Blended Learning: A way to assist learners in rural communities | Daily News


Blended Learning: A way to assist learners in rural communities

The term ‘Blended Learning’ is used frequently along with the term ‘e-Learning’ and it is just another buzz word or an old wine in a new bottle, Engineer Dr. Gamini Padmaperuma in an interview with Daily News Finance said .

Dr. Padmaperuma is a Chartered Professional Engineer and a former Senior Lecturer at OUSL. He is also holding a PhD from the University of Canterbury, New Zealand in Instructional Design for Computer-Based Learning.

Dr. Padamaperuma said it is relevant to review the present situation in the country with reference to computer literacy and the percentage of households owning computers in different sectors, urban, rural, estate, etc as

Computer literacy/Computer ownership as a percentage (Sri Lanka: 30.1/22.2, Urban:41.5/38.3, Rural:28.6/19.9, Estate:13.7/3.8), as per available statistics.

He said that the statistics clearly indicate a vast disparity within the sectors in computer literacy and ownership of computers by households and under such a situation, a heavy emphasis on e-Learning or technology based education could worsen the present relative social standing of rural and estate sectors.

He said while actions need to be taken to reduce the above disparities in the longer run, it is imperative that less privileged sectors be provided with facilities such as Blended Learning to mitigate the disparities that currently exist.

According to Dr. Padamaperuma Blended Learning is defined as a combination of multiple approaches to pedagogy or teaching and it is achieved through the combination of virtual and physical resources.

He said Blended Learning is a blend between e-Learning and traditional delivery methods such as traditional class rooms, printed learning material etc.

“Most learners are familiar with how teachers use different delivery methods to achieve learning outcomes, e.g. lectures, discussion groups, drills and practices, role plays, audio/video clips, computer-based tutorials, etc. and therefore, it can be said that Blended Learning is a new name for an old concept.

Dr. Padmaperuma also mentioned that Blended Learning can cater to a large cross section of learners including rural and estate sectors in achieving their learning goals by accommodating different modes of delivery, models of teaching and styles of learning.

He said all students do not learn in just the same way nor do they have the same accessibility to technology; therefore, it is important to provide different methods, media and approaches to learn the same content by different students.

“With regular Internet, TV, radio, etc., it is possible to deliver educational and training content for the benefit of the learners throughout the country and the content could include material for school and university programmes, improvement of general skills such as English knowledge and computer literacy, vocational skills such as repair and maintenance of automobiles, computers, etc.

Dr. Padmaperuma is of the view that those who are familiar with distance learning are aware of the main hardships the learners face; the lack of tutor support and feedback.

He said the “theory” part of the learning task can be delivered through the technology.

He also said the learners would choose the method that suits them best based on preference, accessibility, affordability, etc as different approaches in delivery are also necessary due to different learning contexts (traditional learning, distance learning, etc.), learner types (auditory learners, visual learners, etc.) and leaning tasks (facts, concepts, etc.).

Also, when the technology is not equally accessible to the entire cross-section of learners, blended learning could provide alternatives to choose from.

Dr, Padmaperuma is also of the view that the factors that influence the blend of methods and technologies used to achieve desired learning objectives include: learning context, type of learners, learning task, availability, accessibility and learner attitudes towards using technology for learning, time availability for learning, language and subject proficiency levels, pace at which learning goals are to be achieved, the pedagogical approaches.

He further explained that the actual making of the ‘blend’ should be based on proper study and evaluation of the learning situation and such study is called Instructional Design and a typical instructional design process includes five stages; Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation (ADDIE).

“The most critical of these stages is the first stage, Analysis. Analysis is the basis for design of instructions and their delivery. The Analysis stage consists of three components; analysis of learning context, the learner, and the learning task.

He said in this case the design and delivery of instruction should be made to suit a distance learning environment and the question arises as to what type of distance learning is affordable. He asked “Does the learner have access to ICT where instructions can be delivered in the form of offline content or online through the Internet? “

He said if the learners have no access to ICT, then the option will be to provide the learners with print material designed for distance learning or media broadcasts.

He also mentioned if the analysis shows that a good part of the learners have access to ICT, then the delivery of learning content should be made through both ICT, print material and/or media broadcasts and this is just an example of blending different methods of delivery of instruction to suit different types of learners and learning contexts.

Dr. Padmaperuma further said that Blended Learning methods also become relevant when implementation of different steps in the learning process is considered.

“The different steps that a learner needs to go through to accomplish a learning task are known as Events of Instruction and there are nine events of instruction: Gaining attention, informing the learner of the objective, stimulating learner’s attention, stimulating recall of prior knowledge, providing learning guidance, eliciting performance, providing feedback, assessing performance and enhancing retention and transfer and different approaches or media could be used to achieve each event of instruction,” he said.

Dr. Padamaperuma said that the type of learning task too has a bearing on the methods of delivery. Design of events of instruction varies from task to task.

“Giving feedback on learner performance will be quite different in a computer-based learning environment as compared to a face-to-face learning environment and also intelligent tutoring systems can evaluate the learner input and suggest possible routes for solving a problem or task,” he said.

He also said it is the instructional designer’s task and therefore to select the appropriate mix of media to ensure effective learning under a given learning situation.

Eng. Padmaperuma added, “With such blended learning settings, a large portion of the country’s population including those in rural sectors can benefit from the new technology and the country can steadily move towards its vision to become a knowledge-based economy with a more equitable society.”


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