Blended learning for adult learners

THE rise of blended learning in tertiary education, in which face-to-face instruction is complemented by online components, is an acknowledgement of the rise of the non-traditional tertiary student.

While a large segment of blended learning students fall in the K-12 category, adult learners are also taking to “digitally assisted curriculum” which picked up pace in the late 90s, thanks to the internet, and today, mobile technology.

“Blended learning recognises the importance of catering to different students in increasingly different contexts,” says Swinburne University of Technology (Sarawak Campus) deputy vice-chancellor Prof Janet Gregory at the inaugural Victoria-Southeast Asia Higher Education Forum held recently in Kuala Lumpur.

“Online students are busy people. They are not school leavers. They are predominantly adults with jobs, families, commitments and they require flexibility in their part-time learning,” says Online Education Services (OES), Australia director of strategy Dr Kay Lipson, whose centre is a partnership between, Australia’s top job site, and Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia.

OES launched Swinburne Online in 2011, an online campus which today offers 21 undergraduate and postgraduate university courses and five TAFE courses to over 8,000 students.

Learning is entirely web-based and students are also provided with online support and social spaces to interact and engage with each other for the optimal student experience.

UNITAR International University, for example, rolled out its education management system, UNITAR Education Core (UNIEC), in this fashion. It is a student-centred learning experience where the entire university ecosystem, from the facilities to the faculty and management, serves to support the student Through UNIEC, students can access their enrolment, timetables, exam results, lecture materials and more.

“To deliver a more different and ultimately better student learning experience, we use a lot of technology to engage students in their activities,” says Monash College, Australia associate director E-Learning Dr Kulari Lokege-Dona.

But technology is, by itself, not always the answer to a better student learning experience, as private tertiary institution Kaplan Singapore found to be the case during the implementation of its blended curriculum project.

“There are a lot of considerations. You can’t look at Powerpoint slides on a smartphone on the MRT, for example.

“And it’s hard to blend straight-laced subjects like accounting,” says Kaplan Singapore School of Diploma Studies head

Christopher Harris, who has led such a project for the past four years.

After two blended trial curriculums, it was found that a 75/25 split between the physical and virtual classroom, where modular teaching includes quality video content and interactive activities, led to better pass rates among students.

“We found that in our context, lecturing still works. There is a need to integrate blended learning for the best results,” he adds.

This view of blended learning, where the use of technology does not make it more important than the teacher, was a common thread among the panel.

“Technology is the tool and it’s there to help us achieve the educational outcome,” says Prof Gregory.

The panelists agreed that at the end of the day, it is still the pedagogy that should drive the technology. They added that the most difficult thing in her experience of championing blended learning is convincing the academicians.

“It’s understandable because the teachers are of a different generation to the students who grew up with technology, so our job is to help get them on board with the use of technology in their teaching.”

“I’ll be honest – I think old-fashioned lectures are awesome,” says Harris. “But what’s true of teaching is to always search for new ways to teach. Teaching is a craft and as a teacher, you shouldn’t rule out things to use in your classroom without first trying them.”

“As one of the choice locations for Malaysians when it comes to higher education, education providers from Victoria are keen to partner with organisations in this region to raise the efficiency of content delivery and improve learning outcomes for students.

“The blended approach is really about leveraging the best teachers, content, technologies and systems on offer for this generation of students,” said Victorian Government Business Office executive director Helen Rowell. The office is based in Kuala Lumpur.

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