As knowledge has become the most intensive way of production in almost all types of work (Schwab and Porter, 2008), school education is being constructed by policy-makers as the engine of a knowledge based economy. Indeed, as national and international reports, policies and strategic plans, highlight the intersections between economic, scientific, technologies and innovation policy agendas. Since the mid-1990s, there have been proposed and tested to many empirical and theoretical models for designing online learning environments (Hannafin et al.
, 1999; Jonassen, 1999; Morrison, 2003). However, knowing the advantages and disadvantages of online and traditional model of learning many researchers (Christensen et al., 2013; Garrison and Kanuka, 2004; Graham, 2006; Roseth et al., 2013) have come to a hybrid form that include both face to face and online learning called “Blended learning.
” The term “blended learning” represents a wide spectrum of delivery options, tools, and pedagogies, but conceptually refers to distance education that emphasized flexibility of time, place, and pace of student learning. The model of blended learning emphasises active learning and a reduction of classroom time, based on the concept of hybridization, the bringing together of two dissimilar parts to produce a third result, in this case online and face – to – face learning (Vaughan, 2007). When they are successfully combined, the potential result is a highly conductive educational environment.
Staker and Horn (2012) define blended learning as y time a student learns at least in part at a supervised brick?and?mortar location away from home and at least in part through online delivery with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/ or pace”. Blended learning is a new innovative methodology of education that aims to combine the traditional and online way of learning. Designing a blended course has to incorporate many stakeholders and contextual settings. Integrating technology to facilitate the educational process and to expand the reach and scope is important in today digital context.
Many authors (Picciano et al., 2012; Staker and Horn, 2012; Watson, 2008) argue that online and blended learning have experienced significant rates of growth in recent years, and further expansion is anticipated. Blended learning is seen as an instrument that help students to express their ideas, share with others, develop critical thinking and cognitive learning (Gardiner, 1998).In developing a blended learning environment is important to take into account the initial trouble of a new ecosystem, resistance toward change, the fear of using technology in class of both teachers and students, because is important to remember that blended learning process not only requires educators to reconsider their pedagogical practices, but also requires students to acquire new learning skills (Collopy and Arnold, 2009).
The “knowledge-deepening” approach highlights complex problem-solving and requires changes in the curriculum that underscores depth of understanding over coverage of content, and assessments that emphasize the application of understanding to real-world problems and social priorities. As Campbell (2006) noticed, not only teachers but also students are to reconsider and change their attitudes, beliefs, behaviours, perspectives, and habits to be able to adapt to the use of technology efficiently. Bielaczyc and Collins (1999) noted that students and teachers react to new educational technologies with varied emotions, ranging from enthusiasm to disabling fear. This raise the problem of evaluating the perception and attitudes of teachers and students toward technology use.In literature are generally defined four base models of blended learning (Staker and Horn, 2012). Below we introduce main characteristics of each model:1.
Rotation model, in this model, students rotate between online learning and other learning modalities, either on a fixed schedule or at the instructor’s discretion. In this model, least one of the stations is an online learning station. This model includes some other sub models like, Station Rotation, Lab rotation, Flipped Classroom and Individual Rotation.
In this model students learn primarily on campus2. Flex model, in this model every class is divided into online and offline components. Instruction are delivered primarily by the Internet. Here, students switch between learning modalities on a customized, fluid schedule that uses online learning as its cornerstone.3. Self-Blend model, in this model in addition to traditional courses at a brick-and-mortar campus, students take one or more courses online.
Unlike full-time online learning, in this model, students may choose between online and offline courses at their convenience. 4. Enriched-Virtual model, under this model student does not necessarily come to campus every day. Learning is divided between online and offline components.
If we analyse learning environments, it is important to understand their determinants. Richard Millwood (2013) has developed a concept map with learning theories. To highlight some differences between a passive and an active approach to teaching and learning in this report we will discuss objectivist and constructivist learning theories.
There are many authors that have studied and compared objectivist vs. constructive approach in classroom environments (Cronjé, 2006; Jonassen, 1991; Lister and Leaney, 2003; Miguel Baptista, 2003; Moallem, 2001; Vrasidas, 2000).To explain the objectivist approach in this article we are referred to Jonassen and Land (2000) as a more comprehensive definition on the topic.
Teachers think that in learning process they have to effectively communicate ideas to learners by improving message clarity. In this context, teachers control learning process. Students from the other side are obligated to learn what teachers tell them, because is assumed that teachers know better. In this learning environment students have no need, desire, motivation, and interest to learn what teachers transmit to them and it is difficult for students to be creative and to develop new learning skills.
When implementing instruction, teachers should inform learners about the goals and objectives, assess learning prerequisites, present instructional stimuli, provide learning guidance, elicit performance, provide feedback, and assess learning outcomes (Chen, 2007). This commonly used process is described by the author as an objectivist, teacher-cantered approach to instructional design and practice. Many instructional design models have been developed based on this approach.
