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Benerd College
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3601 Pacific Ave. Stockton, CA 95211
3200 Fifth Ave. Sacramento, CA 95817

What is Blended Learning

Over the past few years, several organizations such as the Sloan Consortium, the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, and the National Center for Academic Transformation have worked toward developing guidelines regarding blended and hybrid learning. Understandably, there is a wide variety of possible configurations that complicate the process, ranging from minimal in class time with a significant online component to significant in class time with minimal online components.

The mixture of in class to online work is not as straightforward as it may seem at first. Students perceive both tasks and time in each environment quite differently. Aycock, Garnham, and Kaleta (2002), for instance, note that students do not consider time spent (or tasks done) in the classroom to be "work" in the same way that they perceive the same tasks online to be work. Time spent online is considered to be "work" in the same way that homework is perceived as work and, therefore, students perceived blended and online courses to be both more work and more demanding.

The Sloan Consortium defines blended learning is a course where 30% to 70% of the instruction is delivered online. Courses with little or no decrease in seat time, but with an online component, is considered web enhanced, and anything with an online component of more than 70% is effectively considered an online course. These distinctions are merely guidelines, and there is some debate on whether or not blended and online courses should be defined in terms of percentages. Shimabukuro (2012) argues that a class that replaces any seat time with online requirements should be considered blended even if the course is entirely online with even a single required classroom meeting. Only when there is no classroom requirement should the course be considered online. Individual institutions may have their own definitions and Shimabukuro provides numerous examples.

Credit hours and WASC

In 2011, WASC adopted a credit hour policy that provides a good starting point for thinking about the number of hours and the types of tasks that you want to build into a blended or online class.

At the University of the Pacific, as a best practice, there are certain activities are often included in the calculation of credit hours for an online course and can be considered equivalent to classroom instruction:
  • tasks, assignments, and assessments that are directly related to the student learning outcomes of the course
  • assignments are measurable for grading purposes
  • synchronous and asynchronous communication in activities that are directly under the supervision of the course instructor
  • can be identified as an equivalent of an activity conducted in the classroom
Activities that may not be considered include:
  • homework and auxiliary reinforcement of key objectives
  • time spent on task (for example, time spent on the course site is monitored by site statistics)
For five-week course, the WASC requirements would mean that each credit hour of an online course should have activities that can account for three hours of classroom equivalent activities and up to six hours of "homework" and other reinforcement activities totaling nine hours per week per unit online. A three unit class, then, should have nine hours of instruction and classroom equivalent activities along with up to 18 hours of "homework" and other reinforcement activities totaling 27 hours total per week. Additionally, a three unit, 15 week online course should have three hours of instruction and classroom equivalent activities along with six hours of "homework" and other reinforcement activities totaling nine hours a week.

Guidelines for credit review of hybrid and online courses

In order to ensure compliance with both University of the Pacific's policies and WASC's guidelines, online courses should have both the syllabus and course site that demonstrates equivalent activities. In order to demonstrate compliance the credit hour policies for online courses it is suggested that for each course the instructor should have the following:
  • A syllabus that mentions the credit policy and outlines how various activities within the course relate to the required hours
  • Review site and syllabus for minimum quality standards
  • while it is acknowledged that some activity may occur outside of the universities Sakai environment, the instructor should have a prepared statement explaining such outside activity in the course syllabus or in an addendum
  • in cases where the time - equivalence is not directly obvious, an addendum will need to be available explaining the justification for compliance.


30% to 70% of instruction shifting to an online format represents a fundamental change in the way a courses both designed and conducted. While seemingly easy to merely shift in class work or lectures (be a lecture capture or video, for example), such a change in mode requires some serious consideration of the redesign process. Student interaction, both within structure and with each other, perceptions of work and time, focus, among other things, are all different from the traditional classroom environment. The national Center for academic transformation has developed a useful model related to the course redesign process and the effective use of technology for blended learning.

To use technology effectively, redesign must be part of the process. Along with the technology (which should be selected and used to fill specific learning outcomes and hopefully enhance the experience that might otherwise be had in a classroom environment) curricular reinvention, student orientation, assessment support, and time and workflow optimization are all necessary for a sustainable and meaningful online or hybrid learning experience.

Is important to note that there is no one way solution to conducting a blended or online course. Each course presents its own unique tasks, objectives, and community interactions. It is important to seek out other faculty who are doing similar redesigns of their online and hybrid courses (even from other departments and learning management systems) and look at many different examples and approaches to online courses. In addition to the learning management system that the institution provides, there are countless additional online resources that are available via open education repositories, third-party web resources, and, for the more adventurous, self run server solutions (such as hosting your own WordPress server for your classes).

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