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Blended learning: a user guide

Blended learning: a user guide

Combining face-to-face lectures with online learning materials: such is the idea behind blended learning, which is being used more and more in higher education institutions. One such institution is the EPF, a post-baccalaureate engineering school, which has integrated this strategy into its curriculum and has studied its implementation from a scientific point of view.

François Stéphan, director of the Montpellier campus, explains that « this research is making it possible to better understand the underlying principles of blended learning and to draw some lessons from it ».

Alternation planned in advance

« When does remote learning add value to the learning process? Before organising a blended learning course, one must first answer that question », says François Stéphan. When planning the course, there are some key principles to keep in mind:

  • Educate teachers about blended learning.
  • Explain the principle of this teaching method to the students and accompany them during the first self-study sessions. According to François Stéphan, « Many students like the comfort of a traditional lecture. They listen quietly and believe they are acquiring knowledge, but studies show that this knowledge is often ephemeral or partial. It is necessary to explain to the students the importance of being an actor in their learning. »
  • Establish a complementary relationship between face-to-face lectures and self-study: online resources do not replace the lecture, they prepare it by allowing students to acquire prerequisites. It is up to the teacher to create a link by asking questions or making a quick summary.
  • Reflect on the types of knowledge dealt with either face-to-face or online: « Complexity requires support » summarises François Stéphan. For example, for engineering students, the physical presence of the teacher is preferable to explain abstract mathematical concepts. Moreover, certain gestures can only be learned by touching sensors or by controlling a connected object. On the other hand, mastery of the Catia software or the Matlab language can be acquired with a tutorial.

Three types of face-to-face sessions

  • Lectures: an introductory session during which the principle of blended learning is explained, followed by summary sessions which begin with a quiz on the knowledge acquired through the online learning materials.
  • Practical exercises: discussion with the students about potential problems they encountered online, followed by a practical application of the theory by means of experiments.
  • An evaluation in the form of a case study.

Ingredients for a successful self-study

  • Short videos: each clip is focused on one concept only and completed by a specific corresponding self-test.
  • Documents, templates, and summaries made available online.
  • Additional training exercises to apply one’s knowledge.
  • A few « face-to-face remote learning » sessions to get started: the teacher is present while the students are working on the platform. He guides them, answers their questions, and gives them advice: always have a pencil in hand to take notes, systematically do the self-test at the end of each video, and so on.

Pedagogical benefits

« One thing is certain: you don’t make money from blended learning! », warns François Stéphan. « You have to pay the teachers, but also the people who write, develop and update the videos. » For the campus director, the benefits are to be found elsewhere, namely on the educational side. Indeed, blended learning makes it possible to :

  • Precisely measure what students do and do not understand, at the individual and collective level.
  • Customise courses: everyone can work at their own pace, spend more time on one subject and less on another.
  • Turn students into active learners, thanks to quizzes and self-tests.
  • Develop their autonomy, a useful skill from a professional point of view.

Convinced of these results, the director of the EPF affirms his desire to « move up another gear: from 20% to 30% blended learning in the undergraduate cycle, we would now like to switch to a totally mixed teaching strategy ».

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