Blended learning

December 29, 2019


The writer works at Oxford University Press, Pakistan.
The writer works at Oxford University Press, Pakistan.

A 25-YEAR-OLD old takes her new car out on the broken roads of Karachi, on the way to her first job. It has taken her nearly two years to land a job after she graduated with an MBA degree from a local university. There are thousands like her still struggling to find employment.

We often hear the word ‘entitled’ to describe young people demanding something bigger and better — be it a new digital device, travels abroad, or simply chasing a desire to win an arm-chair argument against their parents in the family living room. The fact is, there is not much room for ‘entitlement’ in a society where, as Maya Angelou aptly put it, ‘joy is an act of resistance’. The girl driving her very first car isn’t the only one looking for a bit of joy in the urban madness — millions of others like her are finding ways to subvert deprivation. There are millions of hard-earning parents investing in their children’s education only to eventually realise it won’t deliver a professionally-driven future.

How effective is a higher education system if it cannot be a launching pad for graduates to be able to afford their own housing, health and improve the quality of their lives? The responsibility to enable the dreams and aspirations of our young generation rests with all those higher education institutes that are preparing them for a career. In the absence of job-embedded learning, there is little connect between a college education and real life needs. Our young graduates are often deprived of the prospects that most universities provide the world over.

Whilst many of our local universities claim to delve into evolving teaching methods and a wider scope of learning, a closer look often shows a gaping divide between theory and practice. For example, the concept of blended learning is currently touted as the next big thing in our higher education institutes but have we got the framework in place to help familiarise teachers with the evolving strategies to use it in classrooms?

Textbooks alone cannot match the benefits of blended learning.

Universities worldwide are using blended learning as a powerful mechanism that combines traditional face-to-face teaching with the digital tools required to prepare students for the demands of a professional life. As higher education experiences in the Middle East show, universities have to reshape methods and policies to transition to blended learning. There is much research that goes into preparing students and the faculty for digital transformation; the particular brand that suits a society’s needs might not be the same as that being used elsewhere. Unfortunately, we like to import learning in a ‘one size fits all’ framework that produces more challenges than rewards. There is much value in understanding the impact of blended learning, and how it can be applied across different disciplines.

Blended learning is important particularly in higher education because we can no longer prepare graduates for the demands of a professional world without digital experience. Although still very significant for content analysis, textbooks alone cannot match the benefits of blended learning, which imparts problem-solving skills in a unique context that allows students the autonomy to adapt learning to their individual style and gain access to a variety of personalised research tools.

With digital tools, students can easily revisit the content anytime, anywhere and have more meaningful collaboration with peers — group work is now possible without physical proximity as is immediate peer feedback and one-to-one interaction with course tutors. Enhanced retention of content, self-correction and flexibility are just some of the advantages. Blended learning also allows for greater efficiency and transparency in tracking assessment records.

These blended learning tools help students take ownership of their education and engage more deeply with course material as they get opportunities for self-advocacy through individually defined goals and flexible asses­sment. Teachers functioning as the ‘guide on the side’ can help students connect learning to real-life experiences that provide opportunities for employment or further education.

Due to the sheer demographics of our population, we have potentially more inquirers, thinkers and innovators in our society than many other nations. Whilst a large number of nations have either ageing populations or those that are skewed towards a young, dependent bracket, our median age is approximately 24, which makes the demand for higher education high. We are fortunate to have a large pool of human resources with almost 40 per cent of our population in the working-age bracket. Tapping into this talent requires a growth mindset and workable policies. Without structural changes, there might be yet more hard-earners weaving through the urban madness to get to jobs that fail their expectations.

The writer works at Oxford University Press, Pakistan.

Twitter: @nedamulji

Published in Dawn, December 29th, 2019