Different from objectivist approach, constructivist approach puts more emphasize to students. Constructivist learning environments are student-centred environments where students control the learning process (Marra, 2005). Therefore, students are those who set learning goals and objectives by creating this way an open and flexible learning environment.
Teachers role in this environment is to direct students to resources, to find answers and give them time to think and develop new ways how to fix a problem and express their ideas (Brooks and Brooks, 1999). Students engaged in constructivist learning also have to spend a substantial amount of time and effort on their learning experience and on managing logistical tasks, such as coordinating with other group members. Compared with typical objectivist-based instruction, constructivist-based teaching and learning require more time and effort from both the instructor and the students (Chen, 2007). Blended learning is e methodology that has its benefits and challenges.
It is important to remember that designing an effective blended learning environment is difficult. Students and instructors often are required to acquire new skills and spend more time preparing for class. Although the main challenge is that many instructors do not have the skills to design or redesign their face-to-face courses to take advantage of the opportunity provided in an online space for learners to gain a deep conceptual understanding of the content through interaction, engagement, collaboration, and critical thinking. Learners need multiple cognitive opportunities to connect theory and practice. Blended and online learning approaches provide multiple opportunities to facilitate engagement and interaction, to present information, and to represent theoretical concepts in different forms to assist learners in their processes of knowledge connection, deconstruction, and reconstruction (Koc? et al., 2015).
(Lothridge et al., 2013) view as one of the major drawbacks to implementing a blended learning program the lack of a standard established method to determine optimal course length for the theoretical or practical components. The course designers must be very thorough in the analysis phase to understand the needs of the end users in terms of personal learning style, access to technology, suitability of the subject to online delivery, and expectations for post-training performanceDeciding which elements of a blended learning model requires in-person interaction and which ones are best mediated by technology is a complex decision (Aldrich, 2004), thus it makes it hard for lecturers to conceptualize the learning methods. Dahlstrom et al.
(2013) found that while students expect technology to be used in the classroom, they still want the instructor to provide some guidance for its use. Therefore, it is important for instructors to use technology purposefully in their courses and make it clear how it is benefiting their students. Furthermore, the authors explain that as technology becomes more integrated with students’ academic and personal lives, students become warier of their privacy, raising other issues in the prospect. But a far more important issue is if e-skills are lacking, in which case the student may feel overwhelmed by the amount of information; if ICT skills are inadequate, interaction with the content may be limited; and if basic usability issues have not been addressed, equal access will be compromised (Draffan and Rainger, 2006).Some institutions and regions are resistant to changes in pedagogy that include the use of ICT (Hamuy and Galaz, 2010).
In all cases, it seems that the human factor in education is of utmost importance. In many cases there is observed that lecturers are conservatives of their methods and cannot perform effectively given the use of ICT and in other cases they find it impractical and refuse to engage (Albion et al., 2015). On the other hand, many faculty members have little training and experience using online tools in the classroom, and feel that they will not be able to use them effectively to meet students’ needs (Haydn et al., 2014) and well-designed incentives increase teacher effort and student achievement from very low levels, but low-skilled teachers need specific guidance to reach minimally acceptable levels of instruction (Contreras and Rau, 2012).
2.2 Learning management systemOwning to technology, nowadays knowledge is more readily available than ever before, not only for students but also for teachers. According to Prensky (2001), today’s students have changed radically, so they are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach. Learners today are immersed in a variety of educational experiences, therefore teachers need to transform learning in their classrooms from a traditional model to a student-centred model, in a way to make students be more involved in classrooms.
In order to do this, schools have to create an environment when students can be more responsible for their own learning and can develop analytic and cognitive skills (Gillani, 2003). To manage this student-centred environment, is important to implement a Learning management system (Naddabi et al., 2007). A Learning Management System (LMS) is a software application for the administration, documentation, tracking, reporting and delivery of e-learning education courses or training programs (Ryann K. Ellis, 2010). There is a lack in literature in defining the concept of Learning Management System, maybe because of its nature or the fact that essentially it is an evolution of various technologies used over the years.
Parr & Fung, (2006) argues that there are some terms used for what they call drill-and-practice programs, such as, computer-managed instruction (CMI) (Baker, 1978), computer-based instruction (CBI) (Clark, 1985) and computer-assisted instruction (CAI) (Levy, 1997; Niemiec and Walberg, 1987). Learning management system is a concept emerging directly from the e-Learning, the first introduction of LMS is in the late of 1990s (Davis et al., 2009).
