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Blended online learning: Misconceptions, benefits, and challenges.

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Blended online learning is an emerging variation of blended learning. Whereas blended learning enhances face-to-face classroom instruction by adding asynchronous online instruction via a learning management system, blended online learning adds synchronous online learning via web conferencing to enhance otherwise asynchronous online courses. Blended online learning can potentially attract seasoned faculty to online instruction because of the similarities of web conferencing to traditional face-to-face instruction. Adding synchronous sessions can also enhance learners' sense of community in online courses. However, blended online learning can be criticized as undermining the "my time, my place" convenience that has drawn many learners to online instruction. It also requires appropriate software, training, and technical support. The challenge in developing blended online learning courses is to find a combination of synchronous and asynchronous activities that leverage the technology affordances of each mode, are within the capabilities of instructors, and satisfy the preferences of learners.
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Chapter
Blended Online Learning: Benefits, Challenges, and
Misconceptions
Peter J. Fadde* and Phu Vu
Southern Illinois University Carbondale
ABSTRACT
Blended online learning is an emerging variation of blended learning. Whereas blended
learning enhances face-to-face classroom instruction by adding asynchronous online
instruction via a learning management system, blended online learning adds synchronous
online learning via web conferencing to enhance otherwise asynchronous online courses.
Blended online learning can potentially attract seasoned faculty to online instruction
because of the similarities of web conferencing to traditional face-to-face instruction.
Adding synchronous sessions can also enhance learners’ sense of community in online
courses. However, blended online learning can be criticized as undermining themy
time, my place” convenience that has drawn many learners to online instruction. It also
requires appropriate software, training, and technical support. The challenge in
developing blended online learning courses is to find a combination of synchronous and
asynchronous activities that leverage the technology affordances of each mode, are within
the capabilities of instructors, and satisfy the preferences of learners.
Keywords: Blended Learning, Blended Online Learning, Synchronous Learning, Live Virtual
Classroom
INTRODUCTION
With enrollments in online courses continuing to grow at around ten percent per year and
69 percent of colleges projecting online instruction as vital to long range plans (Allen &
Seaman, 2013), higher education administrators have ample incentive to increase online
instruction’s footprint. However, enticing seasoned instructors who have not yet pursued
online instruction provides challenges. While over three-quarters of chief academic officers
believe that online instruction is “as good or better” than face-to-face instruction, less than a
third of those same administrators believe faculty at their schools accept the value and
legitimacy of online education (Allen & Seaman, 2013). In addition to common concerns
* 625 Wham Drive, MailCode 4610, Department of Curriculum & Instruction, Carbondale, IL 62901
fadde@siu.edu
Peter Fadde & Phu Vu
2
about intellectual property, workload, and tenure, many faculty also cite pedagogical concerns
with online learning such as lack of interpersonal interaction with learners and needing a
different instructional skill set (Green, Alejandro, & Brown, 2009; Lloyd, Byrne, & McCoy,
2012). Blended learning (BL) that combines traditional face-to-face classroom instruction
(F2F) with online instruction—typically using a learning management system (LMS)—is one
way to address a number of the concerns some faculty have with online learning. BL offers a
familiar learning experience for instructors and learners who desire both the convenience of
asynchronous online learning and the personal contact of the classroom (Lloyd et al., 2012).
This chapter introduces an emerging version of BL called blended online learning
(Power, 2008) that also has the potential to address faculty concerns with the quality of online
learning, and thereby to increase the number of instructors designing and developing online
courses. Rather than combining face-to-face classroom instruction and asynchronous online
instruction, as blended learning does, blended online learning (BOL) is totally online, mixing
“asynchronous online learning” using a learning management system with “synchronous
online learning” using web conferencing applications (e.g., Adobe Connect, WebEx, WizIQ).
