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A Philosophy of Learning for a Blended Classroom

Rod A.J. Miller
Vancouver Island University
OLTD 503
Assignment 1


A Philosophy of Learning for a Blended Classroom

Learning is not a straight line, static activity, but rather a fluid, dynamic exploratory
process, that is cyclical in nature. Therefore, to facilitate this in a blended classroom, which
integrates online with traditional face-to-face class activities, the teacher must provide a safe,
engaging learning environment which is student-centered and places value on creativity,
exploration and promotes the development of an intrinsic motivation to learn.
Over the last few decades I have moved into a constructivist, student centered approach,
as it is a better fit with my own emerging philosophy of teaching and learning. As Anderson
(2008) states, constructivists see learners as active rather than passive. Knowledge is not
received from the outside or from someone else; rather, the individual learner interprets and
processes what is received through the senses to create knowledge. The learner is the centre of
the learning, with the instructor playing an advising and facilitating role. If I am to develop a
student centered learning environment, it is critical that students have input into the direction that
a course will take and that they play a role in determining how learning outcomes can be
achieved. This is an important factor in the way I design my units of study. I feel this ownership
enables students to become intrinsically motivated to produce their best work. One of Huangs
(2002) six guiding principles of design states that in order to develop ownership of the learning
process by learners, the learners themselves need to become invested in the process from the
planning stage onward. By allowing students to be involved in the process of developing the
course objectives and outcomes, they become personally invested in their coursework.


As a classroom teacher in a very small community, I am able to learn a great deal about
my students and what makes them unique before they arrive in my classroom. I believe I have a
responsibility to continue that sense of community into the classroom and a provide a learning
environment that values the uniqueness of each student. I also feel that students should be in an
environment that is focused on learning and not the teacher. Kanuka (2008) asserts the role of the
teacher is that of facilitator, helper, and partner in the learning process. The teacher does not
simply provide information; he or she must create the conditions within which learning can take
place. Developing a safe environment for the exchange of information and ideas is the
cornerstone of a well functioning learning community.
A learning community emerges when people are drawn together to learn, so a learning
community is a group of individuals engaged intentionally and collectively in the transaction or
transformation of knowledge, Schwier (2009). Within this learning community it is crucial that
students are provided with a safe means to project their own social presence into a learning
environment in a way that is valued by the other members of that community. Rourke, Anderson,
Garrison and Archer (1999) define social presence as the ability of learners to project themselves
socially and affectively into a community of inquiry, which Garrison, Anderson and Archer
(2000) describe as a process model of online learning, the core of which is a collaborative
constructivist view. To facilitate this, students require a means to convey their ideas and
knowledge to their learning community and reflect on their own work as well as the work of
others. As I teach in a synchronous environment, it is important that students are also provided
with an opportunity to share thoughts in an asynchronous setting as well. Kear (2011) states, a
mix of synchronous and asynchronous technologies provides a more flexible learning


environment, this flexibility will allow students to communicate in a way that best meets their
individual needs. By providing various means to communicate, students will be able to choose
the method which best allows their voice to be heard, while maintaining a sense of security.

In the past creativity has not been given the value that it deserves, Robinson(2006), in his
TED talk argued that creativity is as important as literacy and should be treated with the same
status. In order to accommodate creativity in an online course, it is important that the teacher
take into account the type of interaction desired amongst the learners, which can determine the
level of creative freedom given to individuals within the framework of the course. This is an
important consideration as there are clear differences in the degree of individual freedom
between a class that is focused on collaboration and one one that is based on cooperation.
Downes (2010), makes a clear distinction between the two:
In the case of collaboration, diversity of aim or objective is not desired. While
individuals may engage in different activities, each is understood only in terms of the common
end or goal, as in the production of a car on an assembly line. In the case of cooperation, there is
no common element uniting the group; rather, each individual engages in a completely unique set
of interactions based on his or her own needs and preferences. In terms of freedom, it is my
belief that a cooperative network engenders greater freedom. (p.1)
I believe it is this greater freedom that will allow each student to put their own creative stamp on
the final product.


During the course of preparing our teaching session, participating in other peer sessions
and implementing online strategies within my own f2f classroom, I have learned first-hand that
creating a community that is a valuable and engaging learning environment can require
more than a suggestion that members participate in the development of the peer community. If
joining the community is left as an option, the benefits that may be gained through inter-learner
interaction, which Moore (1989) describes as the interaction between one learner and other
learners, alone or in group settings, with or without the real-time presence of an instructor, could
be lost on the introverted members of the group. It may be necessary to require some degree of
active participation before these students willingly buy into the process, as some may have had
unpleasant experiences with social media in the past. People need to feel that the communication
environment will be safe and appropriate before they feel comfortable to participate, and in some
cases the invitation to participate must be explicit. The boundaries of acceptable behavior must
be shared and understood by all, and the distinction between personal and academic
communication made clear, otherwise participants may not be willing to take risks in their
communication with other members of the community. The sharing of etiquette expectations
should occur regardless of the age and online experience of the participants, as Bruckman (1996)
states, written statements of purpose and codes of conduct can help communities stay focused
and appropriate. When communication among learners is appropriate and focused on academic
purposes, students are more likely to to actively participate.

