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A Quick Guide to Blended Learning for Online Educators

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Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenFaculty Director, School of Arts, Humanities and Education

Teachers and trainers can develop effective blended learning using this quick guide to course design. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares tips to help online educators set a clear goal for the course, write a course outline, detail both the online and live portions of the course, design collaboration and interactivity, plan communication, consider learning resources, and design assessments.

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Dr. Bethanie Hansen: This podcast is for educators, academics, and parents who know that online teaching can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding, engaging, and fun. Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen, and I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics, and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge Podcast. I’m so glad you’re here, and I want to welcome our listeners from all around the world who enjoy this podcast. One of our listeners in India this past week sent a message asking for help with blended learning. Today’s episode is a quick guide to blended learning for all of you who may be facing this kind of pattern.

Blended learning means that some of your learning is taking place in the virtual classroom. This could be in a learning management system of some kind or by email, whatever method that you choose to deliver that online content. The other half or other segments of the learning are delivered face-to-face. This could be in a live classroom, say you’re going down to the local campus and meeting as a group. It could be a tele-class where there are groups distributed in different geographical areas all meeting by videoconference. Or, it could be individually through Zoom or some other kind of web conferencing. But that other half of the blended learning is taking place live.

Whatever your method of the live component of your learning, the online learning component can be challenging to design and set up—especially if you’re not sure how to design two different halves without duplicating your efforts. I have some experience with this.  I designed some hybrid courses several years ago for a local community college, and I also taught those courses. I’ll share some of what I’ve learned and also what are some good best practices.

Here are your seven steps to create blended learning courses. I’ll share all steps with you up front and then I’ll go through each one and give you some details to help you out.

  1. Set a clear goal for the course.
  2. Outline what you’ll accomplish. That includes what you will do online as well as what you will do face-to-face.
  3. In your outline, detail those online and live portions of the course.
  4. Design collaboration and interactivity.
  5. Create a communication plan.
  6. Cultivate resources.
  7. Design your assessments.

Tip 1: Set a Clear Goal for the Course

Let’s go with number one: set a clear goal for your course. When you’re designing a blended learning situation, or a hybrid course, you want to know what you’re going to teach the students during that course. Define the learning outcomes.

When you’re backward mapping, in true backward mapping, this part of the process will also include some idea of your assessments that will ultimately measure students’ learning at the end of the course. If you know how you’re going to measure that learning as you’re designing it from the beginning, this is a really cohesive approach to outlining content later on.

Think about whether students need to pass a major exam, provide a practical demonstration of their learning, write about their experience, or provide some other artifact to show mastery of what you will teach them. This big-picture goal helps you design the scope of the course, in general. For example, if I’m going to be teaching some kind of music appreciation course, I will decide what eras in history to include, what genres and styles, what nationalities of music I might bring in, which major composers, and which interesting selections that I might have. Generally speaking, this is going to be part of my thinking as I’m setting that goal. But those details won’t really be nailed down until later.

I’m also going to be thinking about what students will be able to do with that knowledge and what they will need to demonstrate at the end of the course with that knowledge. So, that first goal upfront is helping you to set boundaries around what you’re going to teach and also clarify what you’re going to teach.

Tip 2: Outline The Weekly Goals, Topics, and Content of your Course

Number two: outline the weekly goals, topics, and content of your course. This will help you break down each week into manageable chunks of content, learning activities, and formative assessments to guide students along.

Formative assessments are those smaller ways of assessing your students to know how they’re doing. Formative assessments can be small, like a discussion board in an online section of the course. They can be quizzes. They can be just discussions in the live part of your hybrid or blended course. Whatever you do for formative assessments, these should be ways for the instructor to check in along the way to know how students are doing in the class, and also ways for students to gauge their own mastery along the way.

They should be able to do formative assessments to adjust their approach, to study more, to go back and review or to somehow adjust their progress and make sure that they can pass that course by the end of the term together.

