Theories: How can theories of learning help us develop an effective approach to blended learning?

Despite the extensive research into learning that has occurred during the last two centuries, many educators and learning designers often fail to make practical use of learning theories. This is a shame, because learning theories are like tools that can help unlock a whole range of barriers to learning. Given the turmoil that the Covid pandemic has brought to the higher education sector, learning theories provide a valuable way of illuminating the path into the near future of creative education.

PUBLISHED ON 30th August 2021 | Photo by Malcolm Lightbody on Unsplash

With this in mind, Team Jasmine’s research focused on approaches to blended learning across the HE sector in the U.K and Sweden. Their research was based on a qualitative study of six interviewees, and was supported by a literature review into relevant learning theories with a focus on constructivism. Results showed a shift to blended learning in the context of the pandemic with a focus on constructivist pedagogy and an understanding of the value of communities of practice.

Team Jasmine: Vangelis Katsinas, Jing Guo, Al Page, Ioanna Karavela, Angeliki Tevekeli and Ruth Lawrenson

Team Jasmine poster

By interpreting the impact of teaching online on creative disciplines using a range of learning theories, team Jasmine were able to provide a series of informed insights regarding the impact of blended learning on creative disciplines. There were:

  • Blended learning is a combination of on-campus and online learning. Most HEIs agree that education can benefit from this combination, compared to strict on-campus learning.
  • Virtual learning environments (VLEs) are significantly different to classrooms and need to be designed in a different way to facilitate learning.
  • Signature pedagogies need to be reformed for more effective blended learning.
  • Based on Rogers’ facilitation theory, it is important that instructors empathise with their students.
  • To show care, acceptance and trust. To understand students’ perspective and prize students’ capacity and abilities as human beings (Learning-theories.org, 2011).
  • Being ‘real’ as instructors and encourage authenticity from our students can be proven very important in blended learning. ‘Realness’ can help build a stronger learning community.
  • According to Vygotsky and the social constructivists, social interaction is crucial in developing skills and acquiring new knowledge. Blended learning can benefit from learning activities that promote interactivity (Lynch, 2016).
  • To further develop their skills, students can learn from a more capable peer or from their instructor, Vygotsky theorised this as the more knowledgeable other (Vygotsky, 1978: 86).
  • Blended learning is based to a great extent on a learning community, in which all participants feel valued members. In such a community students develop interpersonal relationships,  and construct knowledge through reflection and discussion.

Key findings from their study included:

  • The use of break-out rooms encourage inlude and support student participation and engagement in small groups cultivating positive communities of practice and peer-to-peer learning; creating space for Vygotsky’s (1978) “more knowledgeable other.”
  • Communities of practice are an integral part of student learning. In the research there was a consensus that digital tutorials were found to be an advantageous strategy allowing students to easily share work using technology, and tutors were able to facilitate the learning. This was particularly effective during the pandemic for international students in building a supportive teacher to student relationship.

In their conclusion, Team Jasmine suggest that further work is required to evaluate the impact of learning online on the signature pedagogies in creative disciplines. It is also important to continue to learn more about the many and varied issues that learning online can present for some students.

Encouragingly, their research suggests that even though much of the learning theories canon was written before the current digital landscape was populated by educators and students, they offer fundamentally valuable means of understanding how students and teachers interact. By applying theories of learning to the pandemic, we can begin to facilitate rich and meaningful learning experiences for the students, online, offline and both at the same time.

References

Wenger-Trayner , E., & Wenger-Trayner , B. (2021, June 1) Introduction to
communities of practice
. Accessed 9/6/2021.

Illeris, K. (ed. (2018) Contemporary theories of learning: learning theorists… in
their own words
. London: Routledge.

Wenger, E. (2009) A social theory of learning. Contemporary Theories of
Learning
. pp.209-218.

Learning-theories.org. (2011). instructional_design:facilitation_theory [Learning
Theories]. Accessed 10/06/2021.

Lynch, M. (2016). Social Constructivism in Education. The Edvocate. [online] The
Edvocate. Accessed 10/06/2021.
.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in Society: the Development of Higher Psychological
Processes
. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Hammond, J., & Gibbons, P. (2005). What is scaffolding? Teachers’ Voices, 8,
pp. 8-16.

Boelens, R., De Wever, B., & Voet, M. (2017). Four key challenges to the design
of blended learning: A systematic literature review. Educational Research
Review
, 22(Supplement C), pp.1–18.

Boelens, R., Voet, M., & De Wever, B. (2018). The design of blended learning in
response to student diversity in higher education: Instructors’ views and use
of differentiated instruction in blended learning. Computers & Education, 120,
pp.197–212

Johnson, N. (2019). National survey of online and digital learning 2019 national
report. Digital Learning Research Association.

Lakhal, S., & Meyer, F. (2019). Blended learning. In A. Tatnall (Ed.),
Encyclopedia of Education and Information Technologies. Springer.

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