February 23, 2022

White Paper
12 min

Building Out Blended Learning Environments for Higher Education

Deployed effectively, modern technology solutions can help colleges and universities enable flexible learning environments under challenging circumstances.

Virgil Cannon

Patrick Nowicki

IN THIS ARTICLE



Blended Learning Enables Greater Educational Opportunities

Blended learning represents a new approach to pedagogy that combines the best attributes of both in-person and online instruction. Well-planned blended learning curricula empower students to take ownership of their learning, increase flexibility for students and faculty, and allow institutions to deliver high-quality instruction at a lower cost.

Successful blended learning depends on integration. On the instructional side, blended learning should integrate online and face-to-face elements thoughtfully, using meaningful classroom interactions to complement students’ virtual work. On the technology side, software solutions, together with hardware components, should be tightly integrated for ease of use and quality of content, both of which are essential to a seamless user experience.

Skillful instructional design and high-quality technology are the foundation of effective blended learning. These are the conduits that allow faculty to effectively share their pedagogical and subject matter expertise and enable students to have meaningful learning experiences as they progress through a course, online and in the classroom. 

Blended learning programs are more than a short-term solution; in fact, they are likely to become one of the primary ways that individuals pursue a college education in the years to come. Colleges seeking to deliver an exceptional blended learning program will focus on strong support for instructors, proactive policies and procedures, and the potential adoption of partners that can provide valuable guidance and services.

As colleges pursue student success and digital transformation initiatives, they will find blended learning to be a valuable part of their strategic plans, elevating instruction and improving academic outcomes. 

BLENDED LEARNING: THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS

The most effective blended learning courses are designed fully and specifically for the online environment, while also incorporating strategic, meaningful face-to-face experiences.

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Online and in-person elements must complement each other and be seamless while doing so. For example, instructors might use classroom time for activities that are difficult to replicate online, such as group work.

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The integration of online and in-person learning might also occur when students start a discussion in the classroom and then advance the conversation through online forums.

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Videoconferencing technology can allow students to collaborate in real time and facilitate better communication between students and instructors.

Elements of Blended Learning

This approach uses technology to deliver new ways to learn, create and collaborate.

CONNECTED DEVICES

Devices such as tablets, laptops and smartphones are the primary delivery mode for online components of blended learning. Although many colleges have taken a bring-your-own-device approach in the past, the expected expansion of online learning may lead to a more prescriptive approach in the future.

AUDIOVISUAL TOOLS

Monitors, interactive whiteboards, cameras and audio equipment transform online instruction from a content-focused activity to an engaging, interactive experience. The ability for students and instructors to see, hear and speak with one another adds richness and connection that elevates the quality of instruction and creates a sense of community.

SOFTWARE

Software for blended learning encompasses learning management systems (LMS), videoconferencing and collaboration platforms, video recording software and institution-specific software. Integration among these solutions, particularly between an LMS and a meeting platform, is a critical task for IT.

INFRASTRUCTURE

Colleges must have adequate infrastructure to support blended learning: networking, compute, storage and security. With more students accessing systems remotely, IT staff should evaluate network size and use to determine whether they need to increase bandwidth — or, perhaps, decrease it. Institutions should also clarify the storage parameters governing cloud-based resources.

Speak with a CDW•G higher education expert to learn how CDW can elevate the student experience at your institution.

Remote Operations and New Security Risks

> 40%

The percentage of IT leaders who said security awareness training and outreach, email filtering, data loss prevention and vulnerability scanning have become more important during the pandemic1

53%

The percentage of IT leaders who anticipated that most or all cybersecurity positions at their institution will have expanded options for being either on campus, online or remote2

59%

The percentage of IT leaders who report using personal devices for work, potentially threatening both workplace and personal privacy3

44%

The percentage of educational institutions hit by a ransomware attack in 20204

The Value of Blended Learning Environments

Blended learning, also called hybrid learning, combines face-to-face and online instruction to deliver engaging, robust learning experiences. When institutions turned to online learning as an emergency solution at the start of the pandemic, many were unprepared, and the quality of instruction often reflected that. But there is an important distinction between the rapid-response remote learning that colleges deployed in crisis mode and the well-planned, high-quality pedagogy of intentional blended learning

Done well, blended learning supports current thinking on pedagogical best practices and aligns with institutional goals for digital transformation. This approach uses technology to deliver new ways to learn, create and collaborate. It facilitates students’ agency and ownership of their own learning, particularly compared with “sage on the stage” lectures. It also can dramatically increase flexibility and personalization of instruction while expanding the palette of teaching tools available to educators. 

