On Blended Learning

United States student loan debt sits at a whopping $1.3 trillion. Couple that with rising tuition rates and diminishing median household incomes across the country, and you’ve got what entrepreneur Mark Cuban predicts as a Student Loan Bubble that is bound to burst. Universities across the country are having to address their fundamental business models to reshape their offerings, reconsider their delivery, and ultimately determine how to best attract and retain students.

Higher education is intended to offer knowledge, opportunities, personal growth, and employable skills. And one way institutions are responding to challenges in the knowledge acquisition arena is by implementing blended learning tactics in the classroom. And what is blending learning?

The Christensen Institute defines blending learning as the restructuring of traditional classroom instruction with the injection of online learning tools to provide students with greater autonomy and personalization of their education. Blended learning shifts the instructor’s role from that of a lecturer to one more akin to collaborator and guide. By leveraging technology, blended learning offers benefits for both teacher and student. Teachers can deliver content, create assessments, or evaluate exams with greater ease so that they can spend more time interacting with their students. Students, on the other hand, can access content at their own pace, learn in smaller groups, and select their preferred modality to maximize the learning experience.

Knewton provides a comprehensive infographic on blended learning where it breaks it down into six distinct models based on preliminary classifications. These models vary by the teachers’ roles, modality, physical space, and autonomy:
Blended Learning Infographic

Created by Knewton and Column Five Media

Unbundling Education, a Framework

For the last several years, educators and students alike have experienced a disruption in the traditional path to higher education. An increasingly globalized network of students, coupled with the availability of knowledge across the web, is forcing higher education to reconsider its value propositions to its consumers. Whereas a traditional university degree and the occasional undergraduate research publication stood as valid proxies for assessing skills and aptitude, competencies today can be validated through a variety of other mediums such as digital portfolios, blog publications, and skills based online courses.

When Vermont-based womens’ liberal arts institution Sweet Briar College made headlines regarding its recent decision to shut its doors, questions swirled wondering how a school with an $84 million endowment could be going out of business. Despite tuition cuts and initiatives to attract more women interested in STEM fields, Sweet Briar’s enrollment continued to fall; ultimately putting it a financially precarious position that led to its dramatic decision. In today’s higher education economy, it’s important to understand how and why institutions like Sweet Briar failed to address the needs of its consumers. What is the value of a college degree and which of its components are being addressed elsewhere that has led to this disruption? 

Inigral (aka Uversity) founder Michael P. Staton offers one framework for the great unbundling of education. He divides the value proposition of higher education into four major components that can be broken down further into twelve services.
The following four main components are the overarching reasons for seeking a degree:
1. Acquire knowledge
2. Access opportunities
3. Develop metacontent and skills
3. Undergo personal transformation

- Michael P. Staton
– Michael P. Staton

These four components provide twelves services and that, according to Staton, those within the knowledge acquisition and opportunities access are most at jeopardy for disruption via technology.

I’m going to begin with this framework to consider new technologies that are disrupting the higher education landscape. By identifying the value of a traditional university education versus that of today’s skills based and tech savvy paradigm, we can determine how to best address everyone’s educational needs.