Web conferencing applications used for “synchronous online learning” go by a variety of
names including electronic meeting, web conferencing, e-conferencing, and desktop
videoconferencing. In this chapter, we use the term live virtual classroom (LVC). The
following equations should also help illustrate the differences between blended learning and
blended online learning:
BL = F2F + LMS (Blended Learning = Face-to-Face + Learning Management System)
BOL = LMS + LVC (Blended Online Learning = LMS + Live Virtual Classroom)
In the following chapter, we highlight the benefits and challenges of BOL, as it arguably
is emerging as a new form of online learning. We begin by comparing and contrasting BL and
BOL along with the component LMS and LVC environments. We then discuss the benefits
and challenges of BOL for different types of instructors—that is, those who have no
experience with online instruction, those who are experienced blending F2F and LMS
instruction (the most common type of BL), and also instructors who are experienced in LMS-
based asynchronous online instruction. We conclude by illustrating how BOL can potentially
add to both the quantity of online instruction, by attracting more instructors, and also the
quality of online instruction by offering online instructors a choice of delivery modes with
affordances that can be matched with pedagogical strategies, institutional goals, and the
preferences of instructors and learners. We contend that BOL can potentially enhance LMS-
based instruction in ways that maintain the benefits of LMS while using the unique features
of LVC to address long-standing challenges of asynchronous instruction. We also consider
that blended online learning, and LVC in particular, are unfamiliar to most instructors and so
administrators should provide instructors with integrated online instruction platforms,
appropriate training, and technical support in conducting LVC meetings.
MODES OF ONLINE AMD BLENDED LEARNING
Although our primary interest is BOL, it helps frame our discussion to identify key
strengths and weakness of not only BL and BOL but also of the asynchronous and
synchronous components of each delivery mode. We consider strengths and weaknesses of
Blended Online Learning
3
these components in relation to David Merrill’s eLearning dimensions of effectiveness,
efficiency, and engagement (Merrill, 2009).
Table 1
Perceived Strengths and Weaknesses of Online and Blended Learning Modes
Delivery Mode
Strengths
Weaknesses
Asynchronous
(LMS)
Learner access independent
of Time and Place
Organization of content
Critical thinking in
discussion forums
(High efficiency)
Lack of spontaneous
interaction
Lack of immediate feedback
(Low engagement)
Synchronous
(LVC)
Learner access independent
of place
Some F2F presence (audio
and video)
Permanence (can be
recorded)
Classroom-type technology
(Higher engagement than
LMS, lower than F2F)
Requires meeting at same
time
Depends on learners’ installed
base of computer equipment
and connection
Requires skill to run meetings
(Lower efficiency vs. LMS,
higher efficiency vs. F2F)
Blended learning
(F2F + LMS)
Learner access partially
independent of time and
place
Technology aids to support
live meetings
F2F allows for personal
responses and relations
(High engagement, high
effectiveness)
Can lead to excessive work
for learners and instructor
Still requires on-campus
participation
(Low efficiency)
Blended online
learning
(LMS + LVC)
Learner access independent
of place
Adds presence vs. LMS
Spontaneous thinking in
LVC
Critical thinking on LMS
discussion forums
(More engaging than LMS)
Partially dependent on time
Susceptible to technical
difficulties
Needs an event producer
May reinforce direct
instruction methods
(Less efficient than LMS)
Peter Fadde & Phu Vu
4
Asynchronous (LMS) Online Instruction
Online learning can take different forms in higher education, public education, and
corporate or institutional training contexts. However, what we refer to as asynchronous LMS-
based online learning is the popular form of online learning—especially in higher
education—that is instructor led and tied to a set schedule such as a college semester
(Lowenthal, Wilson, & Parrish, 2009).
Benefits. LMS-based online learning has a number of strengths. Chief among these is
convenience for learners in having a high degree of control over when and where they engage
with course materials and activities. Another strength of LMS-based instruction, for
instructors as well as learners, is highly structured, efficient, and secure management of
assignments and grades. A third strength of LMS-based instruction is the learner-centered
critical thinking that can be generated in properly structured LMS discussion boards (Hew,
Cheung, & Ng, 2010).
Challenges. Asynchronous LMS-based instruction also displays some weaknesses.
Attrition is often perceived as an issue and sometimes is attributed, at least in part, to lack of
social and personal engagement (Liu, Magjuka, Bonk, & Lee, 2007). LMS-based instruction
is not incapable of generating social presence. Indeed, innovative online instructors have
developed many creative ways of using LMS discussion boards to cultivate interaction and
sense of community in potentially impersonal LMS-based learning environments (Comer &
Lenaghan, 2012; York & Richardson, 2012). However, they are working uphill to overcome
the “difficulties inherent in building a learning community in an online environment”
(Shackelford & Maxwell, 2012,p. 249).
