Blended E-Learning: The Future of Australian Education?
Recently, debates concerning teaching have centred on two key questions – what and how. While these fundamental questions have been prominent throughout educational discussion for decades, the fast-paced growth of technology has widened debates beyond what we teach to how we teach.
Expanding opportunities for technology to aid learning run parallel to a growing concern that students are not acquiring the work integrated learning skills necessary to equip them for their future careers. The 2012 Australasian Survey of Student Engagement (AUSSE) showed that 76% of Australian graduates felt their studies have not contributed very much to their ability to solve complex, real-world problems. Many believe that gaining skill-based experience is a vital piece of the academic puzzle, and yet unfortunately is a piece that has gradually been denied proper attention from the majority of present-day curriculums.
Education should be more than just giving information in order to achieve short-term goals. It is argued that the emphasis must be placed instead on equipping young people – the future of Australian workforce – with the understanding, skills, values and personal development that match industry demands, as well as purely academic qualities.
Statistics from the 2014 UES National Report showed that, across all courses, only 57% of students were satisfied with the level of ‘learner engagement’ that they received. The category of ‘learner engagement’ focuses on the degree of attention, curiosity and interest created while studying; so we can safely assume that the lack of ‘learner engagement’ can directly affect student motivation.
Moreover, the report placed ‘expectations not met’ in the top five reasons for a student leaving higher education. With this in mind, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne, Glyn Davis, has noted “clearly there is a demand for a more diverse range of courses and institutions in higher education.”
Traditionalists often ask ‘what skills will real-world experiences provide our students with?’ Put simply, integrating real-world scenarios into education is a pragmatic approach to learning the skills needed to see the world critically, which provides the confidence to thrive within their future chosen work environment.
For example, rather than lecturing students about the effects of tourism on the environment, students can be taken to a relevant site and asked to conduct a field research on the issues and solutions they have spent so many hours memorising. For education to be meaningful, it must significantly enhance students learning and achievement. The student-learning journey must be one that delivers them at their goal of feeling empowered and fulfilled, not bored or confused. By placing students in realistic environments they learn the value of the knowledge they have gained. While learning outside the classroom is not the end of the journey, it can provide one of the best vehicles to develop the capacity and drive to learn.
On the other hand, some argue that it’s only through a structured curriculum that we can create a sense of order and learn the specialised knowledge needed to flourish professionally in today’s complex world. However, those in support of a ‘blended learning’ approach to education maintain that knowledge in the real world is holistic.
This approach removes the shackles of traditionally divided subjects and instead, implements a practical approach better suited to the modern learning environment. This is not to say that a law student should spend all four years of their university degree in a courtroom. However, in today’s society full of many corporate dialects, it is not enough to be a specialist of one discipline, you must commit to being professionally heuristic.
It is apparent that current curriculums need to be rethought and reworked to overcome the barriers to change. Glyn Davis points to private sector education, stating that “a newly emerging private sector is becoming an important part of the education story.” A prominent advantage of private sector institutions is their focus on innovation and experimentation. New hybrid curriculums are often categorised as ‘blended learning’ (also referred to as hybrid learning).
Here we will use the same definition by the Sloan Consortium, an organisation specialising in innovate e-learning, in which blended learning is described as educational courses that integrate online with traditional face-to-face class activities in a planned, pedagogically valuable manner.
A recent report on ‘Blending Learning’ published by the Victorian Government examining numerous blended learning projects has concluded that this method created a culture based on the acceptance of change and risk with students learning to overcome issues and challenge themselves. It is also shown that this approach is not only effective in terms of learning outcomes, but ranks high on ratings of satisfaction with students and instructors as well.
We certainly have seen this gaining more and more popularity in the Australian education space. An interesting example is the newly developed education provider Dūcere, which offers online-based multi-disciplinary courses learned through practical case studies taught by business figures and pioneers, world leaders, entertainers, scientists, researchers and humanitarians, regarded by most as business icons. How they implement this shows the real practicality and possibility of utilising technology and applied experience on a large scale.
In an interview with The Australian recently, Dr Hugh Bradlow, Chief Technology Officer for Telstra and Dūcere Faculty Member pointed to the significant benefits online education offers its students, namely the flexibility, and ability to share engaging content such as video. Other educational providers, that have shifted from a traditional to blended (or in some cases, even to fully online) mode of delivery, and this has seen significant improvements as students can interact with their peers, teachers, and the learning materials in innovative ways.
The bold questions of how and what are ready to be answered; if not by the government then by the private sector with the help of technology. It is now essential that we develop and sustain a more efficient educational system that will equip our students with professional capabilities.
As the recent G20 Summit in Brisbane stated, this is perhaps the only path that will lead to Australian growth and job opportunities. If we focus on the bigger picture, beyond the tests and exams, we can see a future where improvements in our educational system will result in wider economic and societal development.
While education is by no means the crystal ball to every world problem, it must take centre stage in creating a better future. In our globalised society, it is clear that Australia’s growth and economic development relies heavily on the long-term successes of the educational system.