It is designed to help educators create and deliver content, monitor student participation, and assess student performance. Through LMS, teachers, are able to create and integrate course materials, articulate learning goals, align content and assessments, track studying progress, create customized test for students. LMS lets you communicate your learning objectives, organize learning timelines, and make possible to learners exactly what they need to learn and when. LMS leverage is that it delivers learning content and tools strait to learners, and also can reach marginalized groups through special settings. Such systems have built in customizable features including assessment and tracking. Thus, learners can see in real time their progress and instructors can monitor and communicate the effectiveness of learning.
One of the most important features of LMS is creating a streamline communication between learners and instructors. Such systems, besides making possible online learning, tracking learning progress, providing digital learning tools, manage communication, and maybe selling content, can provide different communication features. It is important to let know learners that can have real time feedback on their results.
Another additional element provided by LMS systems are visual reports. The interface of this kind translates in easy, finely designed, easy to grasp information, the report about their performance and progress. However, to achieve high level of user experience design we should keep in mind that the two main groups have different needs to be assessed. From the instructor’s perspective, the platform should be easy to learn, highly customizable, and fit for the organization. From the learner’s’ perspective, it should be engaging, easy to use and understandable, and easily accessible.2.
3 Blended Learning in Higher Education Institutions In regard to educational interactions quality within a virtual learning environment there should be primarily considered pedagogical approaches implemented in it. If these approaches are similar to the traditional, there is bound to be an extensive development of the integrated educational environment. The innovative developments are denoted by the new teaching methodologies which tend to result in a different, better – quality oriented professional formation. Such innovative environments are defined by a system of educational conditions supported by basis of information and communication technologies, harmonized with the traditional processes of knowledge conduction. Institutions of higher education are facing increased examination to improve student learning and demonstrate programme effectiveness.
Even though academics have access to numerous online teaching tools, teaching and learning is not all about the technology. The literature tells us that one of the primary components of effective teaching is student engagement and that engagement is critical for learning (Barkley, 2010; McCormick et al., 2013).
Although technology may not be the crucial part of effective learning, research would suggest to best engage students and to promote learning, teaching approaches that go beyond traditional lecture instruction are the most effective (Ferreri and O’Connor, 2013). This is important because there is a group of technologies available to enhance student learning and in a tech based environment it is rational to expect more advancements will be made using the latest technologies. In response to these expectations, universities internationally have recognised over the last two decades that in order to promote learning, maintain student engagement and to increase student satisfaction, the utilisation of technology in addition to traditional learning approaches is considered fundamental. There are in fact a series of benefits in introducing blended learning to higher education institutions.
As has been discussed, blended learning is an integration of face-to-face and online learning experiences, not a layering of one on top of the other. There is evidence that blended learning has the potential to be more effective and efficient when compared to a traditional classroom model (Garrison and Kanuka, 2004), suggesting that it may provide pedagogical benefits such as increased learning effectiveness, satisfaction, and efficiency. Other results indicate that there is much indirect evidence emerging of improved academic performance and student and staff satisfaction with blended learning method, but lack of conclusive evidence that it contributes to building lifelong learning (Phillips and O ‘Flaherty, 2015).
Regarding students, these methods offer flexibility both in time and space. Students are positive about the reduced logistic demands afforded to them when actual face-to-face class time is minimized. The online elements of blended courses can be shifted to fit into students’ busy lifestyles, allowing them to complete asynchronous components on their own time and in their own space, whether at home or in the campus coffee shop (Moskal et al.
, 2013; Poon, 2013). Flexibility is a factor of more importance than it seems. As Stuart et al. (2011) point out emphasize that extracurricular activities are of a growing importance in the life of a student, as they assist in developing self-identity, social networks and career prospects/pathways. Extracurricular activities take a considerable amount of time and energy, consequently flexibility is essential for managing to achieve high results.
Other implications regard the enhancement of the learning experience or in a broader view the learning effectiveness. There is evidence in the literature that blended learning methods can enhance learning experience (Paechter et al., 2010; Paechter and Maier, 2010; Poon, 2013; Smyth et al., 2012). Given that there is evidence about the effectiveness of the blended learning method, there is no clear evidence of scale of the improvement, even considering the fact that it is hard to measure learning experience.
Furthermore, there is a mutual relation between learning experience and academic performance Bliuc et al. (2011), so as in existence of high academic performance, blended learning methods are more effective in increasing the learning experience. On the other hand, the enhancement of the learning experience, driven by blended learning can increase academic performance.
Besides learning experience and academic performance, the motivation to learn is one of the variables that has most often been studied in the field of education (Lim and Morris, 2009). Motivated students are characterised by their greater involvement in the class subject and by greater perseverance in carrying out assignments. Students’ motivation increased during certain experiments in which blended learning was implemented. The possibility of having more types of interaction has proved to be a factor that increases motivation, creating positive attitudes towards learning and leading to higher marks being awarded (Victoria López-Pérez, et al., 2011).