Instructors in asynchronous online environments are also challenged to delivery content
in the familiar classroom format of lecture supported by PowerPoint slides and writing or
drawing on a blackboard or white board. Many experienced online instructors use tools such
as video and screencasting (e.g., Camtasia) to pre-record lectures for asynchronous viewing
(Frank, 2008). However, faculty who cite the need to learn new pedagogies as a barrier to
adopting online instruction (Lloyd et al., 2012) may find pre-recording lectures to be
uncomfortable or unsatisfying because of the lack of immediate feedback from learners.
Misconceptions. A potential misconception about asynchronous online learning is that it
is not as effective as F2F instruction, a perception that has lessened according to the 2013
Sloan Consortium report Changing Course: 10 Years of Tracking Online Education in the
United States. The percentage of academic leaders surveyed by Sloan who consider online
learning to be “as good or better” than traditional F2F instruction increased to 77 percent in
2013 from 57 percent in 2003 (Allen & Seaman, 2013). A U.S. Department of Education
meta-analysis of empirical studies also found a small but significant advantage for online
instruction over traditional F2F instruction (Means, Toyama, Murphy, Bakia, & Jones, 2010).
Bottom line. In terms of Merrill’s e3 dimensions of e-learning, asynchronous online
instruction is very high in the dimension of instructional efficiency, is at least equal to F2F in
the dimension of instructional effectiveness, but is challenged in the dimension of learner and
instructor engagement.
Synchronous (LVC) Online Instruction
Synchronous online learning involves instructor and learners being online together and at
the same time, although not all in the same place. Although other modes of synchronous
online learning such as educational television and videoconferencing remain viable the
Blended Online Learning
5
synchronous online learning that we refer to uses a web conferencing application such as
WebEx, GoToMeeting, or Adobe Connect1. We adopt the term Live Virtual Classroom to
refer to educational uses of web conferencing applications (Driscoll & Carliner, 2005). LVC
class sessions using web conferencing applications typically include numerous features that
enhance communication and instruction: live video or audio of instructor and learners,
presentation media (e.g., PowerPoint slides), screen sharing (e.g., software demonstration),
whiteboard display, text-based chatting, polling of participants, breakout rooms for small-
group interaction, and session recording for viewing by learners unable to attend the “live”
LVC meeting or for review by those who did attend. Figure 1 depicts a graduate class
meeting in Adobe Connect that shows several LVC communication and instruction features.
Figure 1. Screenshot of Adobe Connect LVC class session.
LVC has a direct precursor in the videoconferencing that has been used in distance
education for decades. While LVC and videoconferencing share many attributes, there are
also critical differences. Video conference-based courses in higher education are typically
narrowcast from dedicated “studio” classrooms or conference rooms that are wired for sound,
video, and document sharing (Grant & Cheon, 2007). Videoconference-based classes often
involve a technical director switching between cameras covering instructor, learners, and
documents, balancing multiple microphone inputs, and assuring connectivity to and from the
originating site to remote sites.
While videoconferencing is essentially an institutionally-supported instructional delivery
mode, LVC has evolved from ad hoc tools to integrated learning platforms. A few innovative
online instructors in the late 1990s and early 2000s, began to experiment with small-scale
1 We use commonly recognized brand names at various points to help clarify different types of delivery modes and
technologies; no endorsement of brands is intended.
Peter Fadde & Phu Vu
6
ways to integrate synchronous communication tools, such as instant messaging and
discussion boards, in an ad hoc fashion into their online courses (Chen, Ko, & Kinshuk,
2005; Hrastiniski, 2008). Then, in the mid-2000s, researchers (e.g., Anderson et al., 2006;
Shi & Morrow, 2006) began investigating uses of full-featured LVC applications such as
Wimba, Ellumniate Live! and Macromedia Breeze (now Adobe Connect). Blackboard’s 2010
acquisition of Wimba and Elluminate Live!, later incorporated into Blackboard Collaborate
(Nagel, 2010), represented an evolution of live virtual classroom environments from ad hoc
web communication tools to online learning solutions that integrate LVC into existing LMS
environments.
