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Blended Learning Essentials: Getting Started

In a recent blog, written for @ThinkOutLoudClub on the subject of ‘Learning to Teach Online‘, I stated that the next MOOC I’d be studying would be the ‘Blended Learning Essentials: Getting Started’.

My motivations for doing this MOOC were the following:

  • Interested in doing learning completely
  • aligned to the vocational sector
  • I felt the content might be useful for shaping for future CPD for staff

It’s been great over the first two weeks to learn alongside plenty of other practitioners from the vocational sector around the globe and it’s been highly beneficial to see the case studies that have been gathered from educators and their learners. This blog will be updated as each week of the course progresses.

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Week 1

We’ll be introduced to the most effective ways of using digital technologies to increase learner success.

  • It enables independent learning
  • It extends learning
  • Technology in education is a necessity as teachers and students now demand more


Online glossaries

I’ve used flashcard sites and apps for ‘glossaries’ recently. Quizlet and Study Blue are ones I would recommend. The students can then maintain their own sets of online flashcards to learn and revise from- the flashcards are interactive and sets of activities are automatically generated. I moved away from static lists and towards flashcards as they were more conducive to learning. I have also seen a colleague teaching maths maintain a class glossary (using Google Docs) of mathematical terms, definitions and they could include links, videos and images as a reminder of the meaning of each term. This, over the Moodle version presented on this course, is far more user-friendly and accessible to learners and staff.

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Flipped Learning

Having experimented with flipped learning several times, I’ve found that generally using online tools to extend learning outside of the traditional classroom has been preferable. This is perhaps due to my own preferences of working and planning lessons but it’s also the extent to which a class is affected if the learners have not completed the flipped content. Instead, getting them to work on a project over a number of weeks that further develops their subject specific skills has been of greater benefit.

Watching the hairdresser speak about her approaches to the use of technology was of great use as she spoke honestly about her approaches and the benefits she’d been able to see. Equally, the fact we heard from the students about the impact technology has had on their learning was useful.



We saw how a tutor at Loughborough College is using Moodle for learning:

  • Learning should be time efficient
  • Independent learning skills need to be learn but as do social skills so that learning doesn’t occur in isolation
  • Online submissions hangouts and messaging tools makes learning accessible and flexible as well as being far more interactive than books and paper (which are also access anywhere, any time).
  • There’s a lot about learners working at their own pace.
  • Flexibility of online learning- teachers and education institutions have to become more flexible about their own working hours and approaches too.


Week 2

This week we move on to consider the ways in which you can introduce or enhance blended learning within your teaching practice. We will think about why people use digital technologies in education, and consider how they support learning outcomes.

  • Mobile learning
  • Social learning
  • Problem-based learning

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The pedagogy of blended learning

Case Study 1- iObserve in sports lessons

Make a recording where the qualification criteria are embedded in the app. It’s great for evidence for awarding bodies as well as for formative assessment. It removes the need for witness statements and could even be used for peer assessment too. If being used for summative assessment then it can be uploaded online or signed and printed.

When learners get over the embarrassment of being observed, they find the tool incredibly useful for their learning.

I can see this as a tool to use in the majority of vocational learning- with students’ practical skills being effectively and seamlessly assessed in class.

Case study 2- social tools to support learners’ success- Flickr and Facebook

Borders College is the institution used here. A horticulture teacher describes how he uses these tools.

Images can be taken when they’re out and about, the images are uploaded to Flickr with narrative attached and then the images can be reviewed on Moodle or on Facebook.

Students have a sense of pride when their work is recorded and it opens up reflective discussions for the whole class. It opens up the learning environment wider as students are engaging with the content at home. It encourages the learners to use social media outside of the classroom for learning as well as for their personal lives. It also provides a great way of marketing the course to potential future students.

Problem based learning encourages students to apply learning to new situations; encouraging learners to explore creative solutions.

One concern I had after these two videos was that benefits were described as it saves the learner reading lots of notes or writing too much. I think if we continue to strip these elements out then it will be of detriment to their English skills development. 

