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Education Really Matters: Making the most of Online, Hybrid and Blended Learning

Online, hybrid and blended approaches to learning can contribute greatly to the enhancement of ‘open’ scholarship, communal equity and inclusiveness.

Frank O’Hagan

“The web as I envisaged it, we have not seen it yet. The future is still so much bigger than the past.” Tim Berners-Lee (Inventor of the World Wide Web)

Distinctive aspects of meaningful learning

Authentic learning is a complex and multi-faceted phenomenon. Key features for children, adolescents, and adults, regardless of their ages, abilities or social backgrounds, comprise: (1) feeling valued and respected within well-planned and stimulating tutorial sessions and other inspiring settings; (2) being able to listen, pay attention and take account of the ideas, suggestions and advice of trusted friends and teachers; (3) developing versatility in comprehending instructions and tasks; (4) responding appropriately and imaginatively in differing situations; (5) having the self-belief and confidence to contribute in both individualised and group activities in order to achieve worthwhile attainments and achievements; (6) participating enthusiastically in creative and lateral thinking, experimentation, problem-solving work, and independent computer-based and online seminars; (7) personalising approaches towards scholarship and erudition while accepting that at times learning can be challenging and needs to be perceived as an essential, life-long process; and (8) embracing a culture which is value-based and promotes the acquisition of useful knowledge, in-depth perception, and an array of transferrable skills for everyday living in a changing world.

“Study without desire spoils the memory, and it retains nothing that it takes in.”  Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519)

Online, hybrid and blended learning and support

It follows that online, hybrid and blended learning, when used appropriately, incorporate relevant aspects of the eight characteristics, outlined above. In doing so, they deliver a variety of ‘psychologically enriching’ experiences which are informative, practical and life-enhancing. Their efficient usage has much to offer in what teachers can arrange and undertake in a flexible manner to encourage greater insight, reflection, and resourcefulness among their pupils. As in other matters, the saying “Crises breed opportunities” applies to learning and teaching. This is evident as when digital innovations are put to good use for young persons in periods of misfortune, for instance, during illnesses, travel restrictions or a pandemic. Teachers also may want to avail of technological applications when students, for whatever reasons, are unable to attend lessons, wish to learn outside of school hours, or request guidance prior to important examinations.

“Blended learning has to blend something, and in my mind it blends the best of what a teacher brings to the table and the best of what technology brings to the table, together.”  Rick Ogston (Carpe Diem Founder)

The terms ‘online, ‘hybrid’ and ‘blended’ are to be found described in slightly different ways. For the purposes of this post: online simply refers to methodologies which only take place online; hybrid denotes that some learners are physically in attendance while others are online but perhaps, now and then, use is being made of both styles; and blended indicates a combination of conventional teaching or training with members present along with online/e-learning also being employed to extend accessibility, independent contributions and flexibility.

Although available in many forms and guises, each methodology can be effective in promoting scholarship and boosting individual and public participation. They include: networking within lessons, seminars and lectures organized by schools and other educational establishments; linking with data bases, libraries, and websites by way of the internet to undertake research and ascertain relevant information; partaking in one-to-one learning support; enrolling in remote conferences; and perchance delighting in illuminating experiences via immersive involvement in virtual spaces.

Depending on circumstances, these approaches can be utilised in a wide range of locations – in everyday, instructional environments; in the home of a person receiving assistance through a social media platform and, if necessary, in the presence of a tutor; in public co-learning hubs to help overcome a sense of isolation or to benefit from collaboration with other students; in work places for apprentices; and in hospitals for the infirm, to name but a few. There is little doubt that online, hybrid and blended learning, and the meaningful exploitation of assistive technologies, can achieve much in fostering a sense of achievement and self-esteem among educators and those eager to extend their know-how and skillsets.

In all situations, high-quality oversight is paramount to ensure that programs of study meet specified standards and levels of capacity in order for learners to engage and make progress. No participant should be expected to ‘fit’ into curricular boxes. Rather, what is on offer ought to match stages of development and accelerate everyone’s advancement. When truly efficacious, these methodologies create a synergy which challenges recipients to think beyond what is being taught and to seek self-directed routes towards a deeper understanding and perceptiveness.

