METHODOLOGY FOR PREPARING STUDENTS OF TECHNICAL SPECIALTIES FOR INDEPENDENT WORK
1.1 Traditional Study Methods
When speaking about learning and teaching, we must first observe old historical models in today’s context. Opposition between learning and teaching has always been there and we can trace it down to modern teaching materials and methods. Learning is an active process where we can speak about teaching activities, carried out by lecturers. Studying takes place under certain conditions that have been specifically designed to improve learning results. In this chapter I’m going to focus on five different historical opinions about learning environment, that rely on behaviourism, cognitivism, constructivism, and two further developments of humanism (Figure 1.1) to find suitable methods for communicating knowledge to students of technical specialties and the learning methods they apply.
Figure 1.1Durance of different learning and teaching theories
According to behaviourists, the main source of learning is the inherent ability of humans and other higher organisms to avoid, based on experience, events that will result in unpleasantness or suffering. This sub-conscious motive shapes different behavioural patterns and automatic response to signals from environment in people. According to behaviourists, human behaviour in general can be explained by correct response to signals coming from environment. Behaviourists see the role of thinking as of secondary importance for learning purposes .
Behaviourism considers, in essence, only measurable and observable data and rules out inductive thinking, emotions and consideration of mental experiences and activities and is not interested in relationships with cognitive processes of consciousness. According to behaviourism theory by J. B Watson and B. F. Skinner, only physical behaviour is a suitable object for scientific research. Consciousness practically doesn’t exist – for a behaviourist, this is a “black box“ . Consciousness is understood as a “black box” that obtains certain inputs (“stimuli”) and responds in a certain way. Learning – as opposed to learner – is the centre for behaviourist thinking. Theoretical and didactic problem focuses on studying the relevant stimuli and enforcing proper behaviour by employing adequate feedback. Physical punishment will be also used to obtain feedback. Such a method is comparable to technical systems in automated control theory and studying models used in the sphere of artificial intellect.
Anti Kidron has emphasised that learning technology, involving four main questions, is one of the most well-known key words of behaviourism :
- How to induce desired changes in human behaviour during teaching?
- How to predict learning behaviour?
- How to establish objectives that are as explicit and accurate as possible for learning?
- How can be controlling of learning objectives used to guide the learning process?
Thorndike specifies in “The law of exercises” that values of inputs and outcomes, operating in a learning process, will strengthen, depending on the frequency for performing such processes (repetition). According to behaviourist teaching terminology, this will mean that enforcement of values will depend on the frequency of repetition. Thorndike also alleges, in his work “Law of effects”, that responses that were prepared immediately before a positive emotions will be stored better than responses that were prepared immediately before negative emotion.
Graphic chart depicts learning in accordance to behaviourist model (Figure 1.2):
Sin (t)- marks input signal
f(t)- external feedback
Sout (t) -marks output
z (t)- events that are not directly controllable, so-called disturbances
Figure 1.2 Behaviourist learning model
Skinner  tells us that the learning process must be divided into a large number of small strength and the achievement – condition at the end of each step – must be reinforced. “Skinner also announced that when small steps are employed for learning, the number of errors in learning process will decrease”. Although this will raise a question whether avoiding mistakes during learning is sensible. Those not brave enough to make mistakes will never learn anything.
Skinner wrote in his article, “Teaching machines” , that mechanic equipment that are intended to reproduce teaching materials at a pace, found suitable by students, will reinforce recording of required knowledge. He invited to programmed teaching (using either the machine teaching employed or workbooks). Such a programme-teaching represents “interactive training” of a certain type.
The teaching machine, described by Skinner, works as follows:
One of the most important parameters of the equipment: correct answer will be displayed immediately. User interface for manipulation will maintain the information, allowing the student to use it at suitable time, every day, including checking and deleting earlier results.
The equipment will reproduce well-planned materials; it’s most efficient for the answer of a today’s problem to be dependent on the result obtained while solving the previous problem. Complicated moments, supposed to create a new problem in the head of the student, are included in the process.
The changes, planned in accordance with Skinner’s theory, will release teachers from everyday routine, allowing them to fulfil more functions for improving learning didactic efforts. Mechanised studies should be integrated by all schools as supplementary training.
