4. Which Mode Students Need?
4.2. Blended Learning Learners
In terms of blended learning, the ‘market’ is less clearly defined than for fully online learning. The benefit for students is increased flexibility, but they will still need to be relatively local in order to attend the campus-based sessions. The main advantage is for the 50 per cent or more of students, at least in Canada, who are working more than 15 hours a week (Marshall, 2010) to help with the cost of their education and to keep their student debt as low as possible. Also, blended learning provides an opportunity for the gradual development of independent learning skills, as long as this is an intentional teaching strategy.
The research also suggests that these skills of independent learning need to be developed while students are on campus. In other words, online learning, in the form of blended learning should be deliberately introduced and gradually increased as students work through a program, so by the time they graduate, they have the skills to continue to learn independently – a critical skill for the digital age. In general, it is not a good idea to offer fully online courses in the early years of a university or college career, unless they are exceptionally well designed with a considerable amount of online learner support – and hence are likely to be expensive to mount, if they are to be successful.
As well as the benefits of more flexibility for students, especially those working part-time, the academic benefits of blended learning are being better understood. These will be discussed in more detail in the next section. At this point, there is evidence that in Canada, at least, more and more institutions are seeing a move by instructors to blended or hybrid learning, providing the advantages of both online and face-to-face teaching (Donovan et al., 2018).