Being in the middle of a PLP blended learning course, I could not pass up the opportunity to attend the webinar put on by Nicky Hockly of The Consultants-E on the topic since I have worked with Nicky since about 2009.
How to distill the essence of blended learning into 45 minutes? Here’s how Nicky did it. It should be noted that throughout Nicky was referring to blended learning for language learning.
Asking the participants to define what they understood by the term Blended Learning was the first step and out of that came the following:
- Mix of online and offline
- Mix of IT and the normal classroom
- Mix of traditional and online teaching
I wasn’t expecting to hear that 100% online courses also count as blended learning and neither that blended learning could be done without some technology in the mix.
Next Nicky looked at the reasons why you might want to implement blended learning and here the benefit of her experience was a bonus. Whether or not it is true, the top reason for implementing blended learning was anticipated cost savings. Sad, because the truth is that high quality blended learning does not imply fewer teacher hours. Another home truth was that blended learning was often implemented as a competitive advantage (if we are talking about private language schools).
There were other more pedagogical reasons for implementing blended learning including giving learners more autonomy, opportunities to master skills, increase exposure to the target language (especially if the target language is not in the home environment), to reduce the dreaded TTT, (teacher talking time) and to leave the face to face for communicative activities.
Next Nicky moved on to blended learning models which included Station Rotation, Lab Rotation, Flex and Flipped. Flex is the most radical option where the majority of the learning takes place online, perhaps in a 80/20 split and Nicky did not think this would be suitable for Young Learners. In the case of the Flipped Classroom, Nicky emphasised that this did not always have to include tech.
As far as implementation is concerned Nicky presented the classic project cycle of
- choose which blended model
- materials & processes
One of Nicky’s most telling comments in this section is that people often forget to evaluate and adjust. She also emphasised that the planning stage is not just about content but also about processes. This is especially important in language learning where it is only through using the language that students will make progress and so tasks have to be designed to increase the probablity that students will find them engaging enough to complete. There was agreement that the receptive skills (as well as writing) were the easiest to transfer online.
What the research tells us
This was one of the most interesting part of the webinar. I very much liked the table of 12 aspects that need to be included in any language course as determined by Thornbury, so the task then becomes that of deciding which aspects are best or easily presented online. I also really like that the last item is flow. How to promote flow online? Not just a challenge for language teachers, I suspect.
The study of teacher role was interesting because it showed that blended learning forces a different (in some cases) teacher role. Many teachers do not like initially the loss of control that the online component implies.
And finally, important for language teachers especially was the finding that students produce more online and shy students especially produce much more than they do in class.
The new book Blended learning for language teaching was mentioned frequently but don’t forget the webinar was arranged by Cambridge publishers!
There is a recording of the webinar below: