Supporting students with blended learning

Barbara Allan's new book is a guide to learning and teaching practices in higher education.

Library and information workers are involved in supporting very different groups of students, e.g. from working with large groups of 500+ students through to delivering specialist programmes to very small groups of research students.  Some library staff are working in contexts where resources are tightly squeezed and there seem to be few opportunities for innovation. In contrast, many universities and colleges are investing heavily in their support systems and structures for students, and this brings great opportunities for change and innovation.

My new book Emerging Strategies for Supporting Student Learning, provides a straightforward and accessible guide to learning and teaching practices in higher education. Contemporary themes in higher education are considered including the diverse nature of the student body, internationalisation and employability. The main focus of the book is on exploring a wide range of tools and techniques, relevant to face-to-face and online practices, which will suit different groups of students in different contexts.

Examples and case studies in the book cover this wide range of contexts experienced by librarians and information professionals.

To give a flavour of the book, I have summarised some key ideas about blended learning which involves a combination of face-to-face and online learning activities, below:

Why use blended learning?

There are many reasons for developing and delivering blended learning training programmes including:

  • Making learning more accessible, engaging and relevant
  • Providing more flexible learning opportunities
  • Reducing the amount of time spent on face-to-face learning activities by shifting the balance to more online learning activities
  • Integrating practitioner-based experiences with classroom-based learning
  • Exploiting ICT and training facilities
  • Demonstrating the use of leading edge technologies
  • Meeting student expectations.

What is blended learning?

Blended learning programmes include a rich mixture of face-to-face and online learning activities and they use different media as well as giving students’ choicesof learning methods, resources and/or activities. The actual balance of methods will depend on the aims and learning outcomes, the participants and their context, and the facilitator’s preferences. Commonly used online learning and teaching tools include:

  • e-mails
  • video clips and podcasts
  • diagnostic tests and quizzes
  • online assessment methods
  • guides and handbooks
  • social networking tools e.g. Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, Pinterest, Facebook
  • blogs and wiki
  • online communication tools, e.g. discussion groups, chat and messaging
  • online face-to-face communications e.g. Skype and FaceTime

How do you design blended learning courses?

The design process is the same as for any course and it involves working out:

  • the overall aim or purpose
  • identifying the  intended learning outcome(s)
  • identifying the required level of learning
  • designing the  structure of the course i.e. the order and balance of face-to-face and online activities, and also identifying alternative pathways
  • identifying and selecting relevant learning resources
  • the design of learning and teaching activities
  • the design of assessment methods (either formative and/or summative)
  • whether or not the course works by piloting it.

 How do you deliver blended learning courses?

A useful structure for thinking about delivering learning experience involves considering: preparing for the event or course; getting off to a good start; facilitating the learning processes; and then ending the event or course. You will need to think about your individual learners, group dynamics, and yourself. Many tutors find that they spend so much time focusing on individuals or the whole group that they forget about themselves. This is counter-productive as personal awareness may provide important indicators about the learning process and the experiences of the learners. An important aspect of blended learning courses is to make sure that you have time blocked out in your diary for the online aspects of the course as well as any face-to-face sessions.


The book is also full of practical examples and case studies which demonstrate the many innovative and fascinating ways in which individuals and teams are supporting students and enhancing their opportunities for success both on their degree programmes as well as in their future employability.

Professor Barbara Allan is an independent author, trainer and facilitator. Her background includes managing workplace and academic libraries. She has spent many years working in business schools where her focus is on enhancing learning, teaching and the student experience, and the internationalization agenda. She was awarded a National teaching Fellowship in 2008 from the Higher Education Academy. Emerging Strategies for Supporting Student Learning is published by Facet Publishing.