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Extending learning beyond the classroom: ideas and practices for Blended Learning

 

With the new academic year being in full swing and just before the dawn of a new calendar year is there a chance that you feel you need to rethink or enrich some of the techniques and tasks that you use? If so, then experimenting with blended learning principles is an alternative that you could try.

Blended learning is not a new term or practice of teaching as it has been used in different educational contexts and learning environments for some decades now. Thanks to the flexibility it can offer to learners and educators it was only natural for EFL teachers to start adopting it and taking advantage of its principles.

Text by: Nancy Katsikari

What is blended learning all about?

Are different methodologies blended with different technologies? Is traditional teaching blended with e-learning? Blended learning is considered a generally broad term with different interpretations and applications depending on the context. In the EFL context, blended learning can be face-to-face teaching blended with asynchronous and /or synchronous technological applications.

Technology is involved in blended learning, but it should be noted that blended learning is not merely mixing technology and teaching. In blended learning, learning happens in the classroom and online in a format where learners can control when, where, and how they engage with the content. In other words, with the aid of technology students can access the information whenever, wherever, and however they want depending on their preferences and their learning styles. Thus, in this way face-to-face teaching and online learning complement each other creating a seamless learning environment that extends beyond the walls of the classroom.

Blended learning in the classroom: The use of mobile phones and tablets

It must be admitted that some teachers have strong feelings about incorporating mobile phones or tablets in their lessons for various reasons. However, with appropriate lesson planning and classroom management they can prove to be a great tool:

-          They give us immediate access to information.

Devices can be very helpful during ‘lead-in’ tasks at the beginning of lessons. Instead of giving the information to our students, we can simply ask them to ‘google it’ by helping and directing them accordingly if needed.

-          They can help students practise new vocabulary and skills.

For example, a ‘reading race’ task can turn out to be very useful if we want students to practise reading skills, such as skimming and scanning for information. Instead of using a printed text, we can ask them to use their devices and find the information needed by skimming and scanning online articles and texts.

-          They can promote collaboration, especially if used during pair work and group work.

For instance, students can work together to record short videos about the sports facilities in their neighbourhood and then present their findings to their classmates.

-          They can help student practise their technological skills.

Using the internet effectively and learning how to write and send emails are only two examples of the skills that students need to have for their everyday life.

  • By letting students use their mobile phones and tablets in the classroom we simulate real-life situations, and we give students the opportunity to do what they are used to doing while using the English language.

Blended learning: Extending learning beyond the classroom

It should be stressed that with blended learning the basic principles are the same, and as we do with our regular lessons before we decide whether a task is appropriate for our students or not, we need to think about the age and the level of our students and in this case their level of familiarity with technology, too.

Example 1: Focus on Writing skills

Students’ level

Higher levels

 

Lower levels

Task

Writing a report

 

Writing a short story

Procedure

-          The teacher can send students different links to articles/ videos/ presentations (depending on the topic of the lesson/ the aim).

 

-          Students can choose which type of information they will use when writing their reports​.

 

-          Students can send their reports via email/ post it online (classroom blogs/forums etc.).

-          The teacher can send students a few pictures​ (depending on the topic of the lesson/ the aim).

-          Students can reorder the pictures and write their stories by deciding the sequence of events.

 

-          Students can send their stories via email/ post them online (classroom blogs/forums etc.)​.

 

 

 

 

Example 2: Focus on Listening & Speaking skills

Students’ level

Higher levels

 

Lower levels

Task

Interviews

 

Recordings

Procedure

-          Students can conduct online interviews with each other (depending on the topic of the lesson/ the aim)​.

 

-          Students can take notes and/or record the session​.

 

-          Students can present each other’s profile in class/ The recorded sessions can be played during the lesson – peer/ group feedback​.

-          The teacher can send students recordings of incomplete sentences (depending on the topic of the lesson/ the aim)​.

 

-          Students can listen to them and record themselves completing the sentences​.

 

-          Students can present their recordings during the lesson/ Students can send their recordings to the teacher.

 

What is noteworthy is the fact that these tasks can be assigned as homework following the sequence of the lessons or they can even be assigned as extra project work that students will have to complete regularly or at the end of each unit in parallel with their lessons. The adjustments and possibilities are almost endless.

Why is blended learning beneficial for students?

  • It can help students become more independent as learning can be self-directed and students can claim ownership of their learning. In this way, their autonomy and empowerment can be promoted.
  • It can increase students’ motivation and engagement since they have the freedom of choice, and they are involved in the decisions regarding their learning.​
  • It provides opportunities for collaboration​.
  • It familiarises students with ​authentic texts and different genres​.
  • It prepares students for the digital world. After all, younger generations are considered to be digital natives, and online assessment has started gaining a lot of ground. ​

Conclusion

What you need to remember is that you do not have to completely alter the way you do things. You can always try something new, evaluate it, adjust the relevant procedures, and start over again. After all, ‘step by step, one goes far’.