Wed 30th August 2017 - 05:28

Blended Learning vs Personalised Learning: What’s the Difference?

Words have a nasty habit of morphing without any warning, even losing their meaning in the process. The more we repeat them, the less we understand their semantic substance. If misused, they sooner or later become dead letters on a social media wall.

Such is the fate of two commonly misinterpreted phrases from the education lexicon – blended and personalised learning. Nowadays, they are most often used as buzzwords, creating confusion.

Both these terms refer to a long-awaited change in the traditional educational system, the one that could mean the difference between intellectual stunting and growth.

The aim of this article is to unravel part of the confusion.

Modality vs Philosophy

In order to do so, we first need to learn to differentiate two of the other educational concepts: instructional modality and educational philosophy. Just as with personalised and blended learning, one of these terms is much broader, enveloping the other as strategy envelopes the technique.

In the educational lexicon, philosophy refers to a set of theoretical goals that we plan to accomplish. Each in its own way, educational philosophies strive beyond what we’ve already achieved and try to establish progressive frameworks for the future. As such, they are essentially pedagogical.

A modality of instruction, on the other hand, is a method, or a set of techniques that educators employ in order to reach a certain goal. It is a practical implementation of a theory that can but does not have to be connected to an educational philosophy at large.  

Blended learning

Blended learning is not a philosophy, but an instructional modality. What defines a certain learning environment as blended is not the subject, a goal, or a pedagogical strategy, not even the learning style that a specific student chooses to employ.

What blended learning actually refers to is very simple: it’s the way a student accesses learning content.

Just like its name suggests, that way includes a number of different components, all blended into a single approach. Specifically for the digital age, blended learning is a mix of two learning environments: traditional classroom and e-Learning, one being offline and the other online.

Of course, both of these environments have their own learning pathways. In a traditional classroom, learning is by definition a supervised process in which the student is not in full control. e-Learning, however, implies an element of student control, if not over pace, then over place and time.

By combining diverse modalities, blended learning ensures a fully integrated learning experience. It’s important to note, though, that offline and online components don’t have to be present in equal amounts – if at least a part of the content is delivered online, the environment is blended.  

Personalised learning

Unlike blended learning, a personalised approach to education suggests a goal that is both philosophical and pedagogical. Contrary to popular belief, it does not only ensure custom-tailored pathways, but also the freedom to reach beyond the educational norm.

However we define it, personalised learning is always a student-centric educational philosophy.

After all, the cry for diversity is not only a cultural trend. Modern-day students are diverse in their abilities, ambitions, and interests. Their ancestors were too, though the 19th century system chose to emphasise the importance of equal rights and thus neglected individuality altogether.

At last, the notoriously short attention span of digitally native students urged educators to initiate a long-awaited change. Whether they are teenagers or corporate employees, today’s students demand advanced motivational techniques and a completely different approach to learning.

Hence the personalised goals and pathways. By allowing students to construct their own, we’re not only catering to their diverse cultural backgrounds, educational needs, and learning preferences, but we also allow them to evolve faster and further than the average set by formal education.

The difference

What we’ve learned thus far is this: while blended learning is partially supervised, personalised learning completely resides in the student’s hands. The first is instructional modality, while the other implies a pedagogical framework for a student-centric educational approach.

As such, personalised learning is a much broader term not because it guarantees a greater quality of the desired outcome, but because the quantity of techniques and modalities it uses to achieve that outcome is much bigger. Blended learning, as you might have guessed, is only one of those models.

Practically speaking, a personalised learning environment tailored to the needs and preferences of an individual student can but does not have to include blended learning. Some students prefer e-Learning over traditional classrooms, others don’t. A number of them, however, thrive on their combination.

The role of technology

A common confusion revolving blended and personalised learning is not only a consequence of free interpretation, though. The role of technology in education has blurred many lines including this one, so we need to answer another question: are e-Learning tools also a differentiating point here?

By definition, technology is one of the mandatory components in blended learning. Whether or not e-Learning tools will be included into a personalised learning pathway depends on the individual student and their preferences. In most cases, however, digitally native students prefer being schooled in the digital environment.

When implemented properly and meaningfully, e-Learning tools can be of great help to students and educators in both learning environments. Still, adding technology to a classroom without any clear pedagogical reason is not the solution. It’s up to the teacher to choose the tools that would fit the student’s needs in the best possible way.

Conclusion

Having said that, personalised learning seems like a good starting point. In case the educator’s assessment is that a specific student would benefit from blended learning, or the student asks for such a pathway by themselves, these different educational concepts can merge into one.

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