Table 2
Evolution of Synchronous Online Tools
Type of Solution
Solution Breadth
Tools Typically Used
Ad hoc
individual
IM/Chat, video chat (e.g., Skype)
Stand Alone
individual or institutional
institutional
LVC (e.g., Adobe Connect)
Videoconferencing (e.g., Polycom)
Integrated
institutional
LMS + LVC (e.g., Collaborate)
Benefits. The primary benefit of LVC is that it can add presence to online learning by
enabling live, spontaneous interaction between instructor and learners, and also among
learners (Chen, Ko, & Kinshuk, 2005). In addition, web conferencing offers instructional
features that are similar to modern classroom technology. Instructors who transition from
technology-enabled classrooms to LVC class meetings find a version of such familiar
instructional tools such as student response systems (clickers), which map to the LVC feature
of polling, and lecture capture, which maps to the LVC feature of session recording. In
particular, LVC offers instructors a way to conduct PowerPoint or white board supported
lecturing with integrated questions and comments from learners.
Challenges. While LVC can approximate classroom instruction methods, conducting
synchronous online learning sessions is a substantial challenge for instructors. First, materials
must be properly uploaded in the LVC meeting room. Second, instructor webcam or
microphone must be properly configured and tested. Third, learners who are participating
through audio or video modes must have their microphones or webcams tested. Since web
conferencing relies on the installed base of participants’ own device (desktop, laptop, tablet,
or smart phone), camera, microphone, and Internet connection, learners’ technical
configurations are likely to be different and susceptible to disruption (Gautreau et al., 2012).
In addition to technical duties, LVC sessions may also include pedagogical duties such as
keeping track of learners’ comments or questions in the text chat box, watching for digital
raised hands, conducting polls, and forming learners into small group breakout rooms
(Anderson et al., 2006).
Misconceptions. In contrast to institutionally supported videoconferencing, LVC web
conferencing can be perceived of as an “easy to operate” personal computer technology, a
misconception that can leave instructors without training, event producers, or other
recommended support for conducting synchronous class meetings (Shi & Morrow, 2006).
Administrators, instructors, and learners who are familiar with videoconferencing services
Blended Online Learning
7
supported by on-campus instructional support centers may expect a “turn key” level of
support that is not likely to be in place with LVC emerging as an online instruction option.
Bottom line. Returning to Merrill’s e3 (effective, efficient, engaging) dimensions for
assessing e-learning LVC, as a stand-alone delivery mode, is potentially high in engagement
but is low in efficiency compared to LMS-based instruction. The effectiveness of various
instructional activities delivered via LVC, in comparison to F2F or LMS, has not yet been
systematically investigated.
Blended Learning
Blended learning is not precisely defined (Graham, 2006) but we refer to individual
courses that blend on-campus F2F meetings with LMS-based asynchronous online
instructional activities.
Benefits. A few universities, notably University of Central Florida and University of
Wisconsin-Milwaukee, have strategically developed blended learning as a way to increase
enrollments by reducing the number of on-campus meetings and thereby making it feasible
for more learners to take college classes (Graham, Woodfield, & Harrison, 2013; Moskal,
Dziuban, & Hartman, 2013). More commonly, however, blended learning has been adopted
without administrative direction by individual instructors who seek to take advantage of LMS
capabilities to distribute course materials, manage grading and assignments, and conduct
asynchronous discussions (McGee & Reis, 2012).
LMS-based discussion boards, in particular, have been developed and investigated by
instructors and researchers for at least 15 year, generating a substantial body of best-practices
and empirically-based recommendations for cultivating critical thinking (Comer & Lenaghan,
2012). While much of the research on discussion boards is in the context of asynchronous
online courses, the same benefits may apply in blended learning approaches in which learners
in on-campus courses are assigned to participate in asynchronous online discussions between
F2F class meetings (Graham, 2006).
Challenges. Unfortunately, details of which LMS features are used in blended learning
courses are not available. The definition of blended learning used by Sloan Consortium to
track developments in online education reflects this when it defines blended learning as being
30 to 79% online (Allen & Seaman, 2013). While the Sloan survey notes that blended
learning typically uses online discussions and typically has reduced number of face-to-face
meetings (Allen & Seaman, 2013), these criteria are not formalized and the undifferentiated
construct of blended learning joins the undifferentiated construct of online learning in
confounding both researchers and practitioners (Lowenthal et al., 2009) seeking to identify
critical features and strategies. Despite the lack of definitional precision, however, blended
learning appears to be more effective than either F2F on online learning alone (Means et al.,
2010).