Behaviourist methods are suitable for adoption in the following situations:
- simple theoretic learning (for example: learning vocabulary and terminology, teaching mathematical formulae in course of a learning process)
- simple practical learning for developing psycho-motoric skills (for example: welding and metal work).
As we observe Skinner’s teaching machine theory within the framework of behaviourist approach, we can establish the following requirements:
- The contents of teaching material must be divided into small parts (learning units). Strictly structured navigation through these parts.
- Students must be told what should be the final outcome of learning. Being aware of the goal, students can establish expectations and rate whether they achieved the expected results or not.
- Students must be tested. Testing allows to determine whether student has achieved the final learning outcome or not.
- Teaching materials must be ranked in an order – or sequence – that facilitates learning.
- Students must be given feedback to allow them to see how they are doing and introduce adjusting activities, if appropriate.
There are some additional measures that can be used to enhance or at least maintain the motivation of students:
- Content multimedia, interaction and humour in learning materials to make the process fun.
- Adding libraries in the background so that students won’t limit themselves to the materials presented and to be studied, but can also investigate materials that are not within immediate context or in conflict with behaviourist theory as other theories would misguide user’s attention from the path of immediate learning .
Skinner tells that he only observes his teaching machine as a tool that should be used as and extension of teacher’s hand and thought. Therefore, it should be treated as one possible way for improving learning motivation by linking behaviourist learning with a method based on learning theory, guided by a teacher (see Cognitive and Constructive Learning Methods). Such an approach is often described as “blended learning”.
1.1.2 Cognitive Learning Theories
Cognition includes all conscious processes that cover issues like senses, emotions and memories.
Representatives of cognitive psychology see internal activity of an individual, expressed as an interest in surrounding world, as a source of learning. Theoretical part of most of the cognitive learning theorise are based on the general cognition process model by J. Piaget, where learning is interpreted as integration of new knowledge with existing experiences .
Such a model of human cognition and information processing largely imitates the work of a computer. This is a fact that has been acknowledged and accepted by most representatives of cognitive psychology . According to this model, a certain sequence or chain of defined operations is involved to process the information, received by our senses. Attention mechanism, sensory register, short-term memory and long-term memory are essential tools in the chain for processing information .
Cognitivism emphasises internal processes that take place in one’s consciousness, involving a human brain attempting to make a scientific distinction and employ relationships between every function described (Figure 1.3).
The meaning of symbols used on Figure 1.3 is the following:
Sin (t)- marks input signal
f(t)- external feedback
Sout (t) -marks output
z (t) – events that are not directly controllable, so-called disturbances
Figure 1.3 Learner’s cognitive learning model
This approach also refers to brain’s own capacity for information processing and transformation. Individual differences are less important than in the case of the behaviourism model.
Solving cognitive (sensory) problems represents the main way for learning, employing the correct methods and procedures that will give us to one or several right solutions. It is quite possible that there are more than just one way to take us to an optimum result.
Cognitive theories emphasise the need to assist learners in applying their knowledge and creating relationships in brain.
Requirements to assisting materials/instructions:
Good instructions must consider the current mental abilities of a student. Teachers should organise the learning process in such a way that the students can link new information with their current knowledge.
The most important tasks of a teacher are the following:
- understanding that people will apply different learning experiences in different learning situations and this may affect the learning outcomes;
- identification of the must efficient tool (method, methodology) for organising and structuring new information and employing the students’ previously acquired knowledge, skills and experiences;
- organisation of practical internship and obtaining feedback that would ensure active new information that is efficiently assimilated and matches the student’s cognitive structure.
The e-learning process requires us to put emphasise on active participation that would result in achieving the learner’s self control and meta-cognitive training. Meta-cognitivism here means thinking part of thinking process, employing meta-data ; “meta-cognition” refers to a student, understanding his or her personal cognitive processes (i.e. “looking from aside”). According to this method, e-learning system should support the fulfilment of the following tasks that contribute to more efficient learning :
- planning – students should be allowed to plan their learning process themselves (for example, how to obtain information by suggesting a calendar to be used in e-environment or some other simple planning tool like lists of learning tasks and benchmarks);
- systematic supervision – to determine the success of learning (for example: exercises or self-evaluation tests that offer statistic reporting on students during the learning/study period);
- structured information – focus should be given to structuring (hierarchic analysis, explanations and illustrations), organisation and sequencing of information to facilitate the processing process;
- learning environment should enable and facilitate the students to create relationships between the learnt material and surrounding environment.
