More and more courses are opting for a blended learning approach
Whether you call it blended learning, hybrid learning or the flipped classroom, new models of learning that mix distance, hands-on and small-group learning are becoming increasingly popular at educational institutions across the country. UF is no exception. In this month’s The POST, we show you how two colleges are offering blended learning options to students.
By Jill Pease and Stacey Marquis
Kendra Krietsch admits she was skeptical about her first blended learning class.
The third-year clinical psychology doctoral student worried a course that blends in-person and virtual instruction would be impersonal and lack opportunities for interactions with her instructor and classmates.
It wasn’t long before her fears were put to rest.
“Actually, I’ve had the opposite experience,” says Krietsch, who has taken several blended learning courses. “The (blended learning) format has really allowed for more interaction and time to talk about issues and problems that are more practical or will affect us on a day-to-day basis.”
Pairing the best of in-person instruction with the benefits and conveniences of distance learning, this new model of education goes by many names: blended learning, hybrid learning or the flipped classroom. No matter what you call it, one thing is certain: blended learning is bourgeoning in U.S. classrooms, including at UF.
A 2009 U.S. Department of Education analysis of dozens of studies found that blended learning may be more effective than online-only or traditional face-to-face formats in improving student achievement and increasing the amount of time students spend learning.
At UF Health, the format has already taken root in the College of Pharmacy and the College of Public Health and Health Professions, which offer numerous courses in the blended learning style.
In a blended learning course, students might learn the basics of a topic online and use classroom time to clarify difficult concepts or to complete activities that test their knowledge of the material. And experts say blended learning models may work better than either traditional in-person or distance learning methods alone.
“Instead of a traditional model with an instructor getting up and disseminating information in one-way communication, with blended learning the face-to-face classroom becomes more interactive, generally centered around problems or projects that are somewhat ill-defined, more like reality,” says George Hack, Ph.D., the College of Public Health and Health Professions’ instructional designer.
Finding the right mix
In 2012, a PHHP task force began exploring blended learning methods and technologies and the college hired Hack last year to help interested faculty members transition their courses to a blended learning format.
Blended learning models can take many forms, but one of the most recognizable is the “flipped classroom.” In this format, students watch the instructors’ lectures online, outside of the classroom, and then use class time to work on assignments. Currently more than 60 PHHP courses use some sort of blended learning component.
Amy Cantrell, Ph.D., a clinical associate professor in the department of biostatistics in PHHP and the College of Medicine, uses this approach in her biostatistics courses. Course materials, such as a textbook with embedded self-learning quizzes, activities and short video lectures, are available online for the students’ review prior to class. Students spend all of class time working on assignments and group activities.
“This transition from a traditional lecture to a blended learning model has been very successful,” Cantrell said. “The presentation of (statistics) software skills in online tutorials allows me to give this instruction to the class in a way that allows each student the flexibility to review the content when it is most convenient and to repeat the information as needed to complete the assignments.”
Eugene Dunne, a fourth-year clinical psychology doctoral student, took his first blended learning class last fall, a multivariate statistics class taught by Michael Marsiske, Ph.D., an associate professor in clinical and health psychology. The format allows for a lot of in-class time for group problem solving with the instructor close by to assist.
“Having Dr. Marsiske there in the room is great because if he gets a sense that you’re struggling he’ll come over and ask us how we’re doing,” Dunne said. “If we have any questions we can raise our hands and he’ll spend time with the group at that moment, helping us understand where we’re stuck and walking us through it.
“This was my fifth statistics class and this is definitely the way to learn it.”
Krietsch appreciates the more active role students take in a blended learning environment.
“I think that students of my generation are used to coming to a class maybe having read a little bit, but feeling like we’re going to be passively absorbing information a teacher gives us,” she said. “With the blended learning model it’s much more collaborative. We’re expected to look at the material and figure out what we don’t understand so that we can come to class more prepared and ready to ask questions that are already informed.”
Flipping the pharmacy classroom
In 1994, the College of Pharmacy unveiled the Pharm.D. degree as a distance learning offering. Now, it’s considered a blended learning program, divided into two branches: the entry-level Pharm.D. and the Working Professionals Pharmacy Degree, meant for full-time working pharmacists.
“Sometimes there are things that can be done online, but they might not be the most optimal way to achieve the learning outcome,” said Diane Beck, Pharm.D., associate dean for curricular affairs and accreditation for the College of Pharmacy.
