The teaching landscape is rapidly changing with many schools, colleges and institutions opting to change their traditional methods of teaching to a more blended approach. Blended learning is a real buzzword in education currently and is commonly defined as the blend between online and face to face learning. Blended learning also refers to a blend or a mixture of learning methods.
In South Africa educators and institutions face a variety of obstacles in the implementation of blended learning. Slow internet, access to Wi-Fi, poverty and a lack of resources are just some of the challenges facing educators in our country.
The question is, with all these stumbling blocks, is it still possible or advisable for educators to try and implement blended learning?
At MSC Business College we have not only proven that it is possible but we have proven that blended learning can be implemented very effectively despite all the challenges. We saw a very real need for change in delivery methods and realised that in order to enhance the learning experience, improve pass rates and to meet the needs of industry and employers we had to make drastic changes. We knew we have a duty to our students to adequately prepare them for the working world and to give them the best possible learning experience. We therefore could not let obstacles like slow internet or a lack of resources stand in our way of implementing blended learning at our colleges.
2015 saw the introduction of an electronic learning platform (the ELP). Our students access all their learning material and assignments and submit all completed assignments on the platform. Facilitators mark and give feedback directly on the platform. A big challenge with this introduction was the fact that the majority of our students did not have access to computers or the internet at home. A further challenge was the fact that most of our students lacked basic computer skills.
We overcame these challenges by providing free tablets with registration at our colleges and we included a compulsory computer proficiency module to all our courses. Each of our colleges have one or more computer labs available for use by the students.
In 2016 we took blended learning one step further by introducing the flipped classroom model of delivery of course content. Facilitators were trained in various interactive blended methods and encouraged to incorporate these methods in their classes. In 2017 we formalised our delivery structure and method with the introduction of COLE. COLE stands for “Career Orientated Learning Experience” which perfectly describes our approach and focus. With COLE the facilitation of course work is done in an interactive, flipped classroom environment.
Once again we were faced with a number of serious challenges for example resistance to change (from students and facilitators), limited resources, students not having access to the internet or Wi-Fi at home and a school curriculum which actively promotes “spoon feeding”.
We did not let these stumbling blocks stand in our way and we addressed them through continuous training and the creation of a department tasked with overseeing the successful and correct implementation of COLE. Campuses provide our COLE trainees (students) with a list of all free Wi-Fi spots in their area and a big emphasis is placed on the positive outcomes of the model.
An important element of blended learning is the virtual classroom. Most colleges and institutions in South Africa avoid virtual classrooms because of the mentioned challenges of most students not having access to computers or internet at home. Through our COLE model we successfully incorporated the virtual classroom into our course facilitation through the creation of class WhatsApp groups and through the Google classroom application.
MSC prides itself on being at the forefront of the successful implementation of blended learning in South Africa.