According to the cognitivist theory, computer can be used to ‘design’ computer-based learning environment into an ‘anchor’ between a student and the teacher. This is described as ‘anchored instruction’ . E-learning environments should support teacher’s didactic role but some have been designed to allow the teacher to fulfil the role of an instructor only, i.e. “teacher focused” learning software is created.
In the future, only a computer-based learning environment, comparable to a person, replacing the current role of teachers, is seen . Should this happen, teachers should be probably re-trained to become technical learning software scriptwriters.
Understanding of this process is supported by 6D metamodel that assists teachers and learners with their personal cognition processes by enhancing the pace and quality of learning.
Constructivists say that learners interpret information and the surrounding world in accordance to their own mental reality. Definitions suggested by different authors:
- Students will learn by observation, processing and interpretation and then they will personalise the information by transforming the results obtained into personal knowledge ;
- Constructivism is a learning philosophy that will suggest students a methods that can be employed to create one’s own understanding of new ideas .
According to Piaget, constructivism is a theory that is based on scientific results. This is different from the traditional understanding, stating that knowledge exist, regardless of the individual, that intellect is tabula rasa, a white sheet that can be used to paint a picture Figure 1.4.
- Sin (t)- marks input signal
- f(t)- external feedback
- Sout (t) -marks output
- z (t) – events that are not directly controllable, so-called disturbances
Figure 1.4 Constructivist learning method
According to Piaget’s theory, individuals inherent interest in surrounding world is the mobilising force of human cognitive activities. As we grow older, cognitive maturity increases and children will acquire the ability to widen their perspectives and can adopt decisions that rely upon much larger set of experiences. Therefore, learning process moves from simpler to more complicated .
Thanks to a person’s ability to remember activities, inspired by interest, and their results, the brain of a person will start store experiences that he described as “schemes” (scheme = reflection of experience in one’s mind). During the development process, we don’t only form new schemes but differentiate or integrate the existing schemes .
Human’s development is a constant interactive process between an individual and the environment, involving individuals learning to predict and control environmental events. Assimilation or identification and accommodation or adaptation are two mutual operation mechanisms. Assimilation is triggered by reception of information for existing schemes and accommodation – upon situations where the new information no longer “fits” into the old scheme and the scheme will thus require updating. Therefore, human mind involves endless construction of knowledge and thinking schemes. As the base of experiences of every person is unique, the resulting thinking schemes are also unique .
The following principles should be observed for preparation and teaching of a subject :
- thinking/mental structures evolve gradually, through development stages, and their development speed depends on both he subject and specificities of the student;
- by general rule, students solve their problems and discuss their potential development at a lower level;
- the absence of opportunities for disclosing one’s real abilities will result in slowed intellectual development;
- students need the experience of mental activities both on lower level and edging on their abilities.
Cognitivist and constructivist approach to learning and tools needed for e-learning is comparable to production (above all, automation of production). Knowledge is, by nature, a product that is supposed to move down the production line, from the beginning to the end. This means a process for collating and automating knowledge, where knowledge is collected, organised and built up, following by processing and packaging. The process will end by delivery of the product to an individual. Students can be compared to workers and knowledge – to details that rely on data as a raw material.
Learning process, involving (or integrating) everyday learning from mistakes, learning by linking learnt subjects or learning by experimenting with human relations is covered by term “incidental learning” .
According to Holzinger , incidental learning is more efficient than intentional learning as students will rather focus on the objective or learning that the learning process itself, as they are not aware of the fact that they are learning at the moment. This explains very good learning abilities of toddlers.
Another strategy, that allows to add efficiency to learning, involves enhancing motivation (incidental or intentional learning), which relates to the excitement  and determining “motivating” as a function of excitement and students linking the results achieved to their behaviour. Holzinger uses a prototype system, VRfriends, within the system .
