Blended learning is a recent development in educational techniques that combines old-school methods with some elements of virtual reality. It involves certain factors like cloud based teaching platforms, different modalities of learning including live and self-paced classes, closer peer communication, and old good coaching.
Despite of all the beautiful opportunities of the blended learning, and teaching, for that matter, there is, nonetheless, a number of challenges for tutors. Let us look into the most evident ones.
Lack of a personal contact
We all know the main channels of communication process offered by Claude Elwood Shannon as early as in 1948. In a classical scheme, the Sender transmits the Message through a certain Channel so that the Receiver at the end of the chain interprets it and produces Feedback. We all remember the Noise that surrounds both of them and interferes with the process.
The best channel for communication is, naturally, personal contact. This way, verbal communication constitutes only 20% of the message. All the rest is transmitted non-verbally, through posture, gestures, mimics and facial expressions. If we put it that way, we clearly see that any virtual or online communication is quite limited in this sense.
Some online teaching platforms for tutors offer an option for video-conference. Online video is a great teaching tool that you can blend into your course programme to improve the channel of communication.
Another way to improve the learning experience in virtual world is to have a solid base of course documents printed and handed out before the session, and then displayed on the screen as well. This way, two different media transmitting the same message along with your instructions given verbally provide for a better communication.
Lack of eye contact
Eye contact is the way to ensure everybody’s participation. A direct eye contact is a sign of friendliness and openness. Obviously, lack of it affects the perception of the tutor by students. In a regular class setting your peer become a groupe of people, a social unit. Eye contact between members of the group is one of the main nonverbal channels of communication. An experienced tutor catches certain reactions of the audience even before they are put in words. That’s why teaching in virtual environment can be challenging.
Stimulate and give incentives for typing any question that comes in your students’ minds. Try to get their reactions by asking open questions. Use emojis to translate your emotions.
At the same time, communication by Internet gives a sense of anonymity which can actually help some students to open up. You’d be surprised how many heated debates took place in virtual chat rooms of e learning platforms.
Internet connection / technical issues
Let’s refer again to our communication model above. Any technical issues or interruptions in the transmitting the Message is called Noise. It’s always unpleasant, be it in a classroom setting with some wild students, or during a session of an online learning platform. Unintentionally, the real-life speaker raises up his or her voice because the main goal, of course, is to send the Message. A virtual tutor has to slow down, and to spend more time trying to fix the problem.
Remember this feeling of embarrassment when you were presenting a project, and your brilliant, beautiful Powerpoint presentation is somehow lost, or you can’t download it from your USB-key. This is the feeling that your teacher fights every time there is a technical issue with the application.
A vast majority of technical issues is due to slow or poor Internet connection. With the help of Speedtest, check both download and upload speed of your channel. For decent communication you need to have at least 3 Megabit per second for incoming connection and at least 1 Megabit of upload speed. Ask your students to make sure their kids are not streaming HD-videos during the session.
Difficult to keep track of students’ participation
Participation of the students is the key factor for them to pass the course. In a real-class setting teachers can see students that are distracted, talk to each other or busy with any stupidity they can think of. That’s not the case, however, in a virtual setting of blended learning. Here, we measure students’ activity by their messages, readiness to answer questions and assessment results later during the course. We can’t see what the student is doing and if he or she is actually present at the session. Yes, the presence is taken at the beginning of the class, but we can’t be sure that at a certain moment during the session, the student is actually there.
In our experience, online sessions are way more fun than classes of a real-life setting. This way we need to shift our focus from taking disciplinary actions to finding ways to improve motivation of the students. Moreover, self-paced classes gain more and more popularity nowadays. This way, the student can decide for himself or herself what is the best time to study. So, try to give a choice of modes of learning, develop a version for a self-paced class, and leave the decision for the student.