Locating the zone of effective learning in Blended Education

Locating the zone of effective learning in Blended Education

  • Zac Woolfitt
  • 27 June 2017
  • Posted in: Education

Micro-credentialing combined with Blockchain, MOOCs and free online courses provide sufficient motivation for Higher Education to critically evaluate its long term role in educating the next generation.

A changing student population and the continual technological developments puts pressure on education to blend, flip and video classes. Whether teaching face to face, or via distance learning, many organisations feel challenged as education lurches from the age old tradition of the “Sage on the stage” to the “Guide on the side”. These shifts are impacting teaching spaces, expectations regarding student approaches to learning, and require the development of new didactic approaches. Teachers who are used to ‘sending’ knowledge during traditional lectures to halls filled with students, find themselves appearing in front of green screens, segmenting their classes into short video chunks which can be communicated asynchronously on line.

While this can free up more time for interactive learning sessions face to face the question is whether these are the right choices to follow and based on what empirical evidence? How can we ensure that this process is positive for all involved?

As educators we have opened the doors of our classroom (both physical and online) to new technologies. Navigating through these (ever evolving) technologies is complicated and it is often difficult to distinguish what is (and what is not) effective. Our brain is susceptible to distraction (Gazzaley & Rosen, 2015) and creating awareness of the point at which technology tips from supporting the learning process, to being distractive, is an essential metacognitive skill for teachers and students.

Technology can be addictive and distracting: the 700 million users of Snapchat spend an average of 30 minutes a day making and sending funny videos.

As more courses are made available via distance learning (whether free MOOCS, or paid for accredited courses such as the Open University) the role of the physical educational institution is called into question. What is the added value for students of coming to class, when everything is available on line? In her chapter on Education, Sherry Turkle (2016) captures the essential elements of live teaching; watching an expert discuss various perspectives in class, seeing them change course in mid discussion and then arrive at a more complex position. It is difficult to capture this experience of thought in action, when it is presented on line in a recording, or during a live webinar. The live experience provides the option to interact and ask questions and to witness the development of the line of thought in class. This is an essential component of face to face education and needs to be nurtured and developed.

Through focusing on didactic coaching and practicing focused and appropriate feedback in a timely manner, the educator can personalize the learning process of individual students (Voerman, 2012)

Currently the writer is developing a conceptual framework that examines the characteristics of the different overlapping elements of teaching, learning technology. This integrates aspects such as face to face/online, synchronous/asynchronous, single tasking/multitasking and effective/ineffective learning activities into a cohesive whole. The framework is intended to function as a diagnostic tool for educators, students, curriculum designers and technology businesses. Identifying the zone of effective learning (the spaces where a student has potential to study effectively) is the first step. Engaging in effective study behavior once in the zone, and staying on track (whether in a face to face class, or studying online on a distance learning course) remains the ongoing challenge for educators and students.

Gazzaley, A., & Rosen, L. D. (2016). The distracted mind: Ancient brains in a high-tech world. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Turkle, S. (2016). Reclaiming conversation; The power of talk in a digital age. New York: Penguin Books.

Voerman, L. (2012). Teacher feedback in the classroom; Analyzing and developing teachers’ feedback behavior in secondary education. University of Utrecht. Retrieved from http://www.didactischcoachen.nl/images/pdf/Proefschrift_Lia_definitief.pdf


Zac Woolfitt, MEd, Research Group: Teaching, Learning & Technology, Faculty of Creative Business, Iholland University of Applied Sciences, The Netherlands

To hear more about Zac Woolfitt and the work he is doing at Iholland University, join us at Technology in Learning: Reshaping the Educational Landscape on July 4th at The Studio, Manchester

  • learning
  • blended learning
  • education
  • higher education
  • further education
  • Article Author

About Zac Woolfitt

Zac Woolfitt conducts research into technology and education at Inholland University near Amsterdam. Since 2003, he has been an active practitioner of using various technologies to support blended and flipped teaching (with a focus on video).

He graduated Cum Laude, MEd: ‘Teaching and Innovation’ with research into support needs of faculty to tran…