Here we could use a virtual avatar, VRfriends, to occasionally ask questions that a student will be required to answer. The user must find the correct answer. If the answer is correct, VRfriends will remain happy and becomes sad in case of a wrong answer. The aim here is to develop responsibility for their VRfriends, attempting to keep them happy (like similar) equipment called “Tamagotchi” that were once extensively used as toys at the end of the 1990ies.
Constructivists mention, among tools, computer-based environments that they call “microworlds” . Microworld, like the name says, is a small environment that the student can enter to participate in the environment of ideas, obtain knowledge until becoming a part of the world. Individual ability to discover things becomes very important here as in microworlds, students usually acquires knowledge gradually (step by step) .
Constructivists also say that “experience makes the best teacher”, which reflects their conviction that we learn, in our lives, by trial-error methods and this is not negative, but very efficient instead as a student will have a chance to encounter other aspects and elements of the environment. Students will easily make mistakes in environments like that, but a mistake will result in a strong individual commitment to solve the problem.
Simulation is used as a tool in microworlds as it would be difficult or even dangerous to recreate the situation, including a training element, in reality (e.g. production process control programmes). Here we should keep on mind that an environment too realistic may be bad instead of being good as students will tend to admire the “out of body” experience far too much as microworlds will take them into an environment that they would otherwise not encounter .
According to humanists, learning is an outcome of activities of a learner and must only rely upon internal activity of an individual. It is important to learn to learn. Individual must be open to experiences and changes, communicate and act with other people and as a consequence, new knowledge is born .
According to humanists, knowledge is personal, experience-based and developing in course of communication. New knowledge will be tested, analysed, assessed and will continue developing in further course of action. Learning is a process, involving people creating knowledge as his/her experiences change. Assessment to learning comes from the learner himself/herself. Evaluation of learning process, given to learning process, is of little or no importance.
In institution of higher education, workshops for first-year students, sophomores and third-year bachelor degree students could serve as an example. This would involve natural mutual learning and development. This would assume, of course, that didactic tools of specific nature, suitable for both independent and joint learning, are available. The task of a lecturer is to observe the processes and provide instructions and guidance, as necessary.
The pedagogy of Steiner or Waldorf, applied by numerous schools, could be used here as an example. This education theory is based on recognising an individual within a global and universal context, considering the effect of experience and environment during different stages and context of human’s life and learning to consider with the rhythm of humans and nature, making the most of opportunities to support development.
The contribution of humanist approach at the end of the previous century :
- Emphasising human potential – equal treatment, creating atmosphere of equality – all the students will be treated with equal respect, with dignity, as everyone has the ability to grow and develop.
- Taking diversified influences, sensory world into consideration – practicing holistic approach in study and educational processes, often improving and applying cognitivist and behaviourist practices.
- Emphasising the importance of individual lifelong learning – considering with the needs of an individual, learner within the context of different stages of his life/her span.
The theory of humanist learning observes the future as a learning process within a high-tech environment, where very rapid social and economic changes take place in the society. IT (information technology) has become available to anyone wanting it, 3D technology is available, standardised learning and teaching design is dominant; active virtual participation and learning communities or me-machine personal relations, social learning. The future of humanitarian education could be the following :
- fusion with standard education methods (virtual, face-to-face, standardised blended learning);
- absolute reliance on consciousness and disappearance (abolishment) of religious trends;
- using holistic approach to education as a part of internship;
- supporting the development of different pedagogic systems:
- as closed fundamentalist systems;
- their integrated forms and
- emergence of new trends.
- transition from modernist to post-modernist – dissolving in diversity, fragmentation;
- supports conception of world that is based on living systems (biocentrism – an attitude, based on respecting the nature), which can be treated as a base science even today.
From the point of view of ecological approach to systems (Green Psychology), human mind is not unique. We can see that consciousness and levels of consciousness exist both above and below of the level of consciousness of humans as a specie.
Development and spread of deep humanism (fundamental shared/common values, transnational literacy or competence) as a phenomenon, ensuring sustainable co-existence of societies that are growing more and more apart .
1.1.5 Social Learning
Social learning theory emerged from behaviourist positions back in the 1960ies and the leaders of this trend studied the effect of social-cultural environment on individual’s learning and behaviour .