Blended learning may also include situations in which an instructor simultaneously teaches students in a classroom and students who are remote, along with synchronous sessions in which everyone is online at the same time.

Strategies and Services That Build Effective Blended Learning Environments

While blended learning can be difficult to do well, understanding common challenges and key considerations can help ensure it delivers the desired results.

INSTRUCTOR READINESS

Instructors’ lack of experience with online teaching has been a major hurdle to effective instruction during the pandemic. To address this, many institutions developed robust training programs in mid-2020 to equip faculty to deliver well-planned, high-quality instruction. Colleges can provide ongoing support to faculty by facilitating the identification and dissemination of best practices and troubleshooting tips.

POLICIES AND PROCEDURES

From cybersecurity to course attendance, blended learning creates a need for new policies and procedures. Colleges can address some of these challenges by planning and communicating with students to make them aware of options and expectations. Colleges must recognize, too, that departments such as IT, human resources, admissions and enrollment should be included in program planning and development.

THIRD-PARTY PARTNERS

Whether adopting blended learning for the first time or seeking to expand and elevate an existing program, many colleges find value in partnering with an expert that can advise them on solutions, strategies and best practices. Colleges also look to external partners to provide logistical support, which allows their own staff to focus on curriculum and skills development.

INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGN

Instructional and learning designers are valuable partners for faculty and IT departments, particularly in selecting and deploying blended learning tools. In general, instructional designers support course design and development, train faculty and troubleshoot issues related to technology or pedagogy in the online environment. Instructional designers also can help colleges improve digital equity and expand accessibility among online learners.

Want to know more about how CDW can partner with your institution to improve remote and blended learning?

Future Outlook for Blended Learning

During the pandemic, the biggest challenge to blended learning has been many instructors’ lack of readiness, from both a pedagogical and technological perspective, to teach online. Far from being a stopgap measure limited to crises such as the pandemic, blended learning may well become the dominant educational model for the future — delivering, as it does, the best of both traditional and online modes.

54%

The percentage of higher education institutions that have increased their spending on online learning systems, including online learning program management services1

87%

The percentage of higher education institutions that planned to offer hybrid instruction in fall 20202

81%

The percentage of higher education institutions that have increased their use of instructional and learning designers to improve the quality of online instruction3

58%

The percentage of institutions that offered online classes to international students in 2020 to allow them to continue their studies2

Sources: 1EDUCAUSE, "EDUCAUSE QuickPoll Results: IT Budgets 2020–21," October 2020; 2Institute of International Education, "COVID-19 Effects on U.S. Higher Education Campuses" (PDF), July 2020; 3EDUCAUSE, "EDUCAUSE QuickPoll Results: Fall Readiness for Teaching and Learning," September 2020

Benefits of Blended Learning

A successful blended learning course requires more than simply transferring a traditional course online. When equipped with the right tools and skills, however, instructors often find that blended learning lends itself to a greater variety of pedagogical approaches and more meaningful interactions with students, via online chats and discussion forums, than they might have experienced in the classroom.


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FLEXIBILITY FOR STUDENTS

Blended learning makes it possible for many students to continue their studies without the hurdles that can often make it difficult, such as commuting, arranging childcare or scheduling around employment. Asynchronous sessions allow students to choose when to access course materials and to learn at their own pace. For many, being able to record an educational session can make it easier to transfer information. Students no longer need tape recorders because they can access automated transcriptions. Many students appreciate the convenience of having all their materials online and easily accessible.

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FLEXIBILITY FOR INSTITUTIONS

Blended learning also increases flexibility for institutions. Classroom spaces that can serve both in-person and remote students have allowed institutions to pivot in response to the pandemic. This flexibility has made it easier to retain international students, an important population from a funding perspective because they typically pay a higher tuition rate. In addition, blended learning can help colleges curb their brick-and-mortar spending, while at the same time increasing the variety of courses and schedules they can offer to students. Moreover, as colleges continue to mature and deepen their pursuit of data-driven decision-making and academic interventions, online platforms yield a wealth of data with which to improve student outcomes.


Story by:

Virgil Cannon, a Territory Sales Manager for Higher Education covering the states of IL & IN. He has more the 28 years of experience at CDW and helping customers provide the best student experience on campus via technology is his passion.

Patrick Nowicki, a Senior Product Manager for collaboration services with more than 20 years of experience helping customers solve their collaboration challenges.


Want to learn how CDW’s AmplifiedTM Workspace Services can enhance remote and hybrid learning?


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