Blending modes of study
Decisions on how in-person and online teaching will be balanced are likely to be constrained by departmental and institutional decisions (for example on space allocation on campus). For module leaders making decisions on how best to use your allocation and blend learning a recommended approach is to:
- identify how your students can be supported in achieving optimal approaches to learning to achieve the outcomes
- reflect on the benefits and constraints of each learning mode in encouraging these approaches
- sequence your module so that the learning options complement each other and mitigate risks.
The main benefits and constraints of in-person and online learning are oriented around:
- Student approaches to learning, and whether these are effective in terms of meeting the module outcomes
- Student engagement: attendance, engagement with task or discussion
- Accessibility and Inclusion: flexibility and support to ensure the needs of all students are addressed
- Affective qualities: social and physical presence, interaction, community, relationship building.
The considerations below can underpin decisions on how best to combine student work and staff/ student contact in your design by mixing the following different modes of learning to best effect:
- Synchronous learning in-person (eg on-campus lectures, workshops, seminars)
- Synchronous learning online (eg webinars, online supervision meetings or drop-ins)
- Asynchronous learning online (eg guided, active learning supported online and involving student interaction with peers/staff/content)
- Independent study (work that students undertake independently outside of contact time that is likely to be less guided by online support).
Student approaches to learning
What (positive or negative) impact might the mode of learning have on your students’ approaches to learning?
- Asynchronous learning and independent study might be preferred by students who like to have time to think before they contribute. It can support activities involving research, reflection, and rigour, and produce concrete items that can be referred to by the whole group. Staff can offer considered feedback, with responses to one individual student being visible to all.
- Asynchronous learning and independent study may feel dissociative and isolating for some. Some students may need additional support in developing time-management skills or feel daunted by producing work that will be permanent and visible to all. There can be a strong disciplinary component to approaches, eg where programmes are founded on independent study or collaborative practical work.
- Synchronous learning might be preferred by students whose approach to learning favours more dynamic and responsive exchanges. Its transience may increase willingness to take risks, experiment, and make mistakes. Staff can immediately provide feedback and address any questions.
- Synchronous learning can risk being dominated by socially confident and assertive students. In-person attendance can be uneven with little or no opportunity to make up classes. In video sessions, students can be reluctant to turn on cameras, participate in chat, or work together in break-out groups.
- In-person learning might be preferred by social learners, who may favour physical presence and how it can allow for more effective and nuanced communication through body language, gesture and facial cues.
The potential diversity of student approaches to learning, whether effective or ineffective, is only likely to become evident at the delivery and facilitation stage. However, careful design and communication of the rationale for this can help to promote approaches that are most likely to result in achievement of the module outcomes. Facilitators will need to identify and respond to the approaches that students take as the module progresses.
- How can your blended design maximise flexibility for when and where students engage with learning activities while being mindful of staff workload?
- How can asynchronous learning structure and support independent study, eg through supporting the development of time-management skills?
- How can staff/student contact drive students’ independent work? Contact might not just be through synchronous learning but also through staff contributions to and feedback on asynchronous activities.
- Given the time constraints of synchronous learning, which can also be information intensive, how can it be balanced with the flexibility of engagement with asynchronous learning and independent study?
- Do students need to use specific resources, sites or equipment that can only be provided in-person?
- Does the timetable and work schedule on the module and programme allow for sufficient breaks and/or travel time, especially when synchronous sessions are scheduled close together?
Accessibility and inclusion
- How can you combine in-person and online activities to structure, support, and monitor engagement with independent study?
- How will you draw upon different approaches and tools to improve inclusion and equity of access to learning (online and in-person)?
- How will you accommodate diversity and the different needs of your students (including ensuring all digital content is fully accessible)?
- How can you use the social and interpersonal dynamics of in-person teaching to develop a cohort community, which can drive and extend learning and interaction online?
- How can you sustain learning communities in between staff/student contact points?
Things to consider:
- Can in-person sessions on the module be used to establish interpersonal relationships that can then continue effectively online?
- What prior experience might students and staff have of participating in digital communities (eg through social media) or using video communication tools (eg Zoom or Facetime with friends and family)? Where there is experience, can this be leveraged to support other students to learn how to engage effectively in learning communities?
Bearing in mind the issues considered above, it is worth mapping the goals of different activities to the mode that will best fit their achievement (individual and group / in-person, online synchronous or asynchronous). This will guide you to the mix of asynchronous and synchronous activities that will lend itself best to different elements of the module, eg:
Guided asynchronous reading → Live discussion → Summary of group discussion
Live preparation for group work (team name / role allocation / work plan) → Asynchronous group work using shared communication channel or wiki → Live update meeting to review progress and decide on next steps → Complete group work and share ‘product’ with cohort
Live lecture introduces an experiment with the underpinning theories → quiz to check understanding of key concepts and plan to carry out lab work → Lab work → Complete lab book and reflection based on a specific reflective model → Asynchronous comparison with tutor feedback to the whole group