Blended Learning Essentials MOOC

Blended Learning Essentials: part 1 ‘getting started’ and part 2 ‘embedding practice’ have now both run once on the FutureLearn platform. The courses were generously funded by the UFi Charitable Trust, and were produced by a consortium of partners including the University of Leeds, the UCL Institute of Education, and ALT, alongside many other Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector organisations.

The overall aim of the courses was to introduce practitioners in the VET sector to blended learning through active, collaborative online learning examples, including case studies, discussion and reflective learning.  So far, enrolments on the courses have exceeded 25,000 individuals, predominantly from the UK, and from over 70 countries worldwide. Overall satisfaction with the courses from the first runs was very positive, and lots of individuals are progressing along the ALT accreditation route.

Whilst the courses were primarily designed for teachers and trainers in the Vocational Education and Training sector, they attracted a large number of individuals working in either the Higher Education sector or the School sector. This breadth of experiences, insight and perspectives about education massively enriches the conversation and discussion. The exchanges are rich and detailed, with lots of participants sharing their experiences from a wide range of contexts. For many people it’s clear that this is the first time they have recognised the value of using curriculum design and pedagogy to drive use of digital technologies.

In the first week of the ‘getting started’ course our aim was to address the question: Why should we focus on blended learning? We began by exploring participants’ own perceptions and expectations of blended learning, and then moved on to looking at why and how teachers and learners are actually using it. And along the way we introduced a few digital tools and ideas for blending technology with conventional teaching. The great value of an open online course, when it’s targeted at practising professionals, is that it builds on all the experience contributed by participants in their reflections, queries, critiques, and recommendations.

Many of the comments in the discussion grappled with the realities of introducing technology – to learners who have no digital skills, to disengaged learners who don’t take responsibility for their learning, for courses with a crowded curriculum, for groups with a huge diversity of needs… so the balance comes from those realities weighed against the excitement in what could be done.

As the course progressed, we dealt with the pedagogy and technology of blended learning, digital skills, Open Educational Resources, VLEs and open tools. Towards the end of the first course, we brought it all together by considering digital assessment and feedback, curriculum design, flipped learning and inclusive teaching practices.

It was fascinating for us to see participants’ reactions to the activities in the first course. MOOCs have too often been seen, and been used as, a one-way delivery of ideas and information, with participants barely contributing to discussions at all. For professional development courses like this one we wanted it to be seen as, and be used as, an opportunity to build a community of collaborative learning – we need to learn from our professional participants as well. And that seems to have worked.

The second course, on embedding practice, was intended for practitioners who had had a go with blended learning, and wanted to reflect on their practice, embed it into all of their teaching practice and support embedding across their organisation.

In the three weeks of this course, we covered reflective practice, learning analytics, openness and sharing, collaborative learning and managing culture change.  It was a founding principle of our design of this course that professionals in the VET sector need to work together, to build and share ideas of how best to develop effective blended learning. The Comments showed a genuine openness to the idea of being able to build and share so that collaboration on developing blended learning as a community becomes viable.  During the first run of course 2, a number of participants challenged our conception of blended learning, encouraging us to develop a deeper definition that would suit the course’s objectives.  Through discussion with participants and reflection, we settled on:
“an appropriate mix of face-to-face and online learning activities, using traditional instruction, guided support and independent learning, underpinned by the use of digital technologies and designed using strong pedagogical principles, to support learner engagement, flexibility and success.”

In the final week of course 2, we had a series of very popular case studies from our partners on managing culture change in blended learning at organisational level.  The video case studies included interviews with a range of practitioners and senior managers in the VET sector who have experienced or led blended learning culture change projects. This brings to the for the gritty reality of embedding blended learning, and prompted other participants to recount their own difficult contexts and what has worked for them.

The two MOOCs have been an impressive demonstration for us of the way this technology can make a real contribution to building professional community knowledge and practice in a field. The discussions are not just a free-for-all; they are always focused on the current issue or case study, and its implications. Participant exchanges are then a mix of new realisations, suggestions, challenges, and contributions from experience. They have offered many useful links to each other, and we’re collecting these as a resource for the community. Collaborative learning is not just for the students – it’s for us as well. How else will we build all the new knowledge and practice we need, while the technologies and the contextual conditions in the VET sector keep changing so rapidly?

Overall, the Blended Learning Essentials courses have proven that Blended Learning approaches are welcomed in the VET sector, and there are many practitioners who are willing and able to try new approaches, support their learners and improve their skills.  The key is to embed this right across the sector to allow deep and lasting change to support learners’ success.

Please join us, if you haven’t already: links to the next runs of both course are provided below:

Blended Learning Essentials: Getting Started

Blended Learning Essentials: Embedding Practice

Neil Morris and Diana Laurillard

If you enjoyed reading this article we invite you to join the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) as an individual member, and to encourage your own organisation to join ALT as an organisational or sponsoring member

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