by Dr Dominique Thompson
One of the biggest challenges for students last year (in a year with many contenders) was learning almost solely online. There is now a sense of relief as face-to-face teaching returns for many, but it is likely that most students will be offered a mixed (‘blended’) approach to studying.
What do we mean by ‘Blended Learning’?
As a student you will likely now experience a mix of face-to-face and online teaching, group work, library activities, and online textbooks. This may seem a little overwhelming at first but there are many things that you can do to get the most from a blended learning experience.
Studies have shown that blended learning can work well for students, but it can take some getting used to and the path to academic success benefits from you discovering which approaches work best for you.
One of the greatest benefits of the blended approach is the huge scope for each student to create their own individual academic experience. Blended study can definitely be a recipe for success as well as giving you ownership and control over your learning.
It is crucial to address with your university any issues of digital poverty, internet glitches or accessibility, if you feel that these may prevent you from fully engaging in your course.
I’m ready – So how can I use blended learning to boost my grades in 6 steps?
Start with a positive mindset and find the fun!
Variety is not just the ‘spice of life’ but of learning. Blended learning allows you to be more in control of where and when you study or revise. You can have access to vast resources but learn at your own pace. This may make blended learning less stressful than just going to lectures or tutorials.
Most students are happy to engage in a blended approach as long as there is a significant element of face-to-face learning too. With the use of quizzes, gamification, and other fun ways to learn, academic study has never been more interactive and engaging.
Starting with a positive outlook will help you to get the most from your studies and stay motivated.
If your tutors haven’t yet discovered new ways (or tech) to liven up learning, it is not unreasonable to (politely) offer constructive suggestions to enhance their delivery. They are very busy people but usually open to ideas.
Stay connected to other people.
Humans need other humans. There is a risk with online learning that you may become isolated or detached from other people. It is therefore really important to take the opportunity to attend any in-person teaching that is offered such as seminars or group work.
The joy of blended learning is that you can have the best of both worlds, catching up with course mates regularly, but having time to absorb and review your work in your own time. Even when you’re online it is important to connect with others such as through discussion boards, groups, or chat.
Interacting with other people socially and collaborating for work helps us to stay well emotionally, as well as having benefits such as discovering new ideas and learning from others.
Smile when you meet new people, turn up for in-person activities, and try not to avoid other people as it can quickly become habit, and this may prevent you from developing the social skills you need for relationships and the workplace.
Plan ahead and make tomorrow’s To Do list today.
Get organised! Every student’s life involves lots of activities, so it is important to plan your timetable, develop a daily routine, build in rest times, and ensure that you have plenty of variety of learning.
Pencil in deadlines and project work timelines and finish each day by making the next day’s ‘To Do List’. It finishes the day neatly, so you can go and have fun.
Explore the interactive options, such as highlighting, annotating, and editing, in your online resources and textbooks, to make the most of the technology (and to make your life easier!).
Create a timetable (but make it colourful!) that allows you to mix face-to-face teaching, the library, lab work, group project work and individual study, as well as time to research online resources and read textbooks. Ask other students for ideas on how they balance work and fun!
Boost your CV.
Blended learning gives you skills. Once you move from your degree into the world of work you will find that many skills that you have learned from online study are useful there too. Most jobs require people to be self-motivated, independent and to display a degree of self-sufficiency, but many also need you to be able to analyse information from multiple sources, think critically and be creative.
Reading widely, researching your subject in depth, and engaging in ‘deep learning’ (rather than just superficially skimming topics) are all part of a blended approach that will help you to achieve far more than just listening to a lecturer delivering a PowerPoint presentation.
Start creating your CV so that you can add to it throughout your studies, and don’t forget to highlight these new learning and thinking skills (and mention them in interviews!).
Get help if you need it.
Don’t struggle on alone if you are finding university overwhelming or too challenging. It is very common for students to need help, whether it is for IT, accessibility issues, academic support, or wellbeing problems.
Universities are designed to help students achieve their academic potential and be the best student they can. There are multiple staff, such as academic tutors, librarians, disability advisors, and counsellors to name but a few, whose job is to help you study successfully, and stay well.
As you walk around the university make a habit of noticing where the various support teams are based, the librarians’ names, and who the key administrative staff are in your department. They will then feel more familiar when you ask them for help.
An Outing a Day Keeps the Optician Away
Protect your eyesight. One of the downsides of studying online is that students spend more time looking at a screen which could potentially make them more short-sighted. It may therefore be helpful to follow a couple of internationally recommended top tips to protect your eyesight.
Firstly, spend at least two hours outside every day, as time off screens is vital for eye health (and so is vitamin D from the sun). This has the added benefit of being brilliant for your mental health too!
Secondly, after 20 minutes of any close screen work gaze into the distance for at least 20 seconds (the 20-20 rule). Remember, close work should never be performed at a distance of less than 30cm so check that you are not holding your screen too close to your eyes.
Combine your ‘eye protecting’ two hours outdoors with walking to lectures with a friend, exploring the city or getting sporty.
Whilst it can be challenging to adapt to blended learning, the benefits are significant.
Take control of your studies, plan your time effectively and efficiently, and access a vast array of resources whilst staying connected to your friends, course mates and university staff.
Done carefully and thoughtfully, blended learning skills will prepare you for life after university, allowing you to develop a curious and creative mind, and achieve the academic heights you aspire to. It won’t always be easy, but these 6 steps can make it work for you!