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What is blended learning?

Blended learning is one of the big buzz words in education at the moment. With interest in online learning growing in South Africa, the difference between online courses and blended learning courses is not always clear. Sometimes these terms are used interchangeably, but in fact there are some key differences.

There is a shift towards a knowledge economy in South Africa.  We need more professionals, thinkers and entrepreneurs, and these career paths require study and mentoring.  However, not everyone is able to attend classes; perhaps they work full time, or live in rural areas far away from formal educational institutions.  Online learning affords many students the chance to study.  Students can be sent course content via email or through the use of video, podcasts etc., and students can also interact with each other online.  Online learning is an ideal way of communicating content- heavy subjects, but its success is dependent upon the student’s discipline and on internet accessibility.

Blended learning includes the attendance of contact classes as well as individual online learning. Students use the internet to access some material, which is used as a basis for conversations in class. If there is material that the student doesn’t understand, they can also chat or email other students in order to get help. Students have the ability to preview and review that which is discussed in class. Blended learning also allows for the use of other information sources, such as websites, YouTube etc., rather than just sticking to one textbook.   Because students can attend part of the course on site and the rest online, this mode of learning is often more cost effective and affordable than attending traditional classes.

When considering these options, it is important to do so with the South African context in mind.  Without fairly good bandwidth, you can’t watch videos, and data costs money. Without a large enough screen, it’s difficult to read documents. However, there are solutions. New technology means faster cell phones, and free WiFi is on the horizon.

There are an abundance of language apps out there nowadays – but they fall short for a number of reasons. Some have simply put grammar rules and stiff, formal sentences online for students to repeat – not much use if you’re wanting to have a natural-sounding conversation with someone. Worse still, some apps “crowdsource” language learning – your work is assessed by someone who volunteers to do so, and has no language teaching experience whatsoever. Needless to say, these are not truly effective methods of learning a language.

So what mode of teaching is most appropriate for language learning?

We need to keep a few  things in mind when we study a language. In a language learning classroom, the content is not the main point of focus. Simply learning the rules of grammar does not allow for real language acquisition. It is possible to put grammar rules online for students to refer to when doing grammar based homework, but this would not necessarily lead to natural usage or acquisition. In a language learning classroom, students need to practice and experiment with the new language. They have to have their mistake’s corrected immediately. Students need to practise with members of their class who are at the same level as they are, and form lifelong relationships whilst connecting their feelings to the language. Idioms make sense because of mistakes we make together in class. These are often the reasons why learning a language in a classroom is so much fun. A blended classroom can offer the best of both worlds.

At the Wits Language School, we already offer our courses in a blended environment. If you’d like to experience what the future of language learning will be like, come and join a class.