Case study 3- creativity in visual arts

The Sheffield College- Paper 53 is used to enhance creativity for visual arts students. Convincing students that technology can be used in their professional lives just as much as their personal lives has been important. Young people need encouragement to be creative and these apps help- it makes the process accessible to learners. They can play around with ideas, upload and collate them all in order to move towards their final project.


The technology for blended learning

Classroom Tools

Borders College- Economics can be a dry subject and using blended learning helps to engage learners she would otherwise use.

Nearpod allows the lecturer to share presentations and build in quizzes and polls for the learners to work with. It’s great to send across work to absent students as well- they get the same activities used in class.

Using the interactive whiteboard means that you can move the lesson so that the students are leading the learning.Technology has enabled variety and pace in the classroom.

It’s great as a teacher to try new technologies, to learn new things and not know what’s coming next.

E-learning Packages

Prospect Training Services- Dreams- custom-made 3D animations, video and audio introductions to a new subject- before the teacher moves to more traditional teaching & learning activities.

The students are enabled through e-learning, to move their learning along at their own pace.

Tutors will never be replaced but the technology can assist in engaging students with their learning in different ways.

Feedback has been fantastic from the learners.

Google Classroom

Loughborough College- Sports Department make use of Google Classroom for an online classroom.

It can be viewed on phones, which means that learners can take it wherever they go.

It saves printing in the classroom too.

Students were completing different activities and uploading the answers/pictures of their answers to the online classroom, which means that other students could learn from their work- without having to complete all activities themselves.

Checking on students’ learning and progress can be easy on the classroom as you can set formative assessments easily and it’s useful for enabling flipped learning as well as being great for summative assignment submission and grading too.

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Digital Literacy Skills Audit

For the development of educators’ digital skills, the following sites were suggested:

BBC Webwise – A wide range of learning materials about online security, social media, online searching and use of games consoles.

Microsoft Digital Literacy – Three levels of curriculum about digital literacy skills: basic, standard and advanced.

JISC Developing your digital literacy Design Studio – An extensive range of resources to support your digital development.

Open University Being Digital skills for life online – A range of self-assessment tests you can take to assess your digital literacy skills.

JISC Digital Media guide to video production – A comprehensive guide to producing video.

Educator’s guide to social media – A useful guide for educators about the use and value of a wide range of social media sites that can support education.

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A case study of effective blended learning in practice

Borders College- Moodle was being used as a repository and wasn’t interactive enough.

We worked with staff to encourage them to include more interactive resources to encourage learning- we’ve moved beyond word documents. Mahara was used as a web portfolio as well to capture evidence of students’ learning- particularly relevant for our vocational courses.

An interactive whiteboard is in each of our blended learning classrooms as well as a set of fixed PCs.

Technology has ensured students are far more involved in their learning and have a greater sense of responsibility and empowerment.

It’s become part of our culture to use technology in this way and to deliver the same kind of learning experience across the organisation.

You can find out more here


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Week 3

This week, we’ll be exploring how to use digital technologies to meet learning outcomes and support our learners.

  • Virtual Learning Environments and getting the most out of them
  • Openly available tools to embed into your practice

Exploring VLEs

VLE is an online software tool that provides controlled access to course specific content. Yu can arrange content by module, week or activity. You can use the curriculum design and learning oiutcomes to arrange content.

  • All material is available 24 hours a day.
  • Ensure you provide materials in common file types so that they are widely accessible by learners.
  • Interactive activities and learner generated content is vital on a VLE.
  • Remember to share information about privacy settings for learners.
  • Set quizzes that provide students with instant feedback.
  • Define the purpose of any discussion forum and link to any face-to-face contact time too.
  • Arrange the VLE so that it encourages independent learning.
  • Monitor learners’ progress with both formative and summative activities.

We were asked to share and read the VLE activities of others on this Padlet wall (click the image below to open).


Exploring Open Tools

Free, accessible tools available on the internet. They can be used to collaborate, share, create and present. Apps can be for smartphones or web-based.

WordPress for blogging- store, display and share a lot of these open tools. This can be a host for all of this material- one space to bring everything together and share with learners. It can be used as a VLE or to complement a VLE.

