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A Step-By-Step Guide to Designing Blended Online Courses

By April 15, 2019 No Comments

This is a guest blog post by VEDAMO, a partner of eThink Education. VEDAMO’s Virtual Classroom is a simple solution, yet rich with features for interactive teaching that allow teachers to easily moderate online sessions.

Blending self-paced (asynchronous) online instruction with collaborative web-conference (synchronous) teaching can improve the quality of any course. It allows a teacher to reach more students with fewer resources.

Blended learning requires knowledge of the specifics of synchronous and asynchronous online instruction, as well as finding the right balance between the two. In this article, we will guide you step-by-step on how to structure your blended online training and how to take advantage of both methods.

Traditional and online teaching

Blended learning shows great potential to emerge as the predominant learning model of the near future. It also proves to be the most effective one as it combines the best elements of traditional and online teaching.

Advantages Disadvantages
Traditional classroom
  • Direct face-to-face interaction
  • Tutor-led instruction
  • Peer collaboration
  • Hands-on experience
  • Group socialization
  • A limited number of students in a group
  • Fixed scheduling options, curriculum, and program
  • Strictly specified times of study
  • Operational and logistics costs
Self-paced online learning
  • Flexibility in terms of time and location
  • Cost-effective
  • Convenient
  • Personalized learning experience
  • Access to any subject or information
  • Less interactive
  • High drop-out rates
  • Limited options for direct and timely feedback
  • Lower control over assessments
  • Requires a high level of self-regulation

Online self-paced training is associated with a lack of live interaction, immediate feedback, and personal support. The most common way to improve the quality of teaching is to blend self-paced courses with traditional classroom instruction. This type of hybrid learning is effective but very rigid in many respects. Traditional classroom instruction has many drawbacks such as a limited number of students in a group, a lack of options for personalized learning, inflexible scheduling options, a fixed curriculum and program, strictly set times of study, time-consuming assessments, operational and logistics costs, etc.  

Blended Online Learning

Blended online learning presents a more flexible option in which traditional classroom instruction is fully or partially substituted by collaborative web-conferencing (online synchronous learning) using a virtual classroom and is combined with a self-paced Learning Management System (LMS).

An excellent example of blending learning utilization is the seamless integration of synchronous online teaching through a virtual classroom solution with self-paced courses delivered via the Moodle LMS, the world’s most widely used learning platform. These combined solutions take online teaching to the next level. Participants can interact and collaborate live online with their peers and teachers from any location. Additionally, they can still cover their self-paced courses at their convenience through the Learning Management System.

When designing a blended online course it is crucial to find the right balance between self-preparation and instructor-led online synchronous teaching. Here is our step-by-step guide on how to best structure your blended online training using VEDAMO’s Virtual Classroom in the Moodle LMS:

Before designing your blended online course

1. Analyze your learners’ expectations and requirements through:

  • Entry level tests – e.g., when teaching a foreign language
  • Surveys – e.g., when teaching a completely new subject
  • Live interviews in a virtual classroom – this is a great way to get to know your students, to learn what motivated them to enroll in your course, and what their expectations are of the course.

2. Make a list of your students’ expectations. This will help you define the most relevant objectives and expected outcomes of a particular group of students.

3. Select the study content and materials based on your students’ expectations and requirements.

Designing your blended online course

1. First, define the course objectives, expected outcomes, and duration. Then, plan your course outline and class activities week by week.

2. Distribute the course content structure into separate topics/units and choose the best Moodle course format for your needs.

3. Carefully plan the self-study activities for each topic/unit and maintain consistency in your course structure. Based on your initial students’ needs analysis, adapt the content and materials to their different learning styles and preferences. Therefore, try to use various types of web content like text, audio/video, images, graphic objects, animations, multimedia, etc.

4. Plan the web-conferencing teaching sessions using a virtual classroom as an integral part of your course activities. The best online courses provide a one-hour live instructor-led session in a virtual classroom for every 4 hours of self-paced learning (a 1:4 ratio). You should schedule virtual classroom sessions:

  • At the beginning of the blended course – conduct one live session to introduce your students to each other and to the course’s rules, requirements, and key events, as well as to break the ice.
  • In the middle and/or at the end of each topic/unit – conduct a live session for discussions, collaborative work, reflection, feedback, and assessment.
  • Use the virtual classroom sessions for highly interactive activities – it is important to promote collaboration and provide constructive feedback. The optimal duration of a live online session is 1 – 1.5 hours; plan your virtual class so that your students will actively participate.

5. Include assessment activities at the end of each topic, unit, course module, and entire course. Include tasks and assignments that engage your students and encourage active learning.

6. Prepare a clear course overview, guidelines, and instructions for each topic/unit. Make them as simple and as clear as possible. Explain the purpose and the timetable of the upcoming virtual classroom sessions.

7. Share with your students the online learning platforms’ minimal technical requirements and video tutorials for both the LMS and Virtual Classroom solution. Encourage them to test their equipment and connectivity before the beginning of the course.

8. In order to use VEDAMO’s Virtual Classroom in your Moodle LMS, it needs to first be configured by the LMS administrator using LTI integration. Once configured, the virtual classroom can be easily used by the teachers in their courses directly in the Moodle platform.

Delivering your blended online course

1. Self-paced learning allows learners to go through the course content as quickly or as slowly as they desire at their convenience. The role of the instructor during the course is to

  • Give clear instructions, provide a schedule of activities, and specify any requirements.
  • Provide timely feedback and communicate with the students.
  • Facilitate online discussions and group activities.
  • Improve the course content based on the students’ performance and feedback.

2. The virtual classroom is the space for direct interaction between a teacher and students during the blended online training. Make sure that you use it in the best way possible – it should build on the self-paced activities thus improving the quality of your course. During the web-conferencing sessions the instructor should:

  • Be highly engaging.
  • Involve the students, use real-life examples, and allow them to contribute with their own experiences.
  • Provide positive feedback – this increases student motivation.
  • Plan some time answering your students’ questions at the end of each session.
  • Encourage the students to share and practice what they have learned independently and focus on the aspects that are most useful to the particular group.
  • Have fun – jokes and laughter in the virtual classroom foster the sense of belonging to the entire learning community.

3. Flexible consultations and office hours – You can schedule a virtual classroom session ad hoc if you see that your students are raising similar questions about the course’s content or its delivery. This is a great opportunity to clarify any issues that individual participants or the entire group may be having. It will also give you valuable feedback and allow you to improve your course instructions. If you work with a larger number of learners, you can divide them into smaller groups and plan a virtual classroom session with each group.

4. Assessment activitiesMoodle LMS provides tools for quizzes, assignments, automated verification of results, peer assessment, etc. VEDAMO’s Virtual Classroom allows the teacher to conduct exams face-to-face in real time, include more interactive tasks, and have a higher level of control. Additionally, you can use the assessment outcomes to update and improve your blended online course.

Conclusion

Blended online teaching addresses the challenges faced by self-paced online learning and traditional classroom teaching. By introducing collaborative web-conferencing using a virtual classroom, it provides a higher level of engagement and participation, strengthens social presence, and adds cohesion in your online course.

About the Author

Dr. Veronica Racheva manages VEDAMO’s training program. She graduated from the Doctoral School at the Institute of Education, University of London and has a specialization for a Virtual Teacher from the University of California, Irvine. Currently, she is also a lecturer in Online and Blended Learning at the Sofia University, as well as a researcher and author of scientific reports. She instructs teachers on how to use VEDAMO’s Virtual Classroom.

Email: info@vedamo.com

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