Flattening, Blending and Harmonizing the Learning Environment

By Denise McTighe

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content imageThe world of blended learning is a symphony of many genres of the educational sphere interconnecting to create an innovative, harmonious system of free thinking, high quality instruction, creativity and structure, all playing out at once for optimal outcome.

Dr. Curtis Bonk Ph.D, is a professor of instructional systems technology at Indiana University, President of SurveyShare, Inc., and the author of many e–learning articles and books. He has developed an advanced philosophy of integrating blended learning in our higher educational institutions. He is also the owner of a small software company, and has worldwide connections and collaborations with the gurus of e–learning. Bonk brought his philosophy on blended learning to the Teaching & Learning Centre on November 15 and 16, in a highly energized, informative presentation.

Bonk is striving to make the world flat by teaching people how technology, together with high–quality instruction, can shift paradigms for the better understanding of human potential.

His approach is impactful; standing at the front of the seminar room yielding a hockey stick and Friday the 13th goalie mask, he gets the audience to pay attention to his ideas. He utilizes humour as a grounding point to get his knowledge out into the educational forum of teaching, and learning minds. He brings in Dr. Evil and Mini Me from the Austin Powers movies on the large media screen–Bill Gates wearing alien enemy headgear speaking of things like world domination and the observer senses; these light interpretations of humanities characteristics might play a deeper symbolic role in his belief in the power of blended learning–on a worldwide sphere. The message is there in his teaching, for the need to take control of these learning tools, as autonomous and collective thinkers in each respective area of learning and beyond.

Through this model of the global dispersion of blended learning, Bonk explains the quantum leaps the ethical use of technology could make, when coupled with face–to-–face interaction in educational institutions within our own societies, and all over the world.

He believes change in the educational spectrum is inevitable whether you jump on the rapidly traveling technological vehicle, or not. He argues that it is a myth; “that universities can just teach the same way they always have.”

Students in today’s era are immersed in a high≠tech industry. This is not subsiding; they are a generation of learners who are born into a socially, and technologically advanced environment. According to Bonk, the educational system must adjust its protocol to accommodate this ongoing shift, and fast evolving high–tech society.

“The educational sphere is heading towards e learning as its method of post–secondary education. We need to create virtual institutes that engage the student and instructor. Effective monitoring and structuring of the virtual learning environment is imperative for impactful learning.”

According to Bonk, the program of on–line teaching and learning must engage the learner, provide motivation, build positive relationships, and encourage innovation and creativity, while adapting to the individual needs of the student. Bonk is a strong proponent of an open forum of shared knowledge in an effective model of teaching that offers both structure, and the opportunity for creative expression and the birth of individual ideas.

Bonk believes virtual institutions alone, without instruction, can foster isolation among higher learners. As a result, educational facilities need to grasp hold of the accelerating advancement of blended learning, to create environments where instructive collaboration and individual virtual teaching become one. He also stresses the danger of institutions falling to the wayside by not adopting the trend of blended and e–learning in any form–not heeding the new breed of learners’ technological agendas; having the false belief that change is not necessary in academic forums.

This is a paradox; technology evolves in quantum leaps every day. According to Bonk, the research shows technology has the ability to influence our cognition and psychological make–up. This would suggest a higher–need to develop systems, and virtual environments with ideal models of teaching and learning, that have control over the technological instruments that are now permanently placed in the world. Creating safe, effective methods of incorporating these mechanisms of change, and the new minds born into them, in ethical, transformative ways is imperative so that individuals use the technology, the technology does not use them.

Bonk’s presentation’s show that there are already complex systems in place in the veins of technological infrastructure. However, Bonk stresses that instructors and educational institutions must maintain full involvement in the learning process of post–secondary students: “You do not want technology and on–line learning to be the driving force behind education. We want people talking about learning in the area of instruction first.” This philosophy he says, will promote the healthy and productive integration of blended and e–learning into the physical, and virtual organizations of higher education.

“A major trend of e–learning is the sharing of one'’s knowledge base, which means as an instructor or student at a university institution you are not operating in isolation. Your impact will be beyond your 30 students and classroom, and you have the potential to influence every single instructor teaching that content, in your own domain, and potentially beyond to encompass a larger sphere, depending upon where you want to place your emphasis.”

Bonk addresses this idea of global networking in his book The Handbook of Blended Learning: Global Perspectives, Local Design: “There is a trend of the global collaboration and sharing of knowledge so we can have the perspectives of others around the world, and understand cultural differences and similarities.”

The ideology of blended learning is being translated beyond the walls of the educational forums, to include cross disciplinary, cross–cultural collaborations, creating a global network of shared knowledge that has implications far more than job creation, and individual success. The student raises their bow in the virtual auditorium to strike the violin; the sound encircles a new ideology, amplifying the endless possibilities in learning. This system of global dissemination of knowledge could produce unlimited ideas and innovations, in an effort of better understanding the global arena and the make–up of the many minds that exist in it.

The eloquent brain, inside a system of blended learning can perhaps maintain, and optimize creative control as the technological brilliance of the era continues to illuminate the path of learning. With Bonk’s model of local as well as global dissemination of blended learning, it is possible the concept of learning will continue to expand at an accelerating pace out into our own formal, and informal learning arenas and global spectrums. The symphony will assemble with many forces interacting together and individually, in a system of ongoing learning, uncovering the limitless potential of human growth and innovation.

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