Blended (e)learning

Create and activate a website   What is blended learning?   Support in designing and building your eLearning site
    What kind of eLearning activities do teachers use?   Faculty eLearning Representatives
    Some tips for blended learning   Other resources to assist with blended learning

What is blended learning?

Blended learning emphasises interactive, flexible and self-directed learning by combining face-to-face learning with online learning.

Using blended learning you are able to integrate the best aspects of different learning modes of delivery and models of teaching, and cater for students’ preferred styles of learning.

  • Face-to-face learning can get your students actively engaging with the material in higher order thinking and learning activities such as problem identification and solution, real work contexts, or community-engaged learning, etc. See Active learning.
  • Online technologies can be used to encourage and stimulate learner participation through interactivity (eg in discussion forums and simulations), as well as learner independence through well-scaffolded, online learning modules and assessment tasks etc.

What kind of eLearning activities do teachers use?
There are an enormous range of ways in which you can use eLearning to complement both in-class and other learning activities. Here’s just some that colleagues have suggested:

  • Provide access to resources including links to other websites, sound files, podcasts, image banks and glossaries.
  • Create your own recordings in the classroom using Lectopia or at your desktop using Echo360 or Camtasia. Students can access these recordings online (streaming) or download them to their own computers or portable devices.
  • Create online formative assessment tasks allowing students to evaluate and receive immediate feedback on their own progress in learning.
  • Facilitate posting and sharing of student-generated content using discussion boards, blogs, wikis, virtual classrooms, web 2.0 social networking technologies, etc.
  • Help students develop reflective practices using tools such as online journals and ePortfolios.

Some tips for blending learning:

1. Get students focused on blended learning right from beginning of the semester

Send an email during the week before classes begin to remind each student to check the unit eLearning site for specific requirements for the first class: preliminary reading and other preparation, lecture notes, etc. This gives them a clear sense that the online components and the face-to-face components work together and complement each other.

Some learning management systems, such as Blackboard 9, allow you to send emails automatically to students to remind them to log in to the eLearning site. If the system your faculty uses does not have this facility, you can send an email to students through the Timetable Unit site. Just enter the unit of study code and click ‘Go’.

2. Give a ‘tour’ of your eLearning site in your first class

Some first year students may have difficulties finding information on a complex eLearning site, so it’s a good idea to let everyone know how the site is laid out. (Make sure to include a tour for your sessional staff too.)

Set tasks that get your students using your eLearning site early. This may help to identify those who are having difficulties accessing or using the site, before they fall too far behind.

3. Use online learning to help make the most of face-to-face time

Setting online learning tasks can be a great way to ensure that students are well prepared before they come to class. Some colleagues have found that assigning just one or two marks for each small task helps to encourage students to take them seriously.

Examples of such tasks include:

  • quick quizzes to check students’ understanding of key points (e.g. from the previous lecture or from assigned reading).
  • small group discussion postings that summarise different sections of assigned readings, and comment on the author’s stance, or raise questions for further discussion in class.

This type of blended learning has the advantages of:

  • encouraging students to work together and learn from each other outside of class.
  • allowing you to assess any key misunderstandings and focus on addressing these in class time.
  • ensuring that face-to-face time can be used for developing deeper understandings and higher order thinking about the topic, rather than ‘covering’ basic content.

4. Rethink the way you use your face-to-face hours

‘Hours’ is really a key word when it comes to face-to-face learning, or perhaps ‘50 minutes’ would be more accurate. We are so constrained to the time-slots in which we can book teaching venues that we often forget that it is even possible to teach in ‘chunks’ of different lengths.

Perhaps some of the material that you currently present in face-to-face lecture format could be broken down into a series of shorter, mini-lectures that you present, for example, as a podcast, and that are interspersed with short self-tests or inquiry-based learning activities for students.

Some class time might then be freed to allow students to discuss the questions arising from the stimulus material you have presented online, or the findings from their own follow-up learning activities.

In other cases, you might even choose to completely substitute some face-to-face hours with online learning activities. Make sure to discuss any major changes in your unit of study such as this with your chair and other colleagues in your teaching area. It may require a revised unit of study proposal to your faculty.

5. Use online learning to cut back on your workload

While eLearning requires some work to set up effectively, once set up it works well for communicating to large numbers of students quickly and efficiently.

As well as delivering unit of study materials, a Learning Management System such as Blackboard can be used for:

Blended elearning
  • making announcements and giving reminders
  • managing administrative tasks such as organising class lists and emailing students
  • tracking students’ access to materials and submission of assignments
  • storing student grades and allowing students to track their own progress
  • responding to student questions, especially those about simple, administrative issues, so that all students can see the answers ( this saves answering multiple emails that ask the same question!). An ‘Admin Issues’ thread on the Discussion Board is ideal for this purpose.
  • giving feedback. Sheffield Hallam University has a helpful guide to using technology to help students engage with their feedback.

Support in designing and building your eLearning site

You will be primarily responsible for developing and maintaining your unit of study eLearning site. However, there is a lot of support available.

You will need to arrange to create and activate a website for your unit of study, in most faculties, through Sydney eLearning.

If you are unsure about the eLearning system currently in use in your faculty, or need advice about local eLearning support, contact your Faculty eLearning representative.

Comprehensive information about designing, building and activating a website for your unit of study can be found on Your eLearning site at Sydney eLearning.

Sydney eLearning provides introductory training and workshops to help you become familiar with the LMS and understand the teaching advantages the software offers.

Elearning academic development workshops are provided by Sydney eLearning in conjunction with the Institute for Teaching and Learning. These workshops aim to help you integrate eLearning into your unit and enhance the student learning experience.

Other resources to assist with blended learning

Articulate Presenter
Colleagues in Molecular Bioscience and Medicine have found that Articulate Presenter is versatile software for authoring eLearning content. You can add interactivity and narration to PowerPoint slides, as well as creating Flash content, which student can access via your eLearning website. It provides high quality, dynamic and narrated learning content to students outside of their lectures, and can be used in conjunction with Lectopia.
For more information visit the Articulate website where you are able to download a trial version of the software.

Good practice guides for blended learning
Griffith University provides a good practice guide to blended learning.

The section on Blended learning from the Centre for eLearning at Curtin University provides more information on ways to engage students using technology.