COVID-19 forced schools around the world to invest in digital learning experiences so that they could continue to educate their students without in-person meetings. Even outside of this forced transition, however, schools and students alike were increasingly seizing the opportunities that the internet and technology offered them in education. As many as 34% of college students reported taking at least one course online over the course of their degree, even before the pandemic hit.
As schools begin to think about how to incorporate different forms of digital learning into their curriculum, they may encounter the terms ‘blended learning’ and ‘eLearning’. Although these two approaches sound the same, they actually employ different strategies and teaching techniques. Educators and school administrators should think carefully about what these two systems entail so that they can select the systems that best fit their needs and the learning experience that they want to create for their students.
Here is what everyone involved in the education system should understand about these approaches of digital education.
What is eLearning?
When people refer to eLearning, they refer to a system of learning that revolves completely around the online experience. Like a live class, students progress through the course in a sequential way and interact to varying degrees with their fellow classmates and their teacher, depending upon how the course has been set up.
As education through the internet has become more common, two main formats of eLearning have developed: Self-paced and online. If teachers want to create these entirely online courses for their students, here are the key differences between these two formats.
Self-directed and self-paced courses
These courses are asynchronous and allow students to progress independently as they master the material. This can work particularly well for students who want to complete degrees while also facing other types of obligations, such as jobs. When their schedule permits, they can go through their class material and complete their assignments without worrying about having to log in at a particular time to attend a live class.
Creating courses of self-paced eLearning
To create this type of course, teachers will create various types of media-rich content. They might create PowerPoint slides, videos, podcasts, or various interactive forms, such as digital quizzes. The best types of content will create colorful, engaging and interactive experiences for students, allowing them to use a variety of different learning styles as they progress through the material. Many educators find creating these materials, however, to be labor-intensive.
Some teachers will find videos to be the easiest means of creating these courses. By creating a series of videos, they can upload content that feels largely like a lecture, without the ability to have a question and answer portion of the class. With these videos, students can then listen to the foundational course content on their own schedule.
Examples of self-paced eLearning
This form of digital education has become increasingly popular across a variety of different platforms. LinkedIn Learning or Udemy, for example, both use this format to create their immensely popular courses and learning opportunities.
When does this type of learning work well?
As already mentioned, certain types of non-traditional students find this format to be particularly beneficial. Those who have obligations that hinder their ability to attend courses on a set schedule enjoy the ability to review material and take classes on their own schedule.
From an educator standpoint, this delivery method may work best for courses that deliver more foundational information. Since less direct interaction occurs between the teachers and the students, higher-level courses that naturally solicit more discussion-based learning will not work well in this format.
The other key classification of eLearning classes is ‘online learning’. These courses work by taking some of the benefits of the self-paced courses described above and infusing a greater level of participation on behalf of the students. For classes where you want to incorporate opportunities for discussion and group engagement, which can be an important part of the learning process, this format of digital learning can work well. Since the classes still offer considerable flexibility in scheduling, many students working jobs as they simultaneously complete their degrees appreciate the opportunities found in these classes.
Creating courses for online learning
Educators interested in creating courses for online learning may still create largely asynchronous material. Video remains a popular format for professors, as they can pre-record lectures and information for the students to then watch on their own schedule. Teachers can also incorporate other types of rich content that students can digest independently.
The key area that differentiates these courses from the first type of eLearning, however, lies in professors building in additional opportunities for engagement within the class. Alongside the content that students can consume alone, there should also be planned activities between the students and teacher, as well as among the students, that help students dive in more deeply into the material and better digest the curriculum.
These additional activities can include discussions, research projects, presentations and study sessions, for example, to help the students gain a better grasp of the material.
Aside from these interactive activities, increased opportunities for feedback from the educator should also be available for the students. When students complete tests or quizzes or when they turn in projects, they should receive feedback from the professor about their performance and how to continue to grow in their learning. Even if the vast majority of the class content gets delivered to students asynchronously, educators should still prioritize having at least feedback sessions with students synchronously. This provides them with the opportunity to offer advice and guidance to their students and thus enriching the educational experience.
Creating more synchronous sessions within the class can also occur on a variety of different types of platforms. For example, instant messaging, real-time editing of papers and projects, and video web conferencing software can all allow students and educators to communicate live.