When you’re doing this outline of weekly goals, topics, and content, I suggest something like a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. On one column, you can list the different weeks of the course. This is basically a timeline. In the next column, you can list the topics, or the weekly goals, or both. Then in the next column, this would be the column to list the things you might consider doing in the online part of your class. What will need to be placed in the online classroom? What kinds of online content would you like to provide, and activities? And then, in the next column you can list what you would need to do during the live parts of the class.

And I suggest that during the live part, you’re going to have a lot of different information to share those first few weeks, and I’ll get to that in just a minute. So, outlining your weekly goals, topics, and content can take place very easily in some kind of a spreadsheet or database type of software.

Tip 3: In your Outline, Detail Those Online and Live Portions of the Course

On your outline, give the details of options for the online teaching and engagement, and the face-to-face time. You’ll want to break these down into significant activities in both places. There will be learning content and there will be some kind of interactivity, but it’s important not to duplicate your activities.

So if you have a discussion online, then you’re also going to meet live, that we can have the same kind of discussion. That’s what I mean when I say: don’t duplicate. You can have that discussion in the live space and then have some kind of a follow-up question-answer or message board. But having an additional online discussion when you’ve already had a live discussion is quite a bit for students to be doing.

Ask yourself, “Will both parts be online?” Asynchronous learning is the LMS component or the online component of the course. And that’s the part that students should be able to access any time during the week and engage in throughout the week on their own. The synchronous learning will be done live, and this could be done entirely through videoconferencing like Zoom or some other platform. It could be done face-to-face in the live classroom, all in one group, or maybe students are distributed in different geographic locations just coming together through a teleconference in groups. Regardless of the live format, you want to figure out whether this live format is online as well as the course, or if it is actually taking place physically?

If it’s going to be online as well, you might consider adding some additional guidance and details about how to engage in the live parts, and how to engage in the asynchronous parts. That will make your blended learning experience a lot more positive for students, because they’ll know what to expect. And they’ll have no trouble getting online and engaging in both parts of your class.

If you have a live section where students will be physically face-to-face with you, that can be explained or demonstrated and you won’t have to have as much guidance about the live portion in your online section. As you’re doing the outline and detailing what you’ll do online and what you’ll do face-to-face, use Bloom’s taxonomy to design depth and engaged learning that goes beyond fact-based recall and basic knowledge. Now this is especially important if you’re teaching a training, and not just an academic course.

If you’re doing some kind of training where people need to be able to reproduce the skills or have basic knowledge and skills with that training, it is very tempting just to have quizzes and things that measure whether the students heard you or understood the content. But that tells you nothing about whether the students are able to reproduce that, act on what they’re learning, or do something else with it.

Bloom’s taxonomy is a great tool to create depth in your online portion and also consider what you might do in the live portion to get to a place way beyond fact-based recall. Bloom’s taxonomy is developed to provide a common language for teachers to talk about learning and assessment. If you use Bloom’s taxonomy, that doesn’t mean it’s the only thing you can use. There’s also Costa’s levels and there are other ways to scaffold the different levels of learning that might happen in your course.

Bloom’s taxonomy basically includes six levels. It starts with basic knowledge, and that would be your fact-based recall, multiple-choice quizzing, question-answer about just the basic details.

And then, the next level is comprehension. This is where your students will demonstrate back to you that not only did they learn the facts about what they were learning in the class, but they comprehended. They have a greater depth of knowledge, and there’s some activity that has to be done with the learning to get to that point of comprehension demonstration.

The third level, is application what can students do with what they’re learning. As you think about application, this is where assessments come into play. If students are taught something and given some skills, and then they need to put it together to apply it, that can be demonstrated through some sort of assessment beyond quizzing.

The fourth level is analysis. Analysis is much more complex, and when you ask your students to do analysis with the content, some demonstration of what analysis is would be helpful. You can explain analysis and demonstrate analysis, and then ask your students to do the analysis.

The next level is synthesis. That’s bringing a lot of different things together.

