Doing blended well

April 2023

Cath Littler explains how you can get the best of both worlds – in-person and online – as you progress your studies.

Many students, tutors and managers have recently embraced the benefits of online learning, some to the exclusion of in-person delivery. I even learn to play my piano via Zoom, much to my teacher’s frustration, because it saves me significant travel time in my packed Saturday morning schedule.

There’s no doubt that it is more convenient to learn online, with reduced travel costs as well as time and, for some learners, the removal of issues such as childcare. But it’s not as good as learning in person. For my piano lessons, it makes it harder for my tutor to help with timings because of the short transmission delay; for subjects like accountancy, online learning limits the ability to discuss topics and share experiences. Being in the same room as other people and engaging with them improves collaboration and is vital for mental health and wellbeing.
As a result, to make the best of both worlds, a blended approach has become more and more common. However, the key to success is to do blended well.

What makes a blended programme good?

A well-planned blended learning programme will be fully mapped out with clear plans of what topics will be delivered remotely and what will be delivered in a classroom. Confusingly however, some programmes sold as ‘blended’ are actually online lectures mixed with self-study – there is no classroom-based study.

The best type of blended learning allows you to independently study when you want to and how you want to, but still have access to a tutor and face-to-face sessions. The best planned programmes allow you to learn in a flipped way – you study in advance of a taught session. This frees tutors so that they can focus on difficult concepts rather than wading their way through things that you could learn on your own.

In fact, one of the weaknesses of fully tutor-led learning is that some tutors focus on difficult numerical tasks and concepts, often because of limited delivery time, and many students don’t realise that they have to actively learn facts and simpler concepts more independently.

That’s one of the reasons accountancy students traditionally do well at numerical tasks but less well on knowledge and writing tasks – everyone is happy to practise number questions but are less motivated when it comes to learning facts and writing about them. Well-planned blended programmes ensure that all the knowledge that you need is covered in sufficient depth and with sufficient practice.

Actively engage

So independent study, face-to-face sessions, a clear structure to the learning programme and a balanced approach to numerical and factual learning are the things you need to look out for when choosing a blended course. Then, to make the most of it, you need to fully engage with the learning materials and complete all the practice questions, especially the difficult ones and the written tasks.

After all, as my piano teacher keeps telling me, no practice means no progress!

  • Cath Littler, Head of Learning (Accounting) at Mindful Education