Toolkit for Blended Learning: How to make courses future-proof
During the COVID-19 pandemic, instructors have made great and creative efforts to develop online education by means of teaching technologies. Even though the switch to online education was far from ideal, still various online elements could be retained to improve education in the future. This has led to developments towards blended learning. We spoke with Dr. Sabita Soedamah-Muthu, instructor and academic director of the Psychology Bachelor’s program (Tilburg School of Social and Behavioral Sciences), who created a Blended Learning Toolkit to design high-quality and future-proof courses.
What is Blended Learning?
Sabita defines blended learning as the marriage between face-to-face and online education, whereby the one component strengthens and enriches the other. In other words, traditional lectures are supplemented and enhanced with studying in an online environment, whereby students get access to online materials and can study at moments when it is convenient for them.
Students at home are activated by means of, for instance, short knowledge video clips containing quizzes, and come to the lecture better prepared as a result.
The Blended Learning Toolkit
As the academic director of the Psychology Bachelor’s program, Sabita faced several challenges. The number of Psychology Bachelor’s students has increased tremendously, resulting in increased work pressure for instructors. In addition, traditional teaching methods no longer meet the expectations of the current generation of students, who grow up with the internet. Sabita realized that the teaching technologies developed during the pandemic might provide a solution to these challenges and help to improve the way the program was taught.
To support the online educational developments, she created an overview for instructors containing instruction strategies, learning activities, and assessment approaches in a clear PowerPoint template, called the Blended Learning Toolkit. The Toolkit was first used to enhance the courses of the Psychology Bachelor’s program and can now be a source of inspiration to improve other courses taught within Tilburg University.
"The results of evaluations among students differed from one course to another. For one course, students clearly preferred blended learning over the traditional methods (66% versus 26%). For the other course, students’ enthusiasm was equally divided." However, the response to the evaluation questionnaires and the focus groups was very low, which makes it difficult to properly interpret the results. After tweaking some of the elements in the courses, the students indicated their satisfaction with the videos, lectures, quizzes, portfolio assignments, and knowledge video clips.
In Sabita’s opinion, the Blended Learning Project has been very valuable and instructive. "Before Covid, this type of educational design was not used in Bachelor’s programs with a large number of students, like our Psychology program."
The project was developed as part of the Senior University Teaching Qualification (SUTQ) in collaboration with EDUiLAB, Tilburg University’s Educational Innovation Lab, that facilitates educational innovation projects. With the subsidy that EDUiLAB made available for the project, it was possible to hire two student-assistants. "The student-assistants took care of all the logistics around the project, but were also involved substantively in assessing the blended learning design from the student perspective. Since blended learning has strongly student-oriented elements, it is important that the methods being developed resonate with students, with clear learning objectives, learning curve, and assessment." Moreover, the EDUiLAB team monitored the project and gave useful feedback and tips.
Instructors experience high work pressure so there is hardly any time for educational development. That made this project such a challenge.
Dr. Sabita Soedamah-Muthu
In Sabita’s view, more attention should be paid to educational innovation. "Developments in science and society are important, but so is following trends on how people process and absorb information. That is rather different now from how it used to be. With the rise of the mobile phone, people are more used to quickly switching between apps and they may be less able to concentrate, for instance, on reading a book." Sabita is glad that blended learning has become part of Tilburg University’s strategy and that more infrastructure and funding have become available.
Blended learning offers opportunities to take a critical look at courses and to connect with students.