The topic of using the blended learning approach has become increasingly interesting for the scholars in the recent decades. The reasons for such conditions include the lack of research on this topic in previous time periods and the permanently growing role of this blended approach in the education of today. In addition, in using the blended approach teachers face considerable issues, and analysis of the latter can be called the focus of numerous scholarly works analyzed further.
Studying the topic of the blended learning, it is essential to define it and see the reasons for its emergence. Thus, Graham (2005, p. 3) defines this type of learning, which is relatively new in the education, as a combination of three major components: mixed, or blended, media of information delivery, various methods of instruction integrated into one approach, and combining the two most common modern instructional modes, i. e. online and face-to-face teaching. At the same time, Graham (2005, p. 3) argues that blended learning is not a mere combination of the listed elements, but an integrated system, in which both sides, i. e. teachers and students, should be able to use their skills and background knowledge to operate with the tools of blended learning and succeed in it.
Further research works in this topic reveal the reasons for blended learning emergence and development. Thus, Arikan (2006, p. 2) is strongly convinced that the phenomenon called “the postmethod condition” predetermined the emergence of blended learning. Arikan (2006, p. 3) argues that since 1970s scholars started viewing the language learning as the process in which none of the particular methods existing in education can bring the desired results. Accordingly, the new ideas have been under scrutiny of scholars to provide comprehensive language learning ideas, and Kohn (2007, p. 4) argues in this respect that the blended learning is “the right learning at the right time and in the right place” mentioning the combined nature of this approach that does not have any limitations in respect of age, health conditions, location, time available, and any other factors.
So, one of the elements of the blended learning is the e-learning, also known as online or computerized learning. Ortega et al. (2006, p. 104) argue that the role of this element has been permanently increasing over the recent years. This fact is explained by the development of technology and the growing importance of time and cost effective means of transmitting and storing information and educational programs (Ortega et al., 2006, p. 105). In particular, Ortega et al. (2006, p. 104) argue about the use of such popular means of communication as chat, e-mail services, and instant messenger systems for online language learning, and their research proves that these methods are quite successful, at least for the sample studies by Ortega et al. (2006, p. 109).
Further on, Jewels et al. (2002) and Chapelle (2001) argue about the increasing role of technology and computer applications in the development of language learning. The point by Jewels et al. (2002, p. 93) is that the current state of development of technology provides new options for language learning and makes it possible to make the distance learning into a traditional face-to-face learning using the modern computerized connection devices. Chapelle (2001), at the same time, notices that there is seemingly a mutual connection between the teaching styles, i. e. online or traditional ones, and the levels of technological development of any particular educational establishment. In particular, Chapelle (2001, p. 2) argues that teachers most often have to adjust to a university’s technological base, but the latter is, at the same time, adjusted to the needs of the curriculum and the ideas that teachers have on this.
However, when the idea of traditional, face-to-face, language learning is concerned, scholars see a set of somewhat different issues and ways to solve them. Farrell (1998) and Richards (2000), for instance, attributes much importance to the notions of reflection and reflective group discussions in enhancing the efficiency of language learning, especially for EFL (English as a foreign language) learners (Farrell, 1998, p. 2). Reflection is considered to be the ability of a teacher to project his/her ideas about education and knowledge to the views and ideas that every particular student might have. The results of the experiment by Farrell (1998, p. 23) reveal the fact that reflective group discussions where face-to-face learning style is used are rather effective, even though further research is needed in this focus area.
Another important aspect of the traditional learning is the notion of understanding possible cultural and/or linguistic peculiarities and differences of any particular student (Spinelli, 2008, pp. 101 – 102). In more detail, Spinelli (2008) notes that very often students are grouped as having language learning issues because teacher lack awareness of their cultural backgrounds, and this complicates their language learning process. As far as traditional learning is concerned, the major issues that teachers face, according to Spinelli (2008, p. 103) and Farrell (1998, pp. 2 – 3), are the need to adjust their practices to the peculiarities of their students and the necessity to integrate reflection in teaching practices.
Differences between Online and Traditional Learning
Thus, the above arguments allow claiming that the major differences between the online and traditional learning styles include the changed methods of information delivery and the different modes of teacher – student activity levels. Dziuban (2004) and Doolan (2006) argue that if in traditional learning the teacher is more active and student is expected to passive perceive the data and process them, the e-learning presupposes the development of collaborative learning and the increase in activity level of the student, who gets more tasks for independent study and completion (Dziuban, 2004, p. 3; Doolan, 2006, p. 7). At the same time, the need to control the students’ progress and academic performance is reduced as, again, more responsibility is put on students themselves.
