Confessions of a blended learning simpleton

When we chose blended learning as the topic of our current theme issue, I followed the universal 21st century instinct: I resorted to Google.

I know too little about education. Almost zero, zilch, nada. I haven’t studied it, nor have I ever taught anything as a profession.

For an editor of a learning media it certainly would not hurt to possess at least some prior knowledge of the world of learning. Alas, not in my case.

Sometimes it is an advantage. I get to ask the stupid questions that an outsider always asks when exposed to a new field. Sometimes stupid questions may call taken-for-granted “truths” into question. But I digress.

When we chose blended learning as the topic of our current theme issue, I followed the universal 21st century instinct: I resorted to Google. I needed to see what was already out there about the theme, which debates were salient and -last but certainly not the least – what the concept actually meant.

From the search word “blended learning”, google cooked up a mighty array of results. I was surprised at what I found. Most of the search results on the first few pages were distinctly similar. They were primarily US websites of education think tanks, education bloggers, software providers and forums where teachers shared good practices. Most sites focused on primary education and presented the basic tenets of blended learning in a nutshell in upbeat, enthusiastic tones.

There was very little about adult learning, very little European content and very little critical or analytical commentary about the blended learning method.

Of course the first few pages of Google results is nothing to draw wide-ranging conclusions from. Only switching the search word to, say, the German “integriertes lernen” produced different results already. But I still maintain that the search results tell us something:

Innovation breeds catchphrases and excitement.

Catchphrases and excitement breed community and practice sharing.

This is all good. We in the European adult education sector would need more forums for practice sharing, like the ones I came across for American school teachers about blended learning. LLinE has always tried to be such a forum, through journalistic means. This is what we attempt with this issue, too. We report on blended learning practices for adult education that other practitioners may learn from.

There is a downside to catchphrases, trend terms and sexy Google search words though. Once a trendy term like blended learning (certainly not a new thing but certainly a trendy one) spreads, there usually are less and less people who spare thought for what it actually means. In other words, catchphrases and excitement also breed simplification. This is why, in this issue, we have also tried to go deeper into the concept of blended learning and ask, if you will, some of those stupid questions about the essence of the method and its strengths and weaknesses.

PS. I mentioned the need for a European practice sharing forum in adult education. We, of course, will have EPALE, the European Commission’s huge endeavour of building exactly such a forum. I should say forums, as the project relies on several national editions. EPALE is now slowly starting to take shape, and I for one can’t wait to see whether it takes off smoothly.