  • Prezi for creating interesting presentations
  • Audacity for recording voices
  • Google tools– making sharing and collaboration easier
  • Google Hangout for video conferencing
  • Padlet for virtual post-it notes
  • Use ThingLink to add multimedia links to a standard 2D image
  • Using the cloud makes things more flexible and accessible

Case Studies- Open Tools


A suite of tools for collaborative writing, presentation, drawing and much more. It can personalise the learning experience as well as increase engagement.

Technology shouldn’t be something extra we add but should improve the productivity of teachers and allow students to develop a set of digital skills they can apply in the workplace too.

Staff can check learner progress easily on Google Classroom

Google Docs- private to the individual, shared with pairs or groups or perhaps shared with a far wider community. The reporting function indicates how much has been contributed by each participant and when.

  • Gmail for Instant messaging
  • Slides for presentations
  • Drawings for images
  • Sheets for spreadsheets
  • Forms for creating student surveys or quizzes
  • Sites for eportfolios or mini intranets
  • Recommended for any business support function as well as any curriculum department.


Multimedia based stories for a presentation. Access through your browser and present in more dynamic ways.

Students can follow the presentation in the manner structured by their teacher or in their own way.

If opened-up for collaboration then students can also add their own content to class presentations. Copies can be saved so that you can have the original copy and then the one added to by students.

Images, text and videos can be added and structured in whichever way the learner wants: it encourages creativity.

A zooming/travelling effect can be created and there are a number of templates to be used that can be even more engaging.


Learner-created audio resources can develop their own resources for learning that can also be used by their peers.

The teacher can record what they say and then share with learners via a file or a link on a VLE. Learners can then take their time over the content by listening to the lesson/tutorial again.

Use it to create summaries of unit content too.

Use it to record feedback for learners that they can listen to again and again.

Students can record their own audio and send over the link of anything you’ve asked them to complete- it makes a great alternative assessment method beyond just writing.

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Open Educational Resources

Open education is about students sharing their learning with one another and practitioners sharing their practice with colleagues. The principle of co-operation is at the heart of open educational resources.

  1. Creation of resources that you might then share
  2. Making use of resources that others have shared
  3. Collaboration and networking

Students and practitioners alike can take part in each of these three areas.

Places to find open educational resources:

Students can often have pressures on their available time so videos, screencasts and podcasts made learning available to all students.

Live Q&A

In this live hangout (created using Google Hangouts on Air), there were course participants who asked questions live (as well as other questions asked in advance on the Future Learn site):

  • Keeping up-to-date with new technologies- Make use of Twitter, remember that you can’t keep on top of all new technologies and also bear in mind that it’s not about using the newest technologies but it is about using the most suitable tool for meeting the learning outcomes.
  • Engaging reluctant staff- Persuade more reluctant educators to engage with technology by demonstrating efficiencies- time, feedback and consistency.
  • Creative Commons- use the advanced search elements on Google. Flickr is a great place to find content too.
  • Introducing technology to adult learners- devices have become far more accessible and they are less of a barrier. Be prepared to support these learners and provide further advice.
  • Google apps for education- Google have made it clear that this is a free and un-managed set of tools. The data is yours and not Google’s.
  • Technology is never being talked about on this course as though it can replace face-to-face teaching and learning. What it can do is break down the barriers that geography create.
  • Mobile devices and apps won’t completely replace other technologies as we need to use the most appropriate tool for the job.
  • To make courses and technology content available in areas where internet access is unreliable, it is important to provide materials in multiple ways- transcripts of videos for instance.
  • The funding issue affecting FE isn’t going to go away, which is why this course was designed around free/cheap solutions that would solve very relevant problems for educators.
  • BYOD is less straightforward than providing options for learners to buy devices at reduced cost through the organisation. There are obviously challenges to each route.
  • The digital divide doesn’t exist- everyone is on a continuum. The digital native debate generally detracts from the conversations that should be happening.
  • Think carefully about our choices when it comes to technology, what are we trying to achieve, how will we go about that…
  • Accept that you will fail- be brave, try things and then learn from it.
  • Ask students about technology and engage them in the choices to be made over technologies to support their learning.