While blended learning can potentially be more effective than F2F alone and more
engaging than online alone, the efficiency of BL can be hurt by a tendency to simply add
asynchronous LMS activities to on-campus courses rather than intentionally re-design courses
when they become blended (Means et al., 2010). Indeed, blending often increases workload
for both instructors and learners; the course-and-a-half phenomenon reflects what many
learners dislike about blended courses… too much work (Hartnett, 2009, as cited in McGee &
Reis, 2012, p.11). On the other hand, one of the traits of successful online educators is that
Peter Fadde & Phu Vu
8
they spend more time than do less successful online educators in the design and delivery of
their courses (Vu & Fadde, 2012).
Misconceptions. Those who advocate for institutionally-supported blended learning
approaches argue that blended learning allows more learners to be enrolled in on-campus
classes without substantially increasing on-campus facilities (Graham et al., 2013; Moskal et
al., 2013). Although more of a limitation than a misconception, enthusiasm for blended
learning as a path to increased enrollment should be tempered by acknowledging that BL still
requires learners to attend some class sessions on-campus and therefore does not extend
access beyond geographically local learners.
Bottom line. In terms of the e3 dimensions of e-learning, blended learning is primarily
intended to increase the effectiveness of F2F courses by adding LMS elements. Although
adding LMS to F2F courses can improve the management of assignments and grades, it is
ultimately less efficient than F2F alone when LMS activities such as asynchronous discussion
are also added. In comparison to asynchronous online courses, blended learning courses
increase engagement by adding live class meetings although, again, at a cost to instructional
efficiency.
Blended Online Learning
Blended online learning is an emerging delivery mode that combines LMS and LVC in
the context of a fully online course. It is similar to blended learning’s combining of
synchronous and asynchronous activities, but in the reverse direction. That is, instead of
adding asynchronous LMS activities to the dominant synchronous F2F delivery mode, BOL
adds synchronous LVC activities to the dominant asynchronous LMS mode.
Benefits. At best, BOL can help instructors leverage the benefits of the component
elements (LMS, LVC, BL) while addressing the challenges of each. Adding synchronous
LVC meetings can address challenges that LMS-based instruction faces in cultivating sense
of community and providing learners with immediate feedback. In addition, instructors who
have previously resisted online instruction on the basis of having to learn new pedagogical
strategies may be more comfortable adapting their PowerPoint or blackboard/whiteboard
supported lecture styles to the LVC environment. BOL can potentially address these
limitations of LMS for both learners and instructors, while maintaining LMS benefits in
managing assignments and grades as well as cultivating the critical thinking associated with
asynchronous discussion.
Adding LVC meetings to an otherwise asynchronous online course not only address
limitations of LMS but also addresses limitations of LVC as a stand-alone delivery mode.
LVC sessions within a BOL delivery mode are not responsible for the total instructional
effort, as are videoconference-based courses. Therefore, LVC activities in a BOL context can
be scaled to the technical support, instructional goals, and comfort level of instructors and
learners. Indeed, two of the commonly cited principles of successful LVC activities are that
they not be made compulsory and that they not present critical content that is not available
elsewhere (Karman, Aydemir, Kuçuk, & Yildir, 2013).
BOL also gains some of the benefits associated with blended learning while addressing
the major challenge of BL, which is that BL still requires learners to be on campus for some
class sessions while BOL is entirely online. As with blended learning, BOL can potentially
increase the engagement and effectiveness of the “host” delivery mode (F2F for BL, LMS for
BOL), although at a cost in instructional efficiency for both instructors and learners.
Blended Online Learning
9
Challenges. The challenge for instructors is to decide which instructional activities are
enhanced by synchronous interaction, and can also be executed “live” within the resources
and constraints available to the instructor. The challenge for administrators, then, is to provide
instructors with appropriate products, pedagogical training, and technical support to
effectively, efficiently, and engagingly blend LVC and LMS activities in fully online courses.
The benefits and challenges of BOL vary depending on the level of an instructor’s
experience and attitudes toward online instruction. Table 3 shows benefits and challenges in
relation to three types of instructors: Those who have not participated in online instruction
because of concerns with quality or pedagogical unfamiliarity, those who have experience
with blended (F2F + LMS) environments, and those who have substantial experience with
LMS-based online instruction.
Table 3
Benefits and Challenges of BOL Based on Instructors’ Prior Experience
Prior Experience
Benefits of BOL
Challenges of BOL
No Experience with
Online Instruction
Introduction to online
LVC similar to technology
enabled classroom
Few models and examples
Requires technical and
instructional support!