“With blended learning we choose a combination of face-to-face classroom learning and online learning.”
Beck said that to come up with the right “blend” for each course, instructors and administrators determine what the desired learning outcome is for an idea and tailor the delivery to it.
For example, Beck said, if an instructor simply wants to convey an idea about a class of drugs to students, he or she can deliver that message through an online lecture. If an instructor wants to demonstrate how to effectively communicate with patients, that lesson will take place in the classroom.
“We want to get students to have a higher level of application where they actually have to take the level of knowledge that they’ve gained, like communication skills, and actually demonstrate they can use them in real practice through role play,” Beck said. “There is a live role play where we may have somebody who is role-playing being a patient, somebody role-playing being another health professional. The role play is something that could be done online, but there is nothing like that human element.”
Mona Kwong, a student in the Working Pharmacy Professionals Degree program, meets with some of her classmates in Las Vegas at one of the college’s several remote sites. She enjoys meeting face-to-face to discuss class material.
“We might talk about different things we’ve encountered, just to help each other out in terms of not just didactics, not just the schoolwork, but also practice,” she said. “That really enhances our own practice … seeing what’s available about there.”
Although Kwong said she also appreciates the number of advisers who are available to her through the program, she cites the networking opportunities as the most valuable part of the WPPD program.
“I’ve met people from New Mexico, Washington, Colorado, Arizona, Texas … just all across the U.S., which is really neat,” she said.
Beck said the WPPD program was the first program of its kind to use blended learning. It was designed for pharmacists who have been in the field since 2000 when it became a requirement to have a Pharm.D. degree to get hired as a pharmacist. The WPPD program currently has 270 students enrolled for the fall 2015 semester. The entry-level Pharm.D. program historically has 300 students per class, with four classes. The college’s other majors contain fewer blended learning elements than the Pharm.D. programs.
To measure the success of the blended learning model, Beck said she conducts focus groups among students. She said she’s learned that students like the flexibility of the program and being able to work at their own pace.
“The lectures are videotaped, and (the students) love the ability to slow them down, stop them when something is confusing, replay them or, if the instructor is talking too slow, to speed up the speed,” Beck said.
Michelle Farland, Pharm.D., an associate professor in the department of pharmacotherapy and translational research, designs blended learning courses in the College of Pharmacy. Of all of the different techniques she employs, team-based learning is her favorite, as well as the most challenging to implement.
“To design a (team-based learning) session, you should use a ‘backward design’ approach — identify what the student should be able to do at the end of the module, then begin the design of the materials,” she said. “One of the most challenging components to this approach is identifying the activities students should complete before they come to a live class session to apply what they have learned.”
Farland said that finding the right balance of creating challenging-but-not-too-challenging pre-class assignments can be difficult for professors. When that balance is achieved, however, Farland said students enjoy collaborating.
“(The students) enjoy being able to interact with classmates to solve real-world problems and they also enjoy getting to hear the instructor’s thoughts on their approach to solving the problem,” she said. “This provides an opportunity for peer-learning in addition to self-assessment throughout the course.”
With one year left in his Pharm.D. degree, John Leonard is excited to apply the skills he’s learned in his blended learning courses into real-life practice.
“We have many projects that focus on working with other colleges and practitioners which give us some insight into the disciplines they are learning,” he said. “This focus really allows us to think about cases from a different perspective, which may help us as practitioners to increase the level of patient care. I have had an incredible time for the last three years with my colleagues and professors in the College of Pharmacy, and am looking forward to completing my final year.”
Beck said that starting in the fall semester, the College of Pharmacy will unveil a new curriculum where the online and in-person components are more balanced than in the past.
Although blended learning has been on the rise, some reviews have been mixed across the country, particularly about the use of this model in K-12 education. One misperception is that the model makes teachers take on a more passive role and requires students to teach themselves, Farland said.
“This perception is difficult to overcome,” she said. “The instructor places significant thought into what level of content is appropriate for the student to learn outside of the classroom versus the level of application that should be incorporated into a live classroom environment, where students have opportunity to ask questions in real-time. Most of this design process is done without student knowledge of the process.”
However, Farland believes blended learning will continue to become more popular on college campuses. “It is a way to get students to higher levels of cognitive learning, which is needed in higher education,” she said.