Trends and abilities of Blended learning in higher education

Blended learning in higher education

Introduction

The United Nations Educational, scientific and cultural organization (UNESCO) has identified education as a main societal priority, while recognizing non-resolved serious problems, especially in developing countries. UNESCO combines access to quality education with very positive impacts in terms of income distribution and creation and distribution of human prosperity. 

UNESCO has proclaimed three principles within the framework of education 2030. The first principle redesigned the right to education as a fundamental human right, as well as an empowering law. The second principle reaffirms education as a public good. 

Finally, the third principle prioritizes gender equality and inclusion in education as a global initiative for future years (UNESCO 2016). Social, economic, political, and cultural contexts represent both obstacles and catalysts that go beyond technological solutions as the only transformative elements of the education system. Despite all the efforts, most companies and education systems have failed in the two elements of the first principle. 

In this context, technology is promoted as an effective mechanism to reduce education inequalities (Graham 2016, as mentioned in Selwyn 2011). Graham (2016) has identified three ways in which people see technology as a facilitator of inclusion and equality in education: 1) Increase the diversity of mechanisms and modes in education; 2) Reduce obstacles to education as a democratization mechanism; and 3) Improve individual control over your own education in terms of content, delivery method, and learning rate. 

These promises have not yet been held despite massive investments in content production and educational technologies such as open educational resources (OER) and open-line online courses (MOOC). Currently, global demand for higher education increases despite the frequent criticism of high costs, accessibility barriers, abandonment rates, and quality of prices (OECD 2014). 

In addition, educational institutions are often faced with challenges related to the overall relevance of their programs for continuous training of graduates or post-diploma employment (Christensen et al. 2011); and to the real educational references of the higher education system (Collins 2011). Some of these challenges include: improving multicultural integration, reducing abandonment rates, facilitating fluid transitions from educational programs to the first jobs, and implementing flexible and relevant learning processes. 

To cope with these challenges, Redecker and Puni (2013) as cited in Scott (2015), suggest that institutions require innovative structural transformations. However, these challenges must first be studied thanks to broader, multidisciplinary research, which treats the social, educational, economic, demographic, and financial aspects of education (Geels 2005). In this regard, approaches such as mixed learning can offer alternative possibilities to higher education institutions to cope with these challenges and respond to external pressures in order to effectively deploy technological innovations in class. In general terms, 

mixed learning incorporates traditional education in face to face with online digital learning. The programs of this modality are increasingly adopted in higher education establishments and are clear examples of technological, educational, and organizational innovation in universities. In 2007, almost 50% of four-year institutions in the United States offered mixed apprenticeship courses (Parsad et al.2008, as mentioned in Arbaugh 2014). 

This rapid dissemination of mixed learning has led to considerable research on its impact on learning performance, students' results (Torri-Stetele and Drew 2013), and teaching pedagogy (Gerbic 2011). This impact will depend on the way in which universities manage change in relation to the implementation of mixed learning initiatives, as well as on the way in which they continue to support these systems once implemented.

Literature shows technology as a complex element that operates in a varied set of educational environments. In this scenario, it is not technology, but how the transformation process is used in combined learning implementations. In addition, information (as a key element in the processes of adoption and dissemination of innovation) is required during the entire innovation process, in the first place to identify the need for innovation and, secondly, evaluate the implementation results (Rogers 2003). 

Conceptual definitions

For the purpose of this document, the author defines digital educational technology (DET) as all digital technologies designed or used for learning and teaching activities in formal or informal educational contexts. This concept is based on previous definitions related to technology, digital technology, and educational technology. These three definitions allow the author to identify the limits of digital educational technologies for this study. 

First, technology, as defined by Lievrouw and Livingstone (2002), includes artifacts or devices designed, built, and deployed; Enabled practices associated with their use, and all aspects and social and institutional structures circumscribed in use. Secondly, digital technology is defined as computer-based B systems in a broad perspective that includes contemporary software and hardware systems with the purpose of handling digital information (Selwyn 2011). Finally, the author identified educational technology as all technology, digital or other, designed, created, and applied to the educational process (Dutton 2013).

Conceptual framework and research questions

Technological dynamics, as a complex process, require a broader conceptual framework for analysis (Geels 2005, 2011). This study uses the perspective of several Geels levels on sustainability transitions to guide the understanding of technology adoption, dissemination, and transformations of educational practice at different levels of the higher education system. This framework allows describing the transitions of the dissemination of novelty between the levels of a socio-technological system to identify patterns and trends in the technological development process analyzed in the literature.

Method

The author structured this research using an approach based on the literature for the development of the concept (Branch and Rocchi 2015). In the first phase, the author conducted an intentional and iterative search to identify the most relevant articles in social, organizational, technological, and pedagogical literature. 

Table 1 presents the list of keywords and search terms that were used to identify a final set of forty -five relevant studies using the Eric, EBSCO, Scopus, and Web of Science search engines. The references resulting from this search were limited to articles from scientific journals reviewed by English peers on combined learning implementations in higher education.

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References

Castro, R. (2019). Blended learning in higher education: Trends and capabilities. Education and Information Technologies24(4), 2523-2546.

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