By Cherry Vanderbeke
Have you noticed there’s a lot of jargon related to learning models that use education technology? Hybrid learning, flipped classroom, blended learning, multi-modal learning, personalized learning, computer-based learning… and more.
The problem with jargon is that while it provides easy labels for sometimes complex concepts, it can also be confusing or even exclusionary – especially where there is no standard definition that everyone agrees on. For instance, are ‘hybrid’ and ‘blended’ two words for the same thing, or are they slightly different models, as some would have us believe? Is ‘flipped’ a whole new teaching model, or just a type of blended learning where online resources are merely used in a new way?
So when we talk to people about SIMTICS online simulations for students and health professionals, we aim to get beyond the jargon and work toward a common understanding of what they need. We don’t mind what you call your teaching model; we just want to understand how you are implementing it, and if or where we can add value.
In this article, we take the opportunity to explain what we understand by the most commonly used term, blended learning, and what it offers students and educators.
Blended learning. Simply put, it’s a model that blends traditional and digital modalities in order to enrich and enhance the students’ learning experience. Clifford Maxwell at blendedlearning.org offers three criteria to define blended learning.
Criteria one: control. The online component should offer students some control over when, where and how they work. It’s not just about taking all students through a computer-based exercise at the same time, place and pace. Instead, control of learning passes from the teacher to the student. For example, when learning clinical skills with SIMTICS, students can log in anytime, choose where they learn, and can even create their own pathways through the interactive simulations and other media in each module.
Criteria two: learning away from home. To qualify as a blended learning course, it should provide students at least some time with educators away from the student’s home at another location such as on campus or at a learning centre. SIMTICS supports ‘away-from-home’ learning too. For instance, instructors can walk through a simulation, on a projector, to create a detailed ‘show and tell’ with group discussion. Or where there isn’t enough equipment in a lab for all the students to work at the same time, SIMTICS simulations can be used as a workstation assignment for the students who are waiting for their turn for hands-on practice.
Criteria three: integration. Blended learning integrates teaching modalities that complement each other. Online learning acts both as pre-work and as a way to reinforce new learning after a classroom or lab session. Classroom-based instruction takes into account the progress students have made in their online learning. Blended learning therefore makes the most of face time by allowing educators to tailor their teaching to what students already know. SIMTICS, for example, offers analytics on the achievement of each student using the platform. Areas of challenge and progress are identified before students attend a lab or class. Students can ask targeted questions based on that prior learning, and instructors can provide personal tutoring to individuals needing specific help. In this way face to face time is optimized, for both students and educators.
The ‘flipped’ model takes blended learning a step further, by using technology to turn the traditional education paradigm on its head. The first experiments had students watch recorded lectures outside the classroom, and used classroom time solely for activities to put the learning into practice. But for me, the main question that arises from this approach is, why give students a passive activity, like watching videos, to do outside class where there are so many possibilities for distraction or just zoning out? At SIMTICS we don’t claim to have the complete answer to that challenge, but when it comes to learning skills and procedures, we provide interactive, realistic simulations that require students to think and respond, and we track each student’s activity, study time and scores, even telling them what errors they made. Instructors can view reports for their entire class to check that students are doing the required work, and can also identify individuals who need extra help during face to face time. The reports can also help to flag specific areas where students need more practice.
In summary, blended learning and education technology can offer huge advantages for students, educators and their institutions. Giving students control over at least some of their learning means they can absorb information in a way and at a pace that best suits them. Instructors tell us the approach also encourages students to take more responsibility for their learning. For faculty and institutions, tailoring expensive educator and lab time to students’ level of competency is an efficiency and quality gain – and usually makes the teaching more enjoyable. As a final point, the personalization intrinsic to blended learning ultimately puts students at the center of their learning. That’s what makes us excited to offer SIMTICS as part of an excellent learning experience.
Cherry Vanderbeke is CEO of SIMTICS, an interactive learning company that provides web based simulations for allied health and clinical procedures. SIMTICS offers interactive digital simulation-based resources that assist sonography, radiographic technology, dental assisting and medical assisting college programs and students.