Examining the Roles of Blended Learning Approaches in Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) Environments: A Delphi Study

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Introduction

During the past decade, there has been a significant movement toward online and blended formats of learning. This is apparent across educational sectors including K-12 schools as well as adult learning in higher education, the military, government settings, and corporate training environments. One large-scale survey in 2006 showed this increasing acceptance of e-learning practices in higher education. In that study, approximately twenty percent of US higher education students had taken at least one online course. At the same time, however, people across educational sectors have increasingly expressed concerns about the quality and cost-effectiveness of e-learning solutions (Seaman, 2009). For instance, many students who take online courses never complete them (Tyler-Smith, 2006). Faculty members also face new challenges related to the increasing time for course preparation and interaction with students.

Still, many educators suggest that there are positive impacts of e-learning related to changes in pedagogical practices. Unfortunately, despite the increasing adoption of learning technologies, pedagogical changes in online learning have been slow. In fact, many online courses focus on content delivery and tutorial-based instruction. Simply turning classroom lectures into online learning formats does not necessarily provide students with the opportunities for rich interactions arising from engagement in activities that make learning experiences meaningful. Instead, it is important to have deep understandings of how people learn as well as what new technology can provide for the successful design of technology-integrated learning environments (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2002).

With some concerns and associated dissatisfactions with e-learning approaches, people have searched for other instructional delivery solutions. The term blended learning, combining face-to-face and online learning, has been discussed as a promising alternative to traditional instruction and training. While there is a steady movement toward blended learning approaches in education and training sectors, there are myriad questions that need to be examined before fully accepting any promises suggested by blended learning experts. For instance, is blended learning really an effective and efficient approach? What are potential disadvantages of blended learning? How would blended learning change our learning environments? These and other questions must be asked. Towards this end, this study examines the roles of blended learning in higher education. Specifically, this study focuses on blended learning approaches in computer supported collaborative learning (CSCL) environments.

Blended Learning: From Delivery Technology to Learning Technology

Generally, blended learning is defined as learning systems combining face-to-face instruction with technology-mediated instruction (Bonk & Graham, 2006). While there is no doubt that blended learning approaches are increasingly implemented in several learning settings, the emphasis in blended learning so far has been mostly related to the delivery aspects of technology which concerns access to instruction and information. In fact, relatively little attention has been paid to learning design technology, selecting appropriate modes of interaction, and designing activities based on robust learning theories. Despite the difficulty of choosing the right combination of interaction modes, most companies and universities tend to select instructional delivery methods based on a single criterion-- availability.

What is promising, however, in the current trends of blended learning research is the shift of focus from delivery- centered technology to learning technology coupled with pedagogical considerations. The frameworks suggested by Osguthorpe and Graham (2003) and Graham (2006) are particularly useful demonstrating the application of pedagogical approaches in deciding what is blended and what the goals of blending are. …