Blended Learning – Brainy Learning


I recently participated in a seminar arranged by Innovation Norway at the Norwegian embassy in Helsinki. Smart teaching and learning the use of ed-tech in Norway. To start off the seminar they had invited Ole Lauridsen  mag.art. (≈ PhD), Center for Teaching and Learning, BSS, Aarhus University, Denmark. The topic; why blended learning goes well with brain research.

As an advocate for the use of technology in the classroom, this topic was of great interest to me. I will try to explain some of the major points here.

Blended learning is a technology-enhanced mix of face-to-face teaching and online activities between classes and it has been put high on the agenda of the Horizon Report for the last couple of years. Short-term key trend alongside collaborative learning. I have had the pleasure of contributing to many Horizon Reports and I follow the trends they predict here with great interest.

Blended learning makes sense in the respect that the activities that go on in school are hands-on learning, and can be organized in groups of students where everyone has a common goal. Homework and activities meant to be done outside of school should be activities like; preparations for work in school, reading, listening and watching videos. Homework, when used, should be routine activities that prepare for and enhance the learning. Not activities the students struggle with. Why not use technology when it is everywhere and more and more people use technology to learn. From a teacher’s point of view, a well organized blended learning format offers:

  • More structured learning, all the material can be available online for students when they are absent.
  • More flexible ways of delivering information (screencasts, voice-over-presentations, videos, etc.)
  • More time for discussion and working in depth with the topics/materials in class – extended time with students
  • Better chances for (informal and just-in-time) communication with the individual students; an easy way to interact with your students using messages, chat, discussion boards, etc.
  • More tuned into the individual learner. No limits to how many times a video can be watched, online or quizzes taken. This supports the students’ opportunities for deeper learning
  • Preparing the students for how learning will happen in the future, in the workforce and when preparing for new positions

From a student’s point of view

  • Learning where and when they want
  • Making the learning more relevant to the student, reaching outside the classroom in a global context
  • Improved time efficiency
  • Learning at the pace that suits the individual student
  • Easy ways of collaboration
  • More ownership for the learning process
  • Greater learning outcome
  • Deep learning;  Fostering a Learning-Oriented Environment

But first and foremost: In many respects, a well structured blended learning supports the way the brain learns. Learning is biology. When we learn our brain creates new neural networks/changes existing network. When we learn we take in the sensory input through our sense of sight, our sense of hearing and our sense of touch. The various inputs get form and a general meaning at the back of the brain. All individual elements of what we have seen, heard and touched, respectively, are gathered in one whole ‘experience’. In the next step, this ‘experience’ is interpreted on the basis of our existing knowledge and emotions are attributed to the ‘experience’.

  • We always connect new information to something we know – for better or for worse.
  • We always attach emotions to the information we take in.
  • This means that everybody has his/her fully individual view of what s/he is taught.
  • There are other important differences between individuals that make the learning process and outcome different from person to person.
  • From the back of the brain, the interpreted and emotionally charged ‘experience’ reaches the front part of the brain.
  • We reflect we evaluate, we plan, we consider the impact of our planning, etc. 
  • Further emotions are activated.
  • We store what is needed in the long-term memory.

How does this connect with blended learning?

With blended learning, teachers can offer support, active learning and feedback on a more regular and immediate schedule.  More sensory channels are catered for since blended learning gives the student a chance to repeat as often as they want to. If the student makes the choices it will help the student with attention and concentration as the student can choose when and for how long to work on the topics.  The whole format of blended learning is based on the students’ involvement and participation. Wikis, blogs, Office 365 sharing, discussions using Skype and Google hangout, gives an extra dimension to the learning process, which is in sync with the way the brain learns.

Feedback

Feedback is central to the learning process and should be precise and constructive. It supports understanding and retention. This means that peer feedback (students giving feedback to one another) is a most recommended activity – easy to set up for instance in a wiki or when using blogs in your class. See the right side of this blog where all my students’ blogs are listed. A common activity in my class is to ask the students to comment on each other’s blog.  Peer feedback is active learning per se. Pictures, headlines, videos, etc. can support the need for solid patterns at a micro level – in connection with specific topics and items. Let the students give such input themselves – this adds an element of individual relevance to the activity which corresponds to the brain’s way of learning, too. The more sensory channels and various media we use when delivering information/teaching the better the knowledge is stored amongst the students. Also, let the students experiment with various
ways of handing in assignments etc.

Repetition

  • Basically, the brain learns in one and only one way: through repetition.
  • The blended learning concept lets the student go back to previous lectures/activities as much as needed.
  • In this process, the students can follow the pace that suits them best.
  • Make short videos (7-8 minutes) or voice-over presentations for the students to go back to when needed.

Closing up!

When working on this topic it seems clear to me that all the elements listed here are useful when structuring lesson plans for your students. In a structured blended environment, you need to carefully include all elements listed here. The more choices the students feel comfortable making, the more relevance the learning will be for them. To me, it makes perfect sense.

Most of the material is taken from the lecture at the Embassy and the books listed here are sources listed by Ole Lauridsen

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