The term student-centered learning has gained a lot of popularity nowadays along with other ideas such as flipping the classroom, interactive learning, multimedia learning… Not so long ago a traditional course was considered a face to face more or less one-way interaction between a teacher and students. The teacher lectures. Students watch, listen, and may take notes. They may even participate in conversation if prompted by the instructor. However, in recent years with academic technology advancement, learning management systems and many web tools have been widely used in most higher education institutions. This allowed for moving certain learning practices in online environment which brought a paradigm shift in our understanding of what quality learning means. Interactivity is understood twofold – as increased interaction between students with faculty and students with students, and also as increased interaction between students and content, especially content provided electronically. Hybrid and online courses allow for more interactivity than in the traditional course format simply because there are more options for communication and interaction available.
Blended courses are format where 50 to 70% learning activities are done out of class, either online using academic technologies or in the physical world in the form of field trips, reports, interviews, projects, etc. Hybrid courses allow for time flexibility, diversifying of the activity channels, and increased students participation and interaction. Learners become more responsible and organized in their efforts. Their learning is more independent, proactive, and varied. Their learning revolves around them and how much they invest in it. Blended learning holds a greater risk and challenge to both teachers and students, but ultimately, it brings greater results.
For students the challenge is in better time organization. Some find it difficult to keep up with the readings and homework when they are not due in class. They are not used to perform on time and/or as efficiently when there is not an immediate response and feedback from a teacher. They take time to place equal importance to any out of class activities. Students also report difficulties organizing their own learning and keep track of tasks, because of the dual nature of instruction – via LMS and via live instructor. It is challenging to increase efforts that come with variety of information and communication channels. At the end, however, hybrid format of learning reflects better meta-learning results, because students improve their ways of acquiring knowledge and become more efficient in organizing their time and efforts.
The role of the teacher in hybrid course is even bigger than that in a face to face course, because teacher’s responsibility is no longer just to teach on topic, but to design in advance a learning process where students will learn how to be more independent as they move along the curriculum. Bigger time investment and preparation in course development is a challenge to teachers who are also challenged with learning how to use academic technology effectively. Having said that, the role of the teacher is increased and becomes multi-layered in blended courses as the teacher is the designer of student-centered learning. The instructor needs to by a guide who set clear expectations about course work and quality of learning, communication and presentation; a facilitator to students individual and group activities; a leader in all their learning endeavors regardless of environment; a consultant who is present in physical and virtual space to all in need of redirection and help; a mentor who finds and makes learning relevant to each individual in order to keep students engaged and ultimately improve their learning outcomes.
The role of the teacher is to make students become independent learners and thus prepare them for the world where they will continue on their life-long journey of learning. People may think learning ends with the end of their official academic life. Actually it never ends. It is just not made a priority anymore as work and other life events take most of their days. Eventually however, well-developed meta-learning skills like time and study organization, responsibility and courage to face new learning challenges, will become appreciated facilitators of job well done and of life progress in general. And all this thanks to the initial careful guidance of the Teacher.