Our students are increasingly voicing their desire for new teaching methods, practical experiences, and real-life application beyond studying theory. The marketisation of education has also led to increased focus on professional or practical skills for the marketplace.
There is a rise in blended learning practices occurring at all levels of the education system. Blended learning practices provide instructors with numerous strategies for organising the learning programme for their courses, often using online learning systems.
In “Global Blended Learning Practices for Teaching and Learning, Leadership and Professional Development” (2015), Hilliard examines the growth of blended learning and the necessary infrastructure needed for it to thrive.
Hilliard provides a rationale for expanding blended learning and avoids details about practices. Instead the focus is on what is needed for successful implementation. These include:
- Effective and competent faculty
- Professional development for faculty
- Adequate resources and ongoing funding
- Blended learning tools and strategies updated regularly (within 3-year period)
- Student learning outcomes linked to real-world experience and application
- Meeting demands of diverse learners, including those who are not full-time students
- Policy development – clear on who, what, when, where, why of blended learning (and deciding who gets to decide)
- Technology considering issues such as operability, mobility, compatibility, back-up
- Ongoing technology support
- Software decisions with faculty users
- Evaluation plan for blended learning
In addition to the list above, I would also add the hurdle of internet access particularly on our campus in Swaziland, but also throughout Southern Africa. At ACC, we now have reliable wi-fi access across campus, but it is limited data which reduces the ability for it to be used heavily.
Why isn’t ACC doing more online?
I appreciate Hilliard’s focus on these important planning pieces to truly be successful in using blended learning. I often receive comments from those outside and within ACC about why we don’t have an online programme yet, or why we don’t use more internet tools in class.
It’s just not that easy. It’s not easy to start. It’s not easy to continue. And, it’s not all about money.
With adequate funding (also a hurdle) we can address the technology and technology support issues in order to implement tools for blended learning. But even with the right tools, an ill-equipped faculty member can do little good.
As an educational leader and faculty member, my biggest concern is with the faculty development and implementation.
Through a partnership with Abilene Christian University in Texas, we are launching a new blended learning Master of Christian Ministry degree this year. This programme primarily uses online courses with a four face-to-face courses held on our campus.
The great thing for us in the context of this post is that the burden of these infrastructure pieces is largely upon ACU and not us. They provide the technology, support, and equipped faculty. We get to see how it works for African students.
Hopefully the lessons learned and partnership with them will help us to better implement more blended learning strategies in our other programmes.