Anders NorbergBy Anders Norberg (Education Strategist,  Campus Skellefteå, Sweden )

A common description of “blended learning” is combination of face-to-face and distance education practises, or methods, or tools, or content, or cultures….well, a combination of two existing concepts anyway. Perhaps also a meeting of the traditional and the new, of the ordinary in education and the project based. Some questions to ponder…

Photo of winding country road: Sten Porse, obtained from WikiMedia Commons under the terms of  Creative Commons Share-Alike 3.0 Unported licenseIf traditional face-to-face education is combined with distance education, what happens? Savings of classroom space and lecturing time? Better enrollment on campus due to increased flexibility in scheduling for students? Extra learning efficiency by using modern tools? More stimulating classes? A sense of being modern and up-to-date by enriching a classroom culture with digital tools? All of the above?

So we get a “half-distance” or “half-face-to-face” course. Is that the final goal? Does it seem like the revolution we envisioned? Are we there already? Or is it enough change—are we just happy that all education won’t become “distance education” as we recently feared, because we saved campus education with a blended learning make over?

Can behind this exist a traditional place-based perspective on education, which says that the natural place of teaching and learning is the classroom? But now more and more tasks can be handled otherwise with help of technology. And why not remix courses? Blended learning becomes a mix of learning places, it enables more learning outside the classroom, but still from a classroom perspective? So the most relevant tools are video conference lectures, lecture captures, LMSs that replicate the classroom organization. In short: Extend the classroom with technology?

But isn’t it a little sad that even in Second Life, an environment where almost everything is possible, universities build campuses with classrooms where their avatar students can sit at their desks, watch power point slides and listen to lectures?

Our terminology reflects this place-based view. What did “distance” in “distance teaching” really mean? That students with help of some technology (books, postal service, radio, CD:s, recorded lectures etc) could be taught outside the classroom. OK, but what about “distance learning”? That a student could learn outside a classroom? But don’t all students learn outside the classroom? A “distance learner” learns where s/he is, not at a distance. And learning as such doesn’t demand a classroom. A classroom is a tool itself.  Earlier it was needed for all teaching. That is now less and less true.

Will we ever be able to free us from the axiom that the natural place of education is a classroom? Can the classroom become a tool among other tools when building learning processes?