And the final step in Bloom’s taxonomy, the top level, is evaluation. If you think about these different levels of learning activities or thinking that you might do in either your face-to-face or the online component of that blended course, it’s going to help you to also scaffold the activities from week one all the way through the end of the course. Say, for example, week one might begin with a lot of very basic-level knowledge and structural information, academic vocabulary, build up to the big ideas. Then later a few weeks into the course, you might have some comprehension and application of that knowledge.

As you’re moving through the course, ultimately students should be able to demonstrate some higher-order thinking. Analysis, synthesis, and evaluation by the end of that course, at whatever appropriate level you select for the content. As you think about Bloom’s taxonomy throughout the course, but also throughout your assessments, this will help you to know: Did students really learn what you needed them to learn and understand in the class?

Tip 4: Design Collaboration and Interactivity

The next level is, on the next step in designing your blended learning course is, to create reasons for students to collaborate, interact with each other and their instructor, and work with the knowledge. This connects very well to Bloom’s taxonomy we just covered, when you consider that higher-order thinking activities require time, contemplation, and application of the learning to develop. If students can collaborate in real time during the face-to-face setting, you can design group work. You can do jigsaw conversations. There are many strategies you can employ during the live section to get students talking to each other and working together.

You can also use group activities online. This is very easy to do using the groups feature in Bright Space or other LMSs. You can also use discussion boards. You can have them do group projects. They can even schedule time outside of their asynchronous learning to get together on their own, live, to do a group project.

Tip 5: Create a Communication Plan

Because you have all these moving parts with your online content, in your live face-to-face teaching, a communication plan is essential to help your students know what to do.

You might have an online question-answer location, or a message board. If you’re having the live face-to-face portion first, this is a great time to guide students to engage with the online portion. So in the face-to-face meeting, you can pull up the screen, and you can walk them through the online part of your class. And then, of course, giving them some sort of handout or downloadable outline of each week of the course and where and when they should engage with each part of the course can also help your students follow along.

In my experience teaching a hybrid class several years ago, I spent most of the time during the live class over the first two weeks simply guiding students to get online and find their way around the classroom. If you don’t have a long period of time, you might create a video of yourself going to the classroom, and the face-to-face content, and showing students how to get each one. And what each one will involve.

Tip 6: Cultivate Resources, Online Content, and Learning Materials

Number six: cultivate resources, online content, and learning materials. Just like any class, these might include your textbooks, your video lessons, interactive web-based tools, and other content.

Whatever you put online can be as basic as reading and watching the videos, if needed. But if you can get a little bit more sophisticated, that will be more engaging for students. Ideally, it should be interactive in the online portion and take full advantage of the options available through modern technology. If you are going to create a lot of videos for the online portion, I suggest segmenting these into shorter videos of, maybe, five minutes each. That will help your students stay engaged and get through them one at a time, when their time allows.

Tip 7: Design your Assessments

I suggested during step one, thinking about your assessments early on, as you are setting the course goals. Now, this final step is to actually flesh out and design your assessments. And that could take place online, it could take place live, face-to-face. But those assessments need very clear guidance and instructions.

And as you review them yourself, ensure that they do map to the course goals. Do they actually measure what you intended to teach and what you did teach? Do they help students demonstrate those higher levels in Bloom’s taxonomy of thinking at the application and the analysis, synthesis, and evaluation stages?

If all you need is knowledge and comprehension, that’s pretty simple to do and could be done through essays and exams or oral activities as well.

Launching Your Blended Course

As you launch your blended course, review these seven steps to ensure you haven’t missed anything. And of course, “test drive” the content that you have. Make sure everything in your online segment of the course is accessible and viewable by your students, and works properly.

I wish you all the best in your quest of creating blended learning, and again hello to our friends in India who sent us this question. Thank you, and have a great week teaching online!

This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit bethaniehansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen is a Faculty Director and Certified Professional Coach for the School of Arts & Humanities. She holds a B.M. in Music Education from Brigham Young University, a M.S. in Arts & Letters from Southern Oregon University and a DMA in Music Education from Boston University. She is an educator, coach, manager, writer, presenter and musician with 25 years of experience helping others achieve their goals.

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