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Is blended learning the future of higher education?

21 februari 2023 - 14:54

Recorded lectures, knowledge clips, online annotation, and self-study modules have been a staple of education since the corona pandemic. What was at first new and exciting has become the standard teaching method during the multiple lockdowns. In a two-part series, Folia takes stock of the snags and challenges that come with this form of education. This article is a conversation with professors and researchers Coyan Tromp and Erwin Van Vliet.

“College attendance is abysmally low,” says Coyan Tromp, curriculum developer, lecturer, and researcher. “To increase the number of students going to the campus, we started looking at the so-called ‘flipped classroom.’” It could be great for a didactic curriculum where teachers have more time for interaction during class because students prepare for class with digital tools, such as video clips of the material.

Coyan Tromp

Educational literature also shows that students learn better by interacting with each other, Tromp says. But what emerged from her experiments with this new kind of classroom? Students found it incredibly scary to speak in a large room. “They were afraid of coming across as stupid. And then when I asked them a question in class for which they had not prepared, they would duck. Flipping the classroom in large lectures clearly didn’t work - students stayed away, and in course evaluations, they said they didn’t learn more. They even said to each other, “Don’t go to Tromp’s lecture, she’s going to ask you things in class!”


Flipping the classroom is scary

“Flipped classroom” is part of the umbrella term “blended learning.” Blended learning is a combination of digital education with in-person education, where interaction in physical space is central. The intention is not to reduce the number of contact hours on campus, but rather to fill those hours differently so that students are more engaged in the material. In the Vision Blended Education policy plan, the UvA states that it was forced to rely on online forms of education due to the pandemic. “During that period, it became clear that a hasty (almost) full transition to online education has clear limitations. However, that period also made us realize that well-prepared use of digitalization, where a good blend of on-campus and online education is set up, can be valuable.”

“I see that students are more anxious in social situations. And I understand very well that they find that interaction in a large room scary”

The corona pandemic did damage. Young people’s social development has been almost stagnant for two years, Tromp said. “I see that students are more anxious in social situations. And I understand very well that they find that interaction in a large room scary. We do say as teachers that they can feel safe, but that confidence is just not there. This has always been partially true - I was nervous to talk in class as a student, too, but we do see that after corona, the barrier to contact has become greater.”



In working groups, blended learning does work, Tromp observes. “There, students feel safe to talk to both each other and to the teacher. Although it is still difficult to force them to do the ‘homework’ in advance, students wax lyrical about the contact and interaction in work groups. So we have now chosen to make the working groups the backbone of the course. And for students who want them, there are preparatory class meetings where we explore the material together and prepare the homework assignment.”

Erwin van Vliet

That working groups work well for blended learning and flipping the classroom is confirmed by Van Vliet. In his course, students could submit homemade “exam questions” for each tutorial. The tutorial was then based on that. “I then gave students a moment to discuss questions together and think about them before we discussed the answer together.” Blended learning should not be about a battle between online and face-to-face classes, according to Van Vliet. “Since covid, the discussion is often focused on that, because the developments of blended learning have accelerated tremendously during the lockdown periods. There has to be a good mixture between conventional methods that work and newer techniques.”


Blended learning is best when the student has some of control, Van Vliet believes. “If students come to the tutorial prepared and come to class to discuss it with others, they benefit. If you are already well prepared before a lecture, you probably don’t have to cram as much just before the exam. I also tell students before the seminars start that there is no seminar if no one sends in questions in advance. As far as I’m concerned, they don’t have to prepare questions or participate in class. For some students that doesn’t work out or they don’t need it, which isn’t a problem. The question then is how do you get students who don’t participate but might need to see that?”

“With blended learning, we try to do everything we can to keep students coming anyway, to make education better and more fun”


“We thought everyone would switch back to in-person learning after corona,” Tromp says. “The opposite is true. With blended learning, we try to do everything we can to keep students coming anyway, to make education better and more fun. But at some point, you can’t teach anymore if students don’t come or are late and unprepared. It’s very difficult.”


Unfortunately, empty halls were also a familiar phenomenon for Van Vliet. “At the beginning of last academic year, we indeed saw that few students attended the lectures. Fortunately, attendance numbers have now recovered and we are once again seeing full lecture halls, happy lecturers, and active students on campus.” Van Vliet does have a few possible reasons to explain the absence back then: “Students might have prioritized other activities that were allowed again after the lockdown, such as sports or going out. Furthermore, many students came from outside Amsterdam and they did not yet have a room.”

I Guide My Education

Through IguideME, you get personalized feedback from your peers; students who have completed the same target grade for the course as you. You enter questions during the course, e.g. how much you prepared, and you can then compare that with the other (anonymous) data from your peers.


In one of the third-year electives Van Vliet teaches in psychobiology, where he is also the program director, he researched a learning analytics dashboard to promote self-directed learning. “The platform I Guide My Education (IguideME) is designed to give students interim feedback on their learning. The course was part of an experiment where students were divided into two groups, one group with access to IguideME and a control group without. Our data shows that students with IguideME scored higher on collaborative learning and self-directed learning. This is also seen during the course, as students with the platform scored better on more complex exam questions. Finally, we found that students consistently do preparation when you attach a grade to it, even if it is only 0.5% of the final grade. We therefore recommend that teachers allow preparation to count a small amount toward the final grade.”


This article is the first part of a two-part series on blended learning. The next article is about student experiences in practice.