Without clear expectations for appropriate communication, there can be a reluctance

among students to participate. This reluctance must be addressed if they are to be actively


engaged in their learning community rather than passively participating. Schwier (2009) speaks
to the difference between participation and engagement by stating, participation does not equal
engagement for learners, and while interaction is visible, engagement is hidden. As a facilitator,
monitoring the difference between participation and engagement can be a time consuming and
difficult task, but one that is important, as engagement can be the impetus for a shift in the
attitude toward learning. In school settings, engagement is important because it functions as a
behavior pathway by which students motivational process contributes to their subsequent
learning and development(Wellborn, 1991). Therefore, facilitators must include a variety of
activities and methods of correspondence with the goal of addressing students engagement and
communication needs within the learning community. A highly engaged student tends to be a
student that has become intrinsically motivated to learn.
As a classroom teacher it is my goal to create a blended learning environment where
students are intrinsically motivated to learn and non-traditional or struggling learners can
succeed. This type of learning has also been referred to as the deep approach to learning in which
the student aims to gain a personal understanding of the subject (Marton and Salo, 1976).
However, the diverse nature of any given student population can make this a complex and
elusive task. What promotes interest and the desire to learn in one student may produce boredom
in another. In order to provide highly engaging and diverse activities that may lead to intrinsic
motivation, a teacher must know something about their students interests and learning styles.
They must also be willing to give the students a degree of autonomy throughout the learning
process so that they may customize learning activities to their individual interests, while still
achieving learning outcomes. Autonomy-supportive teachers identify and nurture students


needs, interests and preferences and by creating classroom opportunities for students to have
these internal motives guide their learning and activity (Reeve,Jang,Carrell,Jeon and Barch,
2004). To that end, I have introduced a student centered, project based hour of discovery to my
class. This will be a starting point for a new type of learning, where students are allowed to
pursue their passions or develop new ones and become actively involved in their education. They
are given one hour every week to research, create, explore, develop a new skill or hobby and
experiment in any area they choose. It must be something that stretches them creatively,
intellectually or both. They must create new knowledge by using a variety of online and
community resources, sharing ideas with classmates via a class blog and connecting digitally
with other students from around the world. When they have completed their project they will
have a finished product that they can share with their peers. My hope is this experience will
ignite a passion for learning and a curiosity that will lead to new knowledge and skills.

Throughout my participation in the Online Communication course I have developed a

better sense of what it takes to create an effective blended learning environment. By
incorporating new strategies and new technologies, I am creating a blended classroom that is
more in keeping with my emerging philosophy of blended learning. Through the facilitation
process I was able to validate my belief that although the requirements for a successful online
and face to face classroom my be virtually identical, the facilitation of learning in each
environment has its own unique set of challenges. Any classroom teacher wishing to move into
the online environment will be met with the task of acquiring a new skill set which revolves
around the digital world. Kear (2011) reinforces this notion, Teaching in an online environment


requires particular skills and experience if it is to be successful. Moving from face-to-face
teaching to online teaching is not a trivial matter (p.179). Choosing a delivery method that
meets the needs of the the students, the teacher, and does justice to the content is another
significant challenge. An important consideration at this point should be the technical expertise
of the students, as most classes will very likely be a mix of what Kear (2011) refers to as digital
natives or students that have spent their lives surrounded by technologies and digital immigrants,
students for whom technology is not ingrained. The development of the necessary technical
skills, along with choosing an appropriate delivery method requires time and a willingness from
teachers to take on new technologies if they are to create a meaningful environment for all

Students should be the focus of any learning environment. Gone are the days of the sage
on the stage, as teachers begin to develop new philosophies about education, as well as
classrooms that give students a voice and input into what their learning should look like. By
allowing students the autonomy to actively participate in all aspects of their education we begin
to foster deeper engagement and an intrinsic motivation to learn. Teachers and facilitators must
also begin to look at how the creative and non-traditional learners in their class can use their
unique gifts to provide evidence of their learning. Read and regurgitate based courses no longer
have a place in the modern, digital classroom, as there are far too many alternate methods by
which information can be disseminated and proof of learning communicated. Providing safe and
appropriate communication is vital in any learning environment, but it is important that clear
guidelines for appropriate use are explicitly stated at the onset of instruction. In order to create a


blended classroom that incorporates these ideals, teachers must be willing to develop the
technical skills necessary to implement them. By applying the ideology behind my emerging
philosophy of what learning in a blended classroom should look like I am creating a safe, student
centered community of learners that promotes creativity and exploration. Not only is this a better
environment for students to learn in, but it has reignited my own passion for teaching.


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