Experience with BL
(F2F + LMS)
Smooth transition to BOL
BL pedagogy in place
F2F classroom activities may
not translate directly to LVC
Online Experience
(LMS only)
Enhance LMS (increase
engagement)
Established LMS pedagogy in
place, LVC disrupts
Some instructors who have not previously ventured into online instruction may find LVC
to be a more natural translation of classroom activities and methods. In particular, lecture and
discussion activities commonly used by instructors in higher education can potentially be
translated quite directly from F2F to LVC contexts. It may seem counter-intuitive for faculty
developers2 to present potential online instructors with not one (LMS) but two (LMS and
LVC) online delivery modes. However, having multiple delivery modes can enable
instructors, with guidance from a faculty developer, to avoid feeling like they need to learn
new instructional methods for asynchronous online instruction.
Misconceptions. Experienced online instructors who have largely mastered the
challenges of LMS-based instruction and learning are likely to resist adding LVC sessions to
LMS-based courses. Consider this exchange in a LinkedIn E-Learning Professionals’
discussion forum when a member asked, “Could adding synchronous sessions increase the
engagement of online learners and improve retention?”
2 We use the term faculty developer to refer to instructional designers in higher education contexts whose duties
include consulting with and assisting instructors in designing and delivering online courses.
Peter Fadde & Phu Vu
10
Hank: I have led and been part of dozens of courses where there was no "live"
interaction at all. Making all the students be in one place at one time, even in
cyberspace, largely destroys the advantage of online education, which is
learning when the student has the spare moment.
John: First, IMHO, doing anything "live" goes against the major benefits of
asynchronous online learning.
Margaret: I'm also confused by the perceived need for synchronous learning
activities in an async class. Most of my students are taking the online course
not because they want the online experience, but because their schedules are
crazy.
The objections of these experienced online instructors can be addressed through
approaches to BOL in which LVC sessions are non-compulsory and are recorded for
asynchronous viewing by learners who are not able to “attend” live online LVC sessions
(Karman et al., 2013). As is common practice in managing LMS-based discussion (Rovai,
2003), some online instructors have reported managing participation behavior by awarding
points based on both LVC and LMS participation (Vu & Fadde, 2013). Individual learners
can then blend their own participation modes depending on their preferences for interaction
modes and personal schedules.
Bottom line. In terms of the e3 dimensions of effectiveness, efficiency, engagement
blended online learning offers ways of adding to the engagement dimension of otherwise
asynchronous online learning, although at a considerable cost to instructional efficiency for
learners and instructors. On the other hand, BOL that includes occasional LVC meetings is
probably less engaging, but more efficient, than “traditional” blended learning that includes
on-campus F2F meetings. Whether BOL enjoys the same advantages in learning effectiveness
that are claimed for blended learning has not yet been systematically investigated.
Blended Online Learning: Research and Practice
As BOL emerges, both academic studies and best-practice reports can be expected to
further theorize and investigate particular BOL strategies. In the meantime, studies from the
foundational area of blended learning and the related area of videoconferencing can provide
theories, principles, and best practices. For example, Grant and Cheon (2007) conducted a
study that compared desktop videoconferencing with audio conferencing. Without the level of
technical support often associated with larger scale videoconferencing, the desktop
videoconference equipment meant to be used in the study could not be made to work with
learners’ variable installed base of computer equipment and connectivity. Eventually, the
researchers resorted to ad hoc tools for video transmission.
Within this technology stressed environment learners felt they learned better from the
audio-only condition, in large part because they had to concentrate more and therefore limit
their self-generated distractions while working on their personal computer. The study
revealed a need to study the potentially critical issue of learner distraction during synchronous
sessions in a BOL course.
Research that can inform BOL design choices investigates different ways of blending
synchronous and asynchronous modes. For example, Gosmire, Morrison, and Van Osdel
Blended Online Learning
11
(2009) compared different strategies for adding faster feedback and more instructor presence
to both LMS and LVC discussion activities in a BOL course. They compared four conditions:
1) Asynchronous Discussion Board (ADB) by itself,
2) ADB + a teaching assistant reader responding to each ADB post,
3) ADB + Video chat (Elluminate Live!), and
4) ADB + teaching assistant reader + Video chat
Ultimately, the various conditions had no significant differences except that learners gave
lower ratings to the conditions that included a teaching assistant reader of their posts.
