Academic journal article Higher Learning Research Communications

Blended Language Learning: An Effective Solution but Not without Its Challenges

Academic journal article Higher Learning Research Communications

Blended Language Learning: An Effective Solution but Not without Its Challenges

Article excerpt

Blended Learning (BL) and the English as a Foreign Language Classroom

Over the past two decades, research has been conducted on a shift in higher education (HE) course content delivery, instruction, and teacher-learner interaction that occurs neither wholly face-to-face (F2F), nor entirely online, but rather within "the carefully designed synthesis of online and face-to-face learning incorporating a range of media based upon a sound constructivist pedagogical framework" (Buckley, Pitt, Norton, & Owens, 2010, p. 57). The synthesis, known as blended learning, can take on different blended forms-from mostly F2F, to mostly online, to a perfect 50-50 split. All definitions of blended learning, or teaching, implicitly recognize, however, that learner self-direction, active involvement, and motivation are critical (Johnson, 2014).

The shift towards student-centered learning and the increased adoption of online components as part of once traditional HE instruction formats has led researchers to the conviction that "in order to address some of the limitations associated with the exclusive use of e-learning [or F2F learning for that matter], there is a need to adopt a more 'blended' approach to learning" (Ituma, 2011, p. 59). The worldwide Laureate English Program (LEP) attempts to provide opportunities for the adoption and implementation of this type of approach for universities in the network.

New technologies, supporting a blended EFL instructional format, bring added benefits as well as challenges to the dynamic of language learning. Advantages include the ability to expand EFL learning beyond the time bound walls of the classroom. Web 2.0 tools (blogs, wikis, discussion forums, voice and video tools, flash files, etc.) allow for extended practice as well as instruction, which an EFL teacher can guide, monitor, and assess (Whyte, 2011). In addition to affording new types of online assessment opportunities through web 2.0 applications, these tools also allow for unlimited individual, peer-to-peer, small group, and whole group activities, projects, and assignments (Johnson, 2014).

According to So and Bonk (2010), however, blended teaching and learning engenders a complex and challenging new model for many teachers, as well as their students. The challenges for blended EFL instruction remain daunting for teachers because accomplishment at learning requires their students to become at least somewhat proactive and autonomous (Astin, 1999; Kuh, 2009). Not only must university students break out of the mold of relative passivity that they may have acquired in K-12 formation, they must also overcome the nervousness often associated with second language (L2) acquisition (Awan, Azher, Anwar, & Naz, 2010). In order to facilitate the transition from minimal student engagement to success, teachers need to move beyond their own acquired-and generally traditional-instructional styles and to address personal reluctance to explore new methodologies, tools, and approaches to EFL teaching, such as blended learning.

Centered on the thesis that satisfied, motivated, and engaged students will learn a language with greater success in blended formats, in this interview-based qualitative study the researchers looked to the instructors themselves for insights into what teachers can do to increase the level of student satisfaction, engagement, and learning in the blended Laureate English Program (LEP).

Blended content coverage for students in the LEP has now become the model for teaching and learning at most Laureate universities, and the institutions are putting into place appropriate online and classroom curricular resources for language input, practice, and development (or are gradually doing so). The experience at many of these universities so far indicates that teachers spend relatively little time on the Learning Management System (LMS) platform in direct communication and engagement with their students.

Some teachers still feel the need to cover all of the course material in class, rather than online, in order to control the entire learning process. …

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