Moreover, the transition to the online learning presupposes that teachers should adopt and make proper use of the tools and options this teaching style presents. Thus, Cheers (2002) and Leakey and Ranchoux (2006) argue that one of the major differences between the traditional and online learning styles is in the set of tools and practices used. According to Cheers (2002), the traditional learning is mainly a face-to-face talk in which a teacher speaks and students memorize, react, ask questions, and fulfill assignment (p. 2). At the same time, the online, or e-learning, can “minimize teacher’s talk in class” as stated by Cheers (2002, p. 3). Accordingly, the online learning is not what teachers are used to, and time and effort is needed to integrate both teaching styles in a blended language learning technique.
Blended Language Learning – Best of Both Worlds
Drawing from the above discussion, it becomes obvious that scholars analyze the blended language learning as both an integrated phenomenon and as a sum of its particular elements, i. e. online and traditional teaching styles. At the same time, new and new research works appear in which authors argue that the blended language learning can be characterized as the sum of the best qualities of both worlds, i. e. online and traditional learning environments. For example, Gruba et al. (2009) argues that blending technology into traditional teaching has been one of the most important demands of the international community over the recent years, and the reasons for this include the greater potential of such blended learning and the need for education, especially in respect of language learning for ESL (English as a Second Language) students (pp. 402 – 403).
Further on, the main issues that teachers might face while using the blended language learning approach are all in the area of implementation. Thus, Cheers (2002) argues that the effective blended learning is a mix characterized by an approximate scheme [face-to-face learning – online learning – face-to-face learning], in which the traditional instruction methods are blended with the use of technology for information search and task completion, while the final group discussions might include both online elements and personal group discussions (Cheers, 2002, p. 4).
At the same time, scholars like Epstein (2006) and Mortera-Gutierrez (2006) argue that the blended learning is becoming increasingly popular among students and applicants. According to Epstein (2006), 74% of young people the author surveyed expressed the desire to try what an online learning will be like. At the same time, only slightly more than 20% supported the exclusively online practice (pp. 35 – 36). Therefore, there is strong evidence in the research that blended language learning has the potential for becoming a dominant form of education, of course if it overcomes obstacles on its way.
In particular, Gruba et al. (2009) and Russel (2007) argue that there are five major hindrances on the way of blended language learning. These include the lack of time, insufficient institutional development, absence of on-site support, shortage or absence of hard- and software necessary for the blending, lack of motivation because the introduction of blended learning promises little rewards to its implementers (Gruba et al., 2009, p. 404). Further on, teachers, according to Compton (2009, pp. 73 – 74), still require additional training because their inability of properly operating with the tools of online, and blended, learning, might seriously affect the performance results of their students. Thus, scholars see the main issues regarding the use of the blended language learning technique in the planes of pedagogy and skills and the effectiveness of teaching after this technique is adopted.
Pedagogy and Effective Teaching
In more detail, scholars like Compton (2009) and Felder (1995), as well as specialists from Optimus Education (2002) and UOB (2003), stress such important aspects of blended language learning as the teachers’ skills, the match between the teaching styles and the students’ learning styles, and the conformity of the teaching procedures implemented to the cultural and personal background of all students, especially ESL ones.
In particular, Compton (2009) defines seven basic skill levels that a teacher should possess to operate efficiently in the blended learning environment. These levels include overall competence in ICT, software competence, skills in operating the blended language learning media, the ability of the teacher to socialize online, success in provoking communicative competence of students, creativity, and a teacher’s own style derived from the six prior levels (Compton, 2009, pp. 77 – 78).
Further on, the works by Pani (2004), Felder (1995) and Optimus Education (2002) are useful in studying the topic of style matching. In particular, the topic is developed in the plane of style differences that arise from the fact that every particular person learns and memorizes data in a different way, and the same is true about the ways in which teachers deliver their lectures or tasks to students (Felder, 1995, p. 21). Therefore, it is important that both learning and teaching styles should match, and the method of blended language learning is supposed to be a strategy to achieve such matching (Felder, 1995, p. 21; Barker, 2006, p. 38). Such a matching facilitates what Murray (2009) and OECD (2009) call the effective teaching, but neither online learning nor traditional method alone can achieve this.
Accordingly, despite the mentioned issues teacher can face using the blended approach, scholars view the blended language learning as the best way to achieve effective teaching and provide students with wider academic success possibilities. Still, the ideas of learning and teaching style matching, effective teaching, proper combinations of teachers’ skills and students’ inclination towards blended language learning are crucial for the consideration of the current research topic.
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