Other examples of distinctly BOL research include a self-survey by a group of Turkish
online educators with extensive BOL experience (Karman et al., 2013). The BOL instructors
described using LMS for discussion and LVC for lecture, noting the value of the synchronous
environment for adjusting their lectures in progress based on learner questions.
Skylar (2009) compared text-based asynchronous delivery of lecture notes with
synchronous web conferencing lectures in alternative weeks of a BOL course. A substantial
majority of learners said they would prefer to take an online course using web conferencing
lectures. Learners reported that participating in LVC lecturers increased their understanding,
and that they performed better on weekly quizzes in weeks with LVC lecture—although
analysis showed there were no significant differences in quiz performance when learners were
in the asynchronous or synchronous lecture conditions.
Another source of LVC principles to inform practice and suggest further research is the
similarity between LVC features and modern classroom technology. For instance, LVC
polling can be used in the same way that instructors in large-enrollment classrooms rely on
student response systems (clickers) to gauge learner understanding and increase learner
involvement (Shi & Morrow, 2006). In other instances, an LVC feature reveals a unique
affordance that can lead to a new or reconceptualized instructional strategy. For example, in a
BOL graduate course in which learners attended class in an on-campus computer classroom
or attended “live online” from their home or office computer using Adobe Connect, both the
on-site and online learners used the text chat function extensively to ask questions and offer
comments during the instructor’s PowerPoint-based lectures (Vu & Fadde, 2013). Fellow
learners often responded in the chat box by answering a question or by adding with their own
comment. In a synchronous communication activity that recalls pre-LVC studies of IM
interactions (Hrastinski, 2008), learners carried on a spontaneous and on-task text chat
discussion without interrupting the instructor’s lecture.
CONCLUSION
Several findings reported in Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education
in the United States support the need to rethink online instruction. Since the first survey in
2002, the percentage of chief academic officers reporting that online learning is a critical
component of their institution’s long-term strategy increased from less than 50 percent to
almost 70 percent. Meanwhile, the online enrollment growth rate slowed to 9.3 percent in
2013, the lowest since the survey started. Although almost one-third of currently enrolled
higher education learners have taken at least one college course online, the slowing growth
rate suggests that there will be increasing competition for online learners (Allen & Seaman,
2013).
Peter Fadde & Phu Vu
12
Institutions that wish to expand their online enrollments are faced with the need to
improve both the quantity and quality of online courses. However, Sloan Consortium reports
that only about 30 percent of chief academic officers believe that their faculty accepts the
value and legitimacy of online instruction (Allen & Seaman, 2013). While there are many
reasons why faculty resist designing and delivering online courses (Green et al., 2009; Lloyd
et al., 2012), we maintain that the addition of Live Virtual Classroom meetings in the context
of blended online learning may entice some resistant instructors—who may be among the
most senior and esteemed faculty at an institution—to consider online instruction. The
addition of LVC meetings can address resistant faculty members’ concerns with inadequate
learner involvement and their own discomfort with asynchronous online instruction methods.
LVC meetings can provide spontaneous discussion among learners using audio, video, or text
media. In addition, LVC can provide a familiar context in which to deliver PowerPoint and
blackboard or whiteboard supported lectures.
Administrators must recognize that preparing and conducting LVC meetings can be
technically and emotionally challenging for individual instructors since technical issues need
to be resolved “live” during instruction. Ideally, instructors should be supplied with integrated
LVC and LMS platforms, trained in the pedagogical choices to be made in blended online
learning, and supported by a teaching or technical assistant who can help produce LVC
sessions. LVC sessions that are a distinctly supplementary aspect of LMS-based online
courses do not need to be as formal as a classroom presentation. Depending on the interests
and resources of individual instructors, LVC sessions can be used to review and debrief
assignments, provide an enthusiastic and spontaneous opening to discussions that can be
continued as asynchronous online discussion, or simply to hold virtual office hours (Frank,
2008).
The bottom line is that the blending LVC meetings with otherwise asynchronous LMS-
based activities has the potential to increase the effectiveness and especially the engagement
of online learning—although at a cost to instructional efficiency that can be difficult for
experienced online instructors and learners to accept. Still, the potential benefits of addressing
long-standing challenges of online learning such as building sense of community justify
instructors, faculty developers, and administrators exploring the emerging mode of blended
online learning.
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