When I talk about the possibilities of online education at a conference, there is usually someone who asks me a question that pretends to be rhetorical: "Excuse me, Sir, isn't it that the best educational model is mixed or blended?" Anyone who asks this question expects to have an answer like this: "Yes, of course it is." But that is not true, and perhaps it catches them with the changed foot.
A model is better or worse depending on how it responds to the needs of the people who are going to use it. There is no single model that is "the best". It is true that those who are used to face-to-face teaching are certainly uncomfortable when they have to move everything online. I get it. But it is also true that a blended model can only give a good answer -if it is well and properly designed- to students who have the conditions (time availability, travel possibilities, etc.) to attend a part of the classes physically. As you can see, despite its obvious potential benefits, it will not be a good model for all those who cannot travel or who have time constraints due to any work, family or personal reason.
Despite this, those who have mainly experienced face-to-face teaching find it difficult to accept and share this reasoning. These days, however, the situation of emergency provoked by the coronavirus has set us a perfect example of what I was saying. People are confined at home and therefore cannot leave. Can we develop a blended model? The obvious answer is no, even for the most staunch advocates of this model. Can we say then that this is the "best" model? No, it will be according to the circumstances and depending on who we are addressing.
All this came to mind because these days there is no longer talk about blended modalities, but of online education. And when we talk about online education, we also have to talk about different models, which will be more or less adequate depending on the objectives we set ourselves.
In this post I will not be exhaustive, but brief, and I will refer to the models that we are currently seeing that more people or institutions want to promote.
Let’s start with the repository model, a model in which content, materials and resources are made available to students remotely through a LMS or platform, which the student can access whenever they want and wherever they are. It does not require being synchronous. Another model is that of video-lessons. Teachers record their lesson, just as they would in class, and make it accessible to their students; they can do it synchronously or asynchronously. There is also the activity-based model. Teachers propose a series of activities and make access to resources available to solve them, or students are asked to search for these resources online; being synchronous is not required. Finally, the network learning communities’ model is based on the joint collaboration of all the participants, who face challenges and help each other to find the solution.
All these models, and others that I have not mentioned here today, can be grouped into two large blocks: those that are based on self-learning and those that are based on accompaniment ad support. This difference is very important.
Online education is often thought of as simply facilitating access to resources for students to learn. This is the definition of self-study, or independent study. But these are two concepts that have existed for centuries, and which have also demonstrated their obvious shortcomings. Is this better than nothing? Of course it is, but as educators we can aspire to something else for our society. Without support, without accompaniment by teachers, only a small percentage of people learn what they should learn, or learn it at the level of depth they need to. The models that I have described can be carried out with or without teacher support, but there is a trend to think that the teacher can only imitate or replicate what he does in the classroom, and this is wrong.
A good model of online education makes available to students a good educational design in the form of a course, a technological environment that works and responds when stressed, provides the best content and resources in the most appropriate formats, establishes a mechanism through which classmates can collaborate with each other and, finally, makes the accompaniment and support of expert teachers available, which helps in the development of activities, solving doubts and evaluating achievements. Doing it entirely or partially in synchronous or asynchronous mode and deciding what technological tools to use will depend largely on how our students are and where they are, and on the options they can activate. But never because we give up on providing them the most complete and value-added model possible.
Therefore, it is necessary to know what we are talking about and to speak clearly, without creating any unnecessary confusion.