Week 4

This week will look at curriculum design; considering the difference blended learning makes to the process of designing a course.

  • Flexible learning
  • Personalised learning
  • Inclusive learning
  • Engaging learning

Using knowledge we’ve gained of possible resources to achieve the aims of blended learning listed above.

Don’t look at where technology can fit in but where it will really help one of the areas on the current course that isn’t working.

Curriculum Design Process

  1. DEFINE: What do we want for the students? Learning Outcomes
  2. ANALYSE: What are the needs of the student body?
  3. DESIGN: How will you engage the learners?
  4. DEVELOP: What tools and structure will you use for the course?
  6. EVALUATE: Have the outcomes been achieved?

During this process, we need to add tools that learners can use to effectively demonstrate what they’ve learned. Students should really have the option to learn any time, any where, any device and access a range of multimedia content that offers a whole range of ways of learning.

The key to blended learning design is a more effective and demonstrable learning experience.

Building pedagogical patterns for learning and technology, written by Diana Laurillard, is a recommended text to explore.

These ideas are designed to provide inspiration and to lead to more reflection on our own approaches to curriculum design.

I shared this on the forum as an example of curriculum design that inspires me: the true personalisation of learning through a collapsed timetable.

Assessment Design

Designing assessments, whether formative or summative, has to take certain considerations into account:

  • Curriculum requirements
  • Learners’ background
  • Learning and teaching time available
  • Resources

Assessment has to align with the learning outcomes but you need to ask yourself, what do you really need to know that the learners can do?

Some Tools

Turnitin is being used for voice feedback in this case study. It was great to hear from the student that she concurred that it was useful for her- more useful than written feedback.

It can also be used to ensure students submit work on time and the plagiarism checker is useful too.

Assessment no longer means written work and ePortfolios can be used to document their work in one place- such as Mahara.

Flipped Learning

This process is something staff have been engaging with over time but technology just makes this easier and more engaging.

Screencast-o-matic can be used to create a video tutorial. Syudents watch this via the VLE prior to the lesson and then during the class, the learners can spend more time practising and applying their learning. The learners can then access the video whenever they want/need to.

It can only be effective if the videos are well-designed in the first place.

  • Use good online resources where they exist already
  • Use screencasts to make your own
  • Use media colleagues to ensure the videos are watchable

Collaboration, Interaction and Shared Learning

‘Communication produces the need for checking and confirming thoughts,’ Leo Vygotsky.

We have to design in the discussion  time if we think it’s important. Technology means that discussions can be extended beyond the face-to-face meeting. Asynchronous discussions means that learners can contribute when they feel ready, which means they can think more carefully about what they want to say.

Synchronous example- students are having discussions in small groups and their responses are also being added to a collaborative Google Document.

Social Media- although learners use it already, they need guidance  about how to use it for learning purposes. We need to model the use of social media for professional reasons so that learners can see the use of it in that way.

Design your own

I’d been asked to do a guest lecturer in a colleague’s class recently on the subject of reflective practice. I had been unable to arrange this and so this felt like a perfect time to create a reflective practice activity for them to complete online and it would also fit the criteria for this design activity.

Title of project: Reflective Practice

Student group: Level 3 Health & Social Care learners in an FE College 16+

Students have already: In a face-to-face lesson, researched some reflective models and tried out reflective practice for the first time.

Learning Aim: To introduce you to the purposes of reflective practice, raise an awareness of how perspective can affect us and the available approaches that can be taken to structure reflective practice more effectively.

Learning Outcomes: By the end of this online lesson, you will be able to:

  1. Define reflective practice
  2. State the advantages of engaging in reflective practice
  3. Make use of reflective models in your practice

Learning Activity: I have recorded, via Google Hangout, my own ‘guest lecture’ for the Health & Social Care course on the topic of reflective practice. This recording was then uploaded to my EdPuzzle account where learners are able to answer questions throughout the video (formative assessment: open questions, MCQs and application of their learning so far about reflection). The video can be accessed on the majority of devices without an app and students will just need the login details for their Google account to access it.

