Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

Blended Learning as a New Approach to Social Work Education

Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

Blended Learning as a New Approach to Social Work Education

Article excerpt

DISTANCE EDUCATION is a formal, student-teacher arrangement in which the student and teacher are separated by space and/or time (Coe & Elliott, 1999; Miller, Walker, & Ayala, 2003). In the last decade, the emergence and spread of the Internet has offered new possibilities for availability, interactivity, and global application that have sparked much interest in the use of this platform for education (Osguthorpe & Graham, 2003). Internet-based education, also called online learning, thus refers to distance education delivered via the Internet. A newly emerging trend in higher education is blended learning, the purposeful integration of traditional (i.e., face-to-face) and online learning in order to provide educational opportunities that maximize the benefits of each platform and thus more effectively facilitate student learning.

This article explores the potential of blended learning as a new approach to social work education in the 21st century. It starts with a discussion on the rise of online learning in higher education and the convergence between Internet-based and traditional education. After a discussion of blended learning in social work, the article concludes with recommendations for research in the area of blended learning.

The Rise of Online Learning in Higher Education

Traditionally, distance education has served as a secondary platform for instruction in institutions of higher education--for example, for nondegree programs and continuing education courses (Trindade, Carmo, & Bidarra, 2000). However, advances in technology have expanded the range of educational possibilities and contributed to an increased interest in distance education that has resulted in a growing number of courses being supplemented or completely delivered through distance (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2003). Internet-based education in particular has flourished in recent years. In a recent study of more than 2,500 colleges and universities in the United States, Allen & Seaman (2007) found that 3.48 million students (about 20% of students) were taking at least one online course during the fall 2006 term--more than double the number of students taking online courses 4 years earlier.

The increased popularity of online learning can be attributed to a number of different factors, including the availability and use of new technologies, a changing student population, an increased societal focus on lifelong learning, and growing educational requirements for professional licensing and career advancement (Mehrotra, Hollister, & McGahey, 2001; Miller & King, 2003; National Center for Education Statistics, 2002; Trindade et al., 2000). The use of online learning in higher education is also supported by substantial evidence that distance courses and programs can be as effective as traditional education--or at the very least, that there is no significant difference between distance and traditional education in areas such as student outcomes (Phipps & Merisotis, 1999; Zhao, Lei, Yan, Lai, & Tan, 2005). Although research on the effectiveness of online learning in particular is still emerging, preliminary reviews of comparative studies have found no significant differences in learning outcomes between students in online courses and those in traditional courses (Cohen, 2003).

Another factor that has contributed to the rapid growth of Internet-based education is its potential to facilitate learning. Online learning may facilitate constructivist learning strategies like collaborative, self-directed, and active learning by allowing students increased time and opportunities for student-teacher and student-student interaction, broadening the array of resources available, giving students increased responsibility for their own learning, and producing a more individualized environment to suit students' differing needs and styles (Garrison, 2003; Jonassen, Howland, Moore, & Marra, 2003; Knowles, 2002). …

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