Friday, April 22, 2016

Love Letter to Blended Learning

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology tasked with examining the future of online education have returned with a simple recommendation for colleges and universities: focus on people and process, not technology. Back in 2013, an MIT task force presented a vision of undergraduate education at the institute in which students spend half as much time on campus as they do today. Freshman year would be fully online, and instead of a senior year, students would take online continuing education courses to refresh their knowledge and add new skills. That vision leaned heavily on MIT’s work with edX, the massive open online course provider it founded with Harvard University. 

The buzz around the report led to the creation of the Online Education Policy Initiative, also known as OEPI, funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. While the 2013 task force looked specifically at MIT’s future, the OEPI took a step back to look at online education in general. The OEPI released its final report earlier this month, focusing on four major online education recommendations that span research, teaching and organizational change. “Focused attention in these areas could significantly advance our understanding of the opportunities and challenges in transforming education,” the report concludes. But the report is as much about the shortcomings of online education as it is about its potential. Most importantly, it recommends online education play a supporting role as a “dynamic digital scaffold.” Online education can offer personalized pathways through course content with short lecture videos and well-timed quizzes that help students retain knowledge, the report reads, but it is most effective in a blended setting where students regularly interact with faculty members face-to-face.

 “Technology will not replace the unique contributions teachers make to education through their perception, judgment, creativity, expertise, situational awareness and personality,” the report reads. “But it can increase the scale at which they can operate effectively.” In fact, on four separate occasions, the report makes that same argument. Faculty members and their work are “essential and irreplaceable … in ways that a computer program can never be.” In the classroom, they “[provide] context and mentoring, and [foster] reflection and discussion.” Their feedback provides “invaluable input … that online tools struggle to match.” For more, see 

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