses online and others face-to-face. However, many today describe blended learning as instances where students learning within an individual course includes a blend of digital and face-to-face learning experiences. With this notion of blended learning in mind, it seems to me that self-blending refers to courses in which individual students or groups of students take the initiative to add or supplement learning experiences in a course with digital and/or face-to-face learning activities. Here are five examples:
1) Online Learning with Group-Based, Student-Generated, Face-to-face Supplements – Two or more students take an online course together, but meet in person to study, discuss the class, or work on projects for the online class. This is not unheard of in graduate education programs, where two or more teachers from a school take an online course together. They might meet weekly to help each other with the coursework. They may also help one another apply what they are learning to their work environments.
2) Face-to-Face Learning with Group-Based, Student-Generated, Online Supplements – Students take a face-to-face class together, and they decide to leverage digital tools to collaborate during and beyond the regular class time. They might choose to take shared notes using a tool like Google Docs. They might text back and forth during and after class about course topics. Or, they might gather in an online chat room or Google Hangout to study for a test.
3) Student-Selected Mixing or Blending of an Online Course and a Face-to-Face Course – A student takes a face-to-face course and participates simultaneously in a separate open or traditional online course with related content. A single course or learning experience works for many students, but others want the opportunity to compare concepts across different classes. These are often classes from completely different schools, and the student leverages work from one class to aid in the other. For some academics, this is verging on self-plagiarism. From another perspective, the student is creating a personalized, self-blended learning experience that is not limited to the plans and agenda of a single instructor or institution.
4. Face-to-Face Course with Individual Student-Generated Digital Expressions and Reflections – A student in a face-to-face class might create digital study aids to aid with reviewing content, reflecting upon class concepts or preparing for an exam. One example that I see quite often is the face-o-face student who chooses to blog or comment in a social network about the course learning experiences. At times, this might involve venting about class frustrations. In other instances, it can turn into deep and substantive musings about the course content, comparing it to life beyond the class, contrasting it with diverse disciplines and ideas, or adding personal commentary to topics discussed in the class. This also shows up in other creative expressions like the creation and sharing of infographics, YouTube videos, Tweets about learning experiences, mind map study aids, digital stories, etc. Note that these are not assignments for the class, but rather student-initiated resources, musings and experiments.
5. Online Course with Individual Student-Generated Face-to-Face Reflections, Extensions, and Experiences – Individual students in an online course discuss what they are learning with family members, friends, and colleagues; sometimes using the course content analyze problems or needs in the physical world. As with each example, I’m describing situations where the learners do this on their own, not because the instructor suggested or required as part of the class. The online learning simply and seemingly naturally flows into the face-to-face interactions and activities of the learner. In some cases, what the students learn in class prompts them to informally interview someone, go on a self-generated field trip, or invite people to gather for lunch or coffee to discuss a topic that captured their interest during the class.
All of these examples invite us to consider the power of self-directed learners who take the initiative, becoming co-designers of the learning environment. They are not passive participants of an instructor-controlled context, but are active creators that connect and extend their learning beyond the domain of the instructor. Isn’t this ultimately what we hope for learners, that they will grow as courageous, connected, creative, collaborative, self-directed, and self-blending learners?