Dr Mamata Bhandar has around twenty years of experience in lecturing at the National University of Singapore and Manipal GlobalNxt University. She has industry experience in the software and manufacturing sectors. Dr Bhandar obtained her PhD from the National University of Singapore in 2007. Her research interests are knowledge management strategy, IT systems/IT Projects, Technology in hospitality, online learning and Women’s leadership. She teaches subjects such as IT systems for Business, IS project management, IS Strategy, Management Information Systems, Enterprise Knowledge Management, Qualitative Research, Research Project.
We can no longer imagine education systems without the use of technology. During the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted education, the academic sphere’s penetration of information and communication technologies (ICTs) increased. The reliance on technology has become the norm for many educational institutions worldwide for learners across age groups learning skills ranging from arts to physical education, in addition to K12 and university education. Institutions immediately adapted to delivering lessons online with lockdowns across the globe. Since its incorporation into the sector, technology has proven invaluable in guaranteeing learning continuity; however, its effectiveness was still questioned. The lockdown helped alleviate some of the cynicism and uncertainty around technology and education; in fact, it opened up minds and a world of new possibilities for educators and officials who used it to assist students in adapting to the new way of learning. Teaching, learning, lesson delivery, and assessments transformed quickly, and everyone readily adapted to the new paradigm.
While adjusting to delivering lessons and administering assessments came quickly, concerns surrounding the effectiveness of online learning remained, considering the momentous shift in learning style seemingly overnight. For online learning to be effective, a learner must be self-sufficient, and the educator must act as a guide and facilitator. The curriculum should be designed based on constructivism’s tenets, in which learners construct their knowledge while actively participating in the learning process. This can be accomplished through thoughtful learning activities and assessments, such as class discussions, flipped classroom tactics and authentic real life-based assessments, all of which may all be carried out creatively online. This adjustment in the educator and learner perspective is critical for boosting online learning efficacy and can easily be adopted in higher education with mature students.
Blended Learning Models (BLM) are face-to-face education augmented by online teaching that will become the new normal post-COVID era. For one, technology-enabled learning outcomes using gadgets, combined with frontal instruction, provide a futuristic educational model that incorporates the best of both ways. In a student-centric teaching and learning environment, BLM technology-enabled monitoring of students’ presence and performance through a Learning Management System (LMS) allows teachers to receive customised content modules based on students’ competency and learning behaviour. The use of educational technologies such as augmented reality and virtual reality makes practical learning more immersive and realistic while compensating for the loss of practical training due to unforeseen circumstances. Learners can absorb concepts at their speed with BLM because they can access the same information several times to hone their practical abilities. Moreover, even when students study from home, they are linked to their institutions and lecturers.
Advantages of BLM
With BLM, students can develop self-learning skills as they prepare at home for the next day’s interactive discussion in class, directed by the teacher. This will help students develop soft skills like time management, finding the correct information, making independent decisions, critical analytical thinking, confidence, and teamwork. Blending synchronous (in-person lectures, live webinars, etc.) and asynchronous (self-learning/instruction material such as videos, discussions, etc.) features will go a long way toward leveraging this transformation and preparing us to adjust to new teaching and learning styles. If the still-ongoing pandemic has taught us anything, we must be resilient, perseverant, and nimble to adapt to new situations. This should also reflect on the learning outcomes in higher education to allow students to move, adjust, and adapt to a changing environment.
Embracing the notion of blended learning and recognising the shift in learners’ attitudes through dedicated research will be a positive step forward for all higher educational institutions. Technology has advanced at a breakneck speed to facilitate this transformation, and when combined with creative curriculum design and delivery, learning effectiveness and experiences can be dramatically enhanced. We, as educators, must make informed decisions about the tools and technologies to use, keeping in mind the subject we teach and the behaviour of our students and attempting to provide a personalised blended learning experience for every learner. Educators’ roles change as a result of BLM. They will act as facilitators, helping learners in the practical application of information, monitoring their progress, and delivering a variety of content formats, resulting in a dynamic and engaging learning environment. Difficult-to-understand topics will be discussed in class through flipped classroom tactics; additional content will be made available online for students to prepare for the classes, and assessments will involve higher-order thinking skills and reflection to develop independent learners. This will also assist teachers in providing individualised attention to students.
So, what comes next? Learners in certain countries have returned to their classrooms, with some returning 50% and others learning online. Most students will eventually return to their classes as before the pandemic, and professors will return to their former teaching approach, or will they? Educators must be aware of the shift in learning behaviour similar to how our behaviour as consumers and shoppers has changed through the pandemic, and we are now more accepting of virtual tours and buying fresh produce online. Learners have grown accustomed to accessing information online, following asynchronous content online and the flexibility to study when and where. They also have become more reflective learners, self-searching for solutions, all of which point to an on-demand learning environment. This transformation, while subtle, has occurred in all facets of our lives and has had a significant impact on students as well. Learning anything online is increasingly considered flexible and efficient, and it allows for complete understanding and revision of learned topics. This is why blended learning is unquestionably here to stay.