  • Click here:
  • Click ‘student’
  • Click the Google login and use your Google account login details as then it’s one less set of details to remember!
  • Insert this class code: rawotuj
  • Click to start video
  • Ensure you complete all questions and click complete at the end of the video

Feedback: Feedback will be provided by the guest speaker after students have completed it- this will appear in written format on the individual learners’ EdPuzzle accounts.

Post online activity follow-up: The main course teacher will review the students’ learning through future assignment submissions but also a future face-to-face lesson where learners share what they’ve learned on the activity.

Learner voice: At the end of the video, learners are asked to give feedback on the online activity- things they thought were helpful and areas for improvement too.

Optional further exploration (shared via the main course tutor): Watch this video: Explore other resources here:

The design process – did you feel your use of technology would enhance your learners’ success?
Yes, mainly because face-to-face entirely wasn’t possible in this respect. I also hoped that access to a video, their set of responses and my feedback that they could come back to later would be of great benefit.

The review process – did you rethink your own submission in any way?
Yes. I felt I hadn’t clearly described what the face-to-face learning alongside the online learning would look like. I also wondered whether my questions would elicit the right responses from learners to meet the learning outcomes but I guess only time will tell as the students begin participating in the activity.

Week 5

This week will cover wider issues around technology in the sector:

  • Employability
  • Inclusiveness
  • Quality
  • Efficiency

Digital Literacy- Employability

Using digital systems

  • use ICT systems, such as search engines, email, calculation tools, presentation tools

Finding digital information

  • find, select and exchange information, and do this in an appropriate way, using the appropriate tools and systems

Presenting digital information

  • develop and present information, using a variety of types of information, display, and formats, appropriate to the task and audience

We were asked if our students could do this:

I would say a definite yes to that.

Although more challenging, I think my learners could also do this:

Essential Skills Wales

Communication and Networking Skills

I actually think that these are the skills learners need to develop more.

  • Communication online – sometimes called ‘netiquette’, how to use email appropriately, selecting the right tools for the task, adjusting to your audience
  • Self-presentation – being aware of your online identity, managing your online presence
  • Keeping up to date – using alerts, RSS feeds, blogs, social networking, online communities
  • Researching job opportunities – how and where to look, following up
  • Team-working online – tools for collaborating, protocols, making it work
  • Sharing – ways of sharing, what to share, copyright and your ownership and responsibilities

Open University- Being Digital, is a site that houses resources for learners to develop a whole host of digital skills.

My comments on the forum in relation to this topic:

I’ve been concerned with the development of my students’ employability skills since I began working in the further education sector, and although much of it is tied up with technology, so much of it exists anyway.

Learners need to develop independence and autonomy so that they can be left to get on with a task effectively. They need to develop a resourcefulness so that when they can’t rely on themselves for all the answers, they have other people and places they can try. They need to work collaboratively- not sitting back and pretending to take back but actually making a valued contribution. I think that it’s useful if they’re creative, self-aware and reflective too: all strong transferable skills.

I think the big thing that technology can do is introduce learners to the world outside of the classroom/learning space and give them confidence- as they grow in confidence then everything else becomes possible too.

If technology can be used to build learners’ independence and resourcefulness: through research projects.

If it can be used to develop their collaboration and interdependence through the use of wiki-style activities and social media.

If it can be used develop their creative skills- through video and presentation creation.

If it can be used to build self-awareness and reflection: through blogging, quizzes and feedback delivered in different ways…

Then technology has some of the answers to questions we’ve been asking for a long time in relation to employability skills.

PS. for the first time, I got my learners on LinkedIn this year and it’s been fab. They’re using it to update their experience (as a CV), to list their skills, to endorse one another and I have been able to write recommendations for each of them on there. Best tool for students to demonstrate to the world what they can do!

Developing Learners’ Digital Skills

We were asked to contribute to a Tricider poll (I have not seen it used in this way before but it greatly appeals for future work).