Two research schools have investigated the development of web-based environments, suitable for shared working or learning, and learning processes that can be employed in such environment :
- the trend, focusing on investigation of CSCW or Computer-supported cooperative work that emerged in the middle of 1980ies as co-operative learning, serving the main goal of designing suitable learning environment for co-operative work, using computers ;
- the trend, focusing on collaborative or CSCL – Computer-supported collaborative learning trend, that focuses on establishment of theoretical and methodological foundation for collaborative learning, using computers .
Collaborative learning assumes consistent, co-ordinated and distributed co-operative work of individuals to achieve certain objectives, whereas the roles and tasks may be re-distributed during the activity concerned. During co-operative work, tasks can be distributed both by subjects, like this is done during co-operative work, or the roles fulfilled by people, responsible for the tasks, which is more characteristic of collaborative learning practice .
Collaborative learning also differs from co-operative work with respect to forming the knowledge and skills. In the case of collaborative learning, students need to define what their companions are thinking about and what aare their plans. This will result in forming of a social (group) knowledge of each other’s knowledge at a certain moment of time. None of the group members has a complete understanding of knowledge and skills, however, the group can successfully operate. Such a complex of group knowledge and skills has been also called community practice .
The development of individual and inter-subjective knowledge and skills through co-operative work can be explained by two principles of socio-cultural learning that were defined by L. Võgotski already back in the 1930ies:
- I principle – individual will acquire new knowledge, above all, through co-operative work that s/he can understand and perform, relying on companions, who already have the required knowledge and competence (e.g. teacher, parents). Knowledge and competence of ain individual will therefore evolve as the consequence of understanding and acceptance of shared knowledge and practices of the group.
- II principle – by nature, learning is rather a social than individual phenomenon, involving the engineering of knowledge and emergence of skills by means of interaction with other individuals, using tools, characteristic of the group or by implementing objects to reach a common goal.
Individual learning is, above all, a process, involving an individual acquiring more and more cultural practices or methods of a certain type, moving, towards the process, from the status of a peripheral member of some practical community towards the nucleus of the community or full control/mastering of the practices and knowledge/know-how. The other level includes improvement, development and constant changing of learning process and community practices .
Knowledge and know-how emerge, in practical communities, not only from fragments of knowledge, available to every individual, and contain parts of knowledge and skills of other individuals, but, above all, from relations – mutual relationships between individuals during the performance of a certain activity (for example, their role division and rules that are observed); tools that they use; environmental conditions that provide for the performance of the activities . Bereiter (2002) describes, as one more important type of knowledge/know-how, the output produced by learning communities – intellectual capital, which can be separated from community practices and used, separately, by other individuals and communities .
1.1.6 Contemporary Teaching and Learning Methods and Their Importance for Learning Process of Students – Blended Learning
The definition of blended learning is of American origin – „blended learning“ first used to mean training, offered by private sector training companies, employing, in combination, both traditional training methods and training, involving technological tools and means . Theoretical approach to pedagogy has not reached a consensus, regarding the substance and meaning of blended learning, and it is not possible to provide a common and uniform interpretation of the sphere of blended learning. The term – blended learning – usually means teaching, combining face-to-face learning and teaching/learning process that employs technological tools. However, there are many different approaches to practical blending issues. In most cases, authors focus on the question of skilful blending of two different communication tools. The proper approach requires weighing the opportunities, advantages, priorities for both face-to-face learning and technological tools available in every single case. Blended learning is not a new phenomenon in higher education. Only the understanding of the number of components to be combined and blended can be described as new. Every single institution has to decide, relying on selection criteria determined earlier, upon the ratio of face-to-face and e-learning to be adopted, attempting to achieve a result that is, didactically, most justified. Regardless of the combinations, it is always most important to focus on the expected learning outcomes. Learning outcomes play a central role for assessing the sustainability of learner, culture, available teaching materials, (technological) infrastructure and teaching work.
It is not possible to squeeze the interpretation of blended learning directly into any learning theory network. We’re rather discussing a methods within the framework of different pedagogic approach. Different materials that discuss the issues of blended learning use different theories .
Gunther  raises four important didactic issues for the purