Personalizing Blended Learning Experiences For Learners

Bengaluru: Twenty three year old Nayana M. initially found it difficult to comprehend lessons taught during her online classes in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. She dropped out of the B.Com programme and took up a job at a government office on a contract basis.

She picked up digital literacy skills on the job. It took her a few months to understand how to operate the computer, but is now adept with technology and says, “If I face any hurdles, I try to solve them on my own.”

She later enrolled into the National Skill Training Institute for Women to pursue a course titled ‘Architectural Draughtsman’. She has also been using the Quest App regularly and says that she finds it easy and interesting as it helps her learn through experience. The app developed by Quest Alliance has around 250 hours of interactive, gamified content and aims to help the youth build skills around Communicative English, Life Skills, Work Readiness, Digital Literacy, Technology in Careers and Self-Employment.

Nayana says that online resources are useful as it helps her learn at her own pace and gives her flexibility to learn during her free time. After navigating through the app and many other online resources, she says she often needs to get a few doubts clarified and therefore finds the combination of online and in-person classes useful. Nayana’s story is one of many examples that demonstrate blended learning as the way forward in a world where the teaching and learning process has changed dramatically after the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Educators and their experiments during the pandemic 

Teachers and students were initially caught off guard and were forced to switch to online classes as educational institutions had to be closed during the pandemic. After several months of experimenting, teachers realized that merely replicating what they did in offline classes on online platforms served no purpose. So they decided to tweak their pedagogies and upgraded their digital skills to make classes effective online. Similarly many educators also realized that merely livestreaming their offline classes for students who were attending classes online was not serving their purpose.  

Anusha G., who worked as a facilitator in Bengaluru Rural and Chikkaballapur districts for the IBM Stem for Girls project said that teachers and educators are now eager to use online tools to supplement their offline classes.

“I have realized that students learn many concepts easily when it is presented in an audio visual format and hence ensure that I conduct some classes online as well. Moreover, as an educator, I strongly believe that a lot of learning can happen outside of the classroom space and we should encourage students to adopt self learning.” 

How blended learning made its way into classrooms 

With schools and colleges reopening for the 2022-2023 academic year, many teachers have decided to incorporate the best of both worlds (online and offline classes). A concept note on the Blended Mode of Teaching and Learning published by the University Grants Commission (UGC) defines blended learning as “the term given to the educational practice of combining digital learning tools with more traditional classroom face to face teaching.” 

However, the same document also points out that blended learning cannot be looked at as a mere mix of online and in-person classes. It defines blended learning as a “well-planned combination of meaningful activities in both the modes.” The blend depends on various factors which are focused around learning outcomes and the learner-centered instructional environment.

The National Education Policy 2020 too has emphasized the promotion of blended learning in schools and higher education. The policy states that while “promoting digital learning and education, the importance of face-to-face in-person learning is fully recognized. Accordingly, different effective models of blended learning will be identified for appropriate replication for different subjects.” 

In fact, Robert Gagné had proposed a series of events that form a conducive environment for learning – which are also extremely relevant for designing blended learning experiences. The nine events of instruction are as follows: gain attention of students, inform students of the objectives, stimulate recall of prior learning, present the content, provide learning guidance, elicit performance, provide feedback, assess performance, enhance retention and transfer. 

Designing blended learning experiences for different learner personas 

While there are students like Nayana who are adept with digital devices, there are many students who are struggling with technology and devices. For Thanushree H.S., a class nine student in Girls Government High School, Gauribidanur, Chikkaballapur district, online classes were a struggle as she had poor internet connectivity at her home. Besides this, she found it difficult to get access to a mobile phone as her sister also had to attend online classes and there was just one smartphone to access.

“It was very frustrating as I would get disconnected midway through the session as the internet was patchy. I was disappointed that I was not able to learn through online classes.”

She however says that as classes are now offline, she is able to learn better. 

The examples of Nayana and Thanushree suggest that students’ association with technology and online learning behavior differs based on their learning personas. A single approach for learning may not help all types of learners. 

Providing blended learning solutions for different learners 

The study titled “Blended Learning: Experiences in public education and  design principles for low tech environments” published by Quest Alliance classifies learners into five categories or personas – ambitious impeded learners, self driven learners, adaptive learners, instruction-dependent learners and isolated learners. The study was led by Indira Vijaysimha, Founder, Poorna Learning Centre, and Farhat Ara, Researcher, Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology.

The research paper maps different personas based on students’ online behaviors, digital literacy, various contextual challenges as well as their attitudes toward blended learning. This classification has paved the way to understand the needs of different types of learners. The study in turn has recommended different designs for blended learning. 

The qualitative study was conducted with students, teachers, principals and parents from 11 states which are – Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Odisha, Punjab, Rajasthan, Telangana, and Uttarakhand.

The study noted that designing an online learning environment for different types of learners necessitates a “radical approach in pedagogy and technology use”.  

Priyanka Krishna, Research Specialist, Quest Alliance who oversaw the study said that the key idea of keeping personas in mind while designing for blended learning is to build learner-centric environments that support the diversity of learners and create inclusive environments which drive belongingness for improved learning outcomes.

“Instead of a tech-first, one size fits all approach, keeping the diverse needs of the learners as a focus helps build blended learning models responsive to different kinds of learners and their social circumstances.”

It is evident that the different types of learners have personalized needs. Teachers and educators will find it easier if they are able to understand their learner with regard to their access to and usage of technology, their attitude towards technology and blended learning as well gauge how much of a self learner they are. This inturn will help them design a blending learning approach which is effective and centered around their learners’ needs. The design principles suggested in the study provides direction for educators, institutions and other stakeholders of how they can design as well as implement and execute their blended learning approaches.   

Download our research paper: Blended Learning: Experiences in Public Education System and design principles for low tech environments ↗.

Written by:

Tanu Kulkarni

Communications Specialist