Paul Warren’s comment couldn’t sum-up this topic more effectively:

I’ve spent the last 12 years in Adult and Further Education working with learners of all levels and abilities who have learning difficulties/disabilities and am constantly amazed at learners’ willingness to try and adopt different technologies – and the difference to their work when they do.

I haven’t come across any single tool which can help, but I do believe there is a single approach, which could incl some of the following :-

Find out what technology learners already have access to and/or feel comfortable with
Find ways to incorporate THEIR technology into YOUR teaching
Build on this approach as you introduce them to the systems in the organisation.

When they leave your organisation, they will take their mobile phone, laptop or tablet with them – but leave your systems behind. While they’re with you, teach them how to optimise the technology that have already personally invested in.

This can be achieved though encouraging them to use:

  • A text-to-speech app or program to help them to read online content
  • A digital calendar to help them to remember events
  • You Tube playlists for going over topics they find difficult
  • A digital note taking program to help them sync voice or video notes


Jisc guides to support accessibility


  • time and place – online resources and activities allow learners to study at home, at work, or while travelling, as well as in their place of learning
  • pace of learning – digital resources can be under learner control, so they can watch a video, or listen to an explanation, or do a test, as many times as they need to
  • a variety of learning modes – in addition to the variety the teacher provides they can do individual work, join online social groups, or make their own blend of digital, physical and social
  • content focus – generic principles or techniques can be contextualized to local or individual interests or needs by inviting learners to follow their own online search for relevance
  • differentiation – with diverse learner needs, the teacher or trainer can use assistive technologies and open educational resources to provide digital support to meet each learners’ needs
  • the educator’s use of time – the teacher or trainer can distribute their time in different ways across whole class, small group and individual support, and across face-to-face and online learning.

I didn’t know that mouse and keyboard settings could have such a difference on accessibility and is certainly something I’ll consider for making technology more accessible for learners in the future. Remembering to add screen tips to hyperlinks is something I need to do so that learners know and understand where they’re being sent. It’s really excellent to have access to this guide so that I can refer to it for specific learners in the future.


Other reflections

In comparison with #LTTO, (because, let’s face it, I’m always going to compare), I’m finding the videos far more formal and I’m not building a more personal connection with the course facilitators that I found I did on #LTTO.

I would like a wider variety of content to engage with- videos are great and I’m really valuing the input from practitioners and their learners but I’m not afraid of a bit of research and reading; in fact, a great deal of the time, I’d prefer it. It seems to be the same collection of content and assessment approaches (bar the Tricider and I loved that!) I also wonder whether the videos are presented in the absolute best way possible…

Some of the activities’ questions have been problematic thus far: they’re not structured in a clear way, which means that when I get answers ‘wrong’ they’re not really wrong as the question has left so much open to interpretation- the real problem with MCQs and scaling online is that questions need to be written without ambiguity.

I don’t usually get an opportunity to complete the week’s activities before the weekend. I’d like to do it on the train during the week but the train WiFi won’t let me watch videos- problematic. As I’m accessing the course so late in the week, I’m finding hundreds of comments in response to one question and therefore I’m finding it challenging and time-consuming to interact with others. I will try to see if Twitter is more accessible to fulfill the more social side of my learning on this course.

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Other blogs to take a look at:

Eileen Kennedy – ‘Blended Learning Essentials has definitely got started’

Tenzin Wangdi – ‘Here’s To Never Stop Learning’

Cat Appleton – ‘Perceptions of blended learning’

Martin King – ‘Blended Learning Essentials MOOC Week 1 Activity’

Cat Appleton- ‘Digital Technologies for Assessment and Feedback’

My writing commitment: I’m learning to honour my thoughts. I’m learning that my words can be shared before I’ve connected all the dots or learned everything there is to know. My writing can be a snapshot of a single moment in continually-evolving time.

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Accessibility: a reading list

A collection of articles, technologies and guides to creating accessible content online and beyond. View and explore

Online learning

Design for how people learn

In recent months, I’ve become more engaged with the field of cognitive science and what it has to teach us about effective learning. This began