Examples of online learning
Our online MBA program here at EHL provides an excellent example of online learning. Students enrolled in this program have the chance to engage with most of the material on their own schedule, but they still receive personalized feedback. Opportunities for live interaction with fellow students and teachers are also available throughout the program.
Times when online learning works best
Since online learning provides more opportunities to dive deeply into the material compared to entirely self-paced courses, these options can work well for higher-level classes. Educators will need to carefully consider the level of discussion and interaction necessary to help students properly digest the curriculum. They can then determine the amount of live interaction and feedback needed to create the right learning environment.
The potential to create these involved learning opportunities, while still providing a large degree of flexibility, benefits students who already have entered the workforce. This makes the online system a good possibility for many different types of classes.
The key to blended learning lies in understanding how different forms of digital education can work alongside more traditional face-to-face methods to create a modern learning environment. Students and teachers get to leverage both the potential for technology in the creation of effective classes as well as the built-in benefits of meeting face-to-face to discuss and learn the critical material for the class.
By bringing together the benefits of different learning environments, blended learning can leverage asynchronous learning opportunities to provide students with foundational knowledge, then leaving the times when the class comes together face-to-face to dive into richer conversations and create a deeper learning experience. Students have the chance to learn the core material on their own time and then analyze, discuss and dissect the material with the guidance of the teacher and together with their classmates to create an improved learning environment.
Students in our modern 21st-century world have become highly accustomed to gathering information online. They enjoy consuming content that helps them better understand the world around them through rich media. Thus, they often respond well to opportunities to gain important basic knowledge for a course through various content-rich digital opportunities with the guidance of their educator. The ability to select their own schedule to gather this information will then help them experience some of the flexibility that digital learning opportunities can create as well.
Despite the allure of self-scheduling, however, the benefits of in-person discussions with classmates and educators should not be underestimated. Classmates can challenge each other to think more deeply about the material, improve each other’s reasoning skills and help them uncover questions they might not have explored on their own. Blended learning brings these scenarios together.
Creating blended learning classes
Designing blended learning classes requires balancing asynchronous learning opportunities for students to digest the groundwork knowledge independently, but then bring that learning to a live classroom experience where they engage with the information in a deeper way. Educators will want to consider how they want to impart the foundational, core knowledge of the class. They can record lectures and use videos or make use of other options, such as slides, podcasts or screencasts.
When it's time for the class to come together to explore and discuss the material, some teachers and schools might use technology to facilitate these synchronous discussions as well. Particularly in the modern era of COVID-19, digital classes enhance the ability to continue learning without sacrificing the social distancing guidelines.
Completing this portion of the class online can also help to remove geographical boundaries. Students can take classes or even complete entire degrees through a school that might not be near them, and thus avoid having to move or select a different school to complete their desired degree.
Teachers will want to carefully consider which portions of the program should be completed through the asynchronous portion of the class, which should largely consist of core knowledge that can then be explored more deeply when the students have face-to-face classes scheduled. The overarching goal, however, should be to bring both the asynchronous and synchronous learning opportunities together seamlessly to create a technology-powered educational experience.
Examples of blended learning
Examples of blended learning can be found in a variety of learning environments, including here at EHL. Particularly with schools that have been forced online due to the pandemic, many colleges and universities have offered these types of classes for students to take advantage of the benefits of both technology and face-to-face discussions.
Times when blended learning opportunities work best
Blended learning offers excellent opportunities to dive deeply into topics and allow for a rich learning experience. Higher-level classes that prepare students for their careers and to integrate the curriculum knowledge completely will work well with this set-up.
Selecting between eLearning and blended learning options
Making the decision to design a class as either an eLearning option or using a blended education model can be a challenge. Educators and school administrators should ask themselves the following questions:
What type of material will this class cover? What is the context of the material and what role will technology play?
Will this class work best entirely self-paced, largely self-paced with facilitator involvement or in a blended learning environment?
How important is it for the teacher to interact with the students face-to-face and for the students to interact with each other?
How well does the class material integrate with technology?
Is the goal of the class to convey basic knowledge or to improve students’ critical thinking skills through interaction and active learning?
Technology continues to become an increasingly prominent part of our everyday lives, including how classrooms are structured and how students learn. Designing digital learning opportunities can help tap into this potential and create creative ways to engage students and seize the opportunities in front of them. Carefully consider how these different technology models might work with your goals and the benefits they offer. If you are not sure which educational model might work for you, let us know. We would love to help you.