“Technology is best when it brings people together.”   Matt Mullenweg

Advantages and, unfortunately, some possible shortcomings

As indicated already, technological innovations have the facility to improve management regarding the prearranged pace and presentation of contents in lessons while affording more control over unwelcomed interruptions and disruptive behaviours. (You will appreciate the latter point if you have encountered an unruly classroom!) However, there may be impediments to estimating learners’ levels of engagement and motivation, especially if they inhibit access to their responses and feelings. Such reactions give rise to difficulties in observing and judging facial expressions and other forms of non-verbal feedback.

“Once a new technology rolls over you, if you’re not part of the steamroller, you’re part of the road.”  Stewart Brand (Author)

Teachers may come across products which publishers are masquerading as motivational and wholesome while in practice they are inadequate. This negative feature arises because many software packages for online learning have not been sufficiently evaluated prior to release. Care is vital to ensure that those being used have some form of evidence-based validation. However, despite potential drawbacks, utilising suitable in-school and commercial computer platforms will successfully convey key facts and information to boost effective learning. Very importantly, well-designed programs also augment inclusive practices through the delivery of bespoke ‘spiral curriculum’ pathways to assist learners, including those with substantial needs. Examples exist within a wide range of areas – the acquisition of skills in reading and writing, mathematics and social arithmetic, the arts, business, and so forth.

Well-judged use of applications (‘apps’ in ‘cyber speak’) within an operating system offers users an array of specific opportunities to deepen their knowledge and competences. Clearly, there is no need for learners to be always in a class or laboratory, particularly if they are unwell, reticent, disabled or unable to follow the contents of a course. For diverse reasons, ‘digital travel’ as opposed to ‘physical presence’ often results in a welcomed endorsement of responsibilities and independent study. Virtual meetings do much to encourage cooperation and networking across interest groupings. Moreover, therapeutic inputs – through carefully selected psychological procedures – have salutary and beneficial roles to contribute in reducing anxiety and enhancing wellbeing. 

Recent developments have enabled learning communities to involve parents and caregivers in observing and, if appropriate, taking part in lessons. Likewise, they have simplified liaison by the sending of private messages and/or results on children’s progress. Online appointments facilitate ‘remote attendance’ at events and can overcome obstacles and constraints when stakeholders are under pressure from packed family schedules. More generally, custom-made websites are being used to keep everyone up-to-date by publishing news items and bulletins. They also have a part to play in providing advice and guidance on matters relating to health and welfare linked with collaborative work being undertaken by professionals, such as social workers, therapists and psychologists.

Concluding thoughts

To briefly summarise – online, hybrid and blended approaches contribute greatly to our capacity to create and deliver new, exciting gateways within schooling and the world of work. They reinforce both personalised and cooperative learning and eradicate any remaining myths concerning ‘one-size-fits-all’.

Advances include: (1) openings for educationalists to share ideas, good practices and ‘what works’; (2) easier admission by young people to lessons, seminars, training prospects, and formal apprenticeships; (3) greater flexibility in taking account of learning contexts, living conditions, and everyday experiences; (4) a range of high-quality options to record, monitor and review achievements and to offer reassuring feedback; (5) a better focus on addressing requirements arising from disabilities or additional support needs; and (6) privacy for sick, anxious, reserved or reticent individuals.

Future constructive growth will: (1) extend ‘open’ scholarship; (2) stimulate a genuine culture of connectedness across inventiveness, innovation and research; and (3) enhance communal equity and inclusiveness. Within this on-going expansion, it is crucial that marginalised groups have the necessary resources and assistance to be fully engaged. Otherwise, they will fall further behind in not having access to beneficial didactic and training opportunities. Undoubtedly, there is a duty on governments and authorities to sweep away stumbling blocks and to bring together willing and talented parties to generate significant, collective improvements.

“I am still learning.”  Michelangelo (1475 – 1564) at 87 years of age

For a related article on the topic of “Promoting Authentic Learning”, please use the following link:

By O'Hagan

Dr Frank O'Hagan has formerly worked as a science and mathematics teacher, social welfare officer, teacher education lecturer, university lecturer and inspector of educational establishments. Now retired, he continues to have a keen interest in education and provision for carers.