Blended learning for working executives in challenging times
Approaches to learning that combine traditional classroom learning with online learning tools can offer flexibility in training for high level executives, writes Dr. Manoj Kumar of Skyline University College
Middle East education is in an evolutionary phase. Many executives who are pursuing higher education have enrolled themselves in evening and weekend classes. There are some concerns for educating these executives,in which time management is one of the major issues. These executives do not have enough time to enrol themselves as full-time students because of their job-related responsibilities and familial responsibilities. In such cases, normal modes of pedagogy may not be feasible for them.
These high-level learners are different not only in terms of the scarcity of their time, but also in experiences they carry and the various facilities they have at their disposal,such as high-end electronic gadgets, well-established professional networks and so on. Blended learning seems to be one of the most suitable mediums of education for executives, which needs to be customized according to the learners, course content and the level of education.
Blended learning has been defined as learning through the combination of classroom and online tools. Bonk and Graham defined it in ‘The Handbook of Blended Learning’, as systems combining face-to-face instruction with computer-mediated instruction. Although, many institutions use online resources like student portals, Black Board etc. through which students can download study material at their own comfort.
There is enough scope to make learning wider and more effective by exploring other possibilities in blended learning, as it is also one of the best possible tools to educate employees. Blended learning is an effective tool for just-in-time learning, in which learners can be trained and educated for the immediate job requirement without long sabbatical leave or the expense of travelling and accommodation to attend courses at distant locations.
Some of the major requirements for blended learning programmes are scalable curriculum, continual feedback from learners about tools and consequent modifications, wider options for different sets of learners, and multi-dimensional usage of online and classroom mediums.
Scalable curriculum refers to the option of modular courses,e.g. one can do a certificate course now, and later whenever convenient, one can earn some more credits to make it diploma and similarly a degree. It helps learners to identify their strengths and weaknesses and they are in a better position to understand what works for them and what not.
The feedback from learners becomes crucial in such cases as it is an evolving medium, and every day new tools are available in information technology to experiment with. Many suggestions can come from learners about the tools to experiment with. Webinars, podcasts and online assessment are among the few widely-used tools in blended learning. There are instances when learners’ expectations and the perceptions of curriculum designers and instructors about learners’ expectations do not match. In other words, there is a service quality gap, which refers to the gap created when the management does not correctly perceive what the customers want.
For example, young employees of a consumer products companies were provided a blended learning opportunity with a higher proportion of online learning, keeping in mind the inclination of youngsters towards online tools. Later, it was found that the young employees of the company were more interested in relevant examples than the online system of learning.
Wider options refer to personalisation or customisation of courses to the maximum extent possible, when training executives, the major requirement is to help them in bridging the gap between the knowledge and skill required for career enhancement, and the knowledge and skill they have at the moment. Sometimes, it can also be for the sake of enabling an individual to switch to a new career path. In both cases, wider options of selection of modules, selection of pedagogic and assessment tools makes the learners more comfortable, focused and effective.
Multi-dimensional usage of online and classroom mediums aims to make the content as rich as possible in terms of the various ways of presentations and interactivity of the content. As instructors are not always in face-to-face interaction with learners, they may not know what suits a learner best. By providing the various options like animations, videos and links to content it can be ensured that learners utilise the content format of their choices.
Thus, the treasures of blended learning need to be explored further and experimented to provide effective ways of learning for time-constrained working executives. The advent of new technologies and experiences of working with blended learning will further enhance the effectiveness of the blended learning medium.
Dr. Manoj Kumar is Associate Professor, Skyline University College, Sharjah, UAE.