What is blended learning
In this section the DHET definition of blended learning is interpreted by comparing its implications for contact and distance modules by:
- Unpacking the elements of the definition
- Summarising the requirements of contact-time as specified by the DHET
- Showing various course delivery options that are available within the parameters of the definition
DHET definition of blended learning
The Department of Higher Education and Training provides the following broad definition of blended learning:
Blended learning is the provision of structured learning opportunities using a combination of contact, distance, and/or Information and Communication Technology (ICT) supported opportunities to suit different purposes, audiences, and contexts.
This definition thus implies that blended learning includes modules with a combination of contact and distance components; contact and ICT supported opportunities; distance and ICT supported opportunities; or contact, distance and ICT supported opportunities. Since contact and distance programmes are funded differently, the definitions of these modes of delivery have not only pedagogical implications, but also financial implications. The DHET stipulates that for contact qualifications, the following should be adhered to:
Summary of contact-time required for contact-based modules
- Undergraduate courses (NQF Levels 5 – 6): more than 30% of the stated Notional Learning hours must be spent in staff-led, face-to-face, campus-based, structured learning activities.
- Undergraduate courses (NQF Level 7): more than 25% of the stated Notional Learning hours must be spent in staff-led, face-to-face, campus-based, structured learning activities.
- Initial postgraduate courses (NQF Level 8): more than 25% of the stated Notional Learning hours must be spent in staff-led, face-to-face, campus-based, structured learning activities.
What does this mean practically?
For a 16-credit module on NQF Level 5 or 6, with 160 stated Notional Learning hours, more than 48 hours should be contact-based, while for a 16-credit module on NQF Level 7 or 8 with the same Notional Learning hours, more than 40 hours should be contact-based.
What constitutes contact time?
It raises the question, what does staff-led, face-to-face, campus-based, structured learning activities entail? The answer is not definitive but could include the following activities:
Examples of staff-led, face-to-face, campus-based, structured learning activities
- Traditional lectures in a classroom
- Campus-based practical sessions
- Face-to-face tutorials
- Face-to-face lecturer consultation hours
Blended learning in different modes of delivery
Both the DHET and the Council for Higher Education (CHE) recognise that the distinction between contact and distance education is more complex than a simple continuum with pure distance and pure face-to-face provisioning at opposite ends, especially with increasing use of educational technology over the last few years. To this end, the DHET and CHE published documents to conceptualise the difference between contact and distance learning. Each presents a two-dimensional figure (see Figure 1) that illustrates the variation possible in designing learning programmes in South African higher education institutions.
Figure 1 shows various course delivery options. Modules that are completely online and campus-based would, for instance, be a module that is presented in the computer labs on campus (Block A in Figure 1). All lectures would be in the computer labs. Block B shows an example of a module delivered at the other end of the contact-based spectrum. Modules presented in this way would not have any online or computer-based components. Study guides and class materials would be paper-based and the module would not be on Blackboard. All communication between lecturers and students would be face-to-face in class or during consultation hours. Block C is an example of a contact-based, blended module. Such a module would include any number of face-to-face activities but would also include activities on the LMS or any other digital / internet-supported activities (such as requiring students to do an assignment on a Word document for which they need to consult sources either in the library or online that they need to submit on a LMS). Area D shows the possible combinations for contact-based, blended modules. Block A, B, C and Area D assumes the minimum contact-time as specified by the DHET per NQF level. If the minimum contact-time is not spent in a module, it becomes a distance module. Block E is an example of a module delivered in a similar way as the delivery method depicted by Block C without the minimum contact-time.