Are you familiar with blended learning, the buzzword of modern education? A term that sounds so cool but vague at the same time that many people wrongly associate it with new technologies or “tree-hugging” lecturers. In reality, however, blended learning is about developing curricula. At Antwerp Management School, we harness this concept for the continuous improvement of our courses. One example of a course designed according to this principle is the new Master in Public Finance – a subject that’s far from airy-fairy.
Blended learning is based on the student: student-centered design. It starts from the learning objective: 'What does the student have to know and what should he or she be able to do after studying this subject?' For every learning objective, a learning method is selected that is most suited to conveying the subject matter. That way, we avoid relying on classical learning methods that do not contribute to the learning process of the student.
Technology vs. pedagogy
People often think that blended learning equates to working with technology. Although technology provides new types of learning methods, blended learning does not just consist of technology. It is even wrong to take technology as the start. The aim is not to say: “OK, we have a camera so we can start filming. How are we going to integrate this in our curriculum?” Technology is not the starting point, the curriculum is: Pedagogy takes precedence.
Students should process the subject matter at home, using online materials provided by the lecturer. These may be in the form of literature, but could also be videos, case studies or even a quiz. Afterward, everyone gathers in the classroom to discuss the subject. That way, the topic is partly processed at home, but the in-depth processing takes place in the classroom, with the lecturer deciding how to direct the discussion.
A blended program provides both an online component and face-to-face interactions. Compared with traditional programs, there are fewer and possibly shorter “on-campus” days, but it gives both the lecturer and the student the chance to cover, explain or question topics in much greater depth – if necessary. This benefits the student. By alternating between different learning methods, he or she masters the subject matter better.
And it isn’t just the lecturer or the learning coach explaining and elaborating on the subject matter in a flexible program, but the students as well. Because students get together with their peers in a classroom, questions, answers and thoughts will arise spontaneously, giving even more depth to the subject. This is just one aspect of social learning and a key part of the impact of the learning material on the student’s learning process.
Although blended learning is student-centered, the lecturer’s role is pivotal, as the learning method largely depends on him or her. Investing time in redesigning your course according to this principle is obviously time-intensive. In the long run, however, it can only be beneficial. You convey the subject matter to the students in the best way possible. With blended learning, the lecturer takes on a new role. Not only does he convey the learning materials, he acts as coach: He facilitates the knowledge transfer.
For Antwerp Management School, this principle fits in with our core objective of being as customer-focused as possible. Says Peggy Hoogstoel, our Blended Learning Architect: “Students that join us will be highly educated and want to gain as much practically applicable knowledge as possible. Their time is valuable, so if they absorb some learning materials better at home, you have to be able to facilitate this as a modern educational institution.”
Our courses are increasingly shaped or redesigned according to blended learning principles. Hence, AMS students may expect more variation in learning methods in the future. To keep all this organized, we use Brightspace: an intuitive platform on which everything comes together. It is a virtual learning environment in which people can work interactively. On the platform, lecturers can interact with their students, take surveys, allocate groups, upload video conversations … It is an optimal learning environment.
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