The Blended Learning in the Liberal Arts Initiative is a collective effort to discover and share ways for using blended learning to support the learner-centered pedagogies, meaningful faculty-student interactions, and focus on deep, active and authentic learning that liberal arts colleges value.
Why Blended Learning?
Blended learning (also known as hybrid learning) is a combination of online, self-paced learning and face-to-face classroom instruction. Prior to this initiative, research had shown that this combination could significantly improve student learning, engagement, and satisfaction in large community colleges and universities, but its role in a liberal arts college setting was untested. The Next Generation Learning Challenges Grant funded study that launched this initiative was intended to discover how blended learning might work in the smaller, more intimate environment of residential liberal arts colleges.
Our research showed that blended learning could not only improve student learning in this context, but it could also support the meaningful faculty-student interactions and deep, active learning pedagogies that that liberal arts colleges value. Faculty used the online elements of a blended course can be used to provide students with more low-stakes opportunities to assess and get feedback on their learning and to develop the metacognitive skills needed to be successful lifelong learners. Instructor “dashboards” in online courseware in turn provided faculty with a “real-time” snapshot of student progress, enabling them to narrow lectures down to the areas where students need additional help, and freeing up remaining class time for discussions, projects, and other activities that promote deep learning. Faculty also felt that the blended approach helped them meet the needs of a diverse student population, since online activities could provide different levels of support or challenge, according to individual students’ needs and the student learning data generated helped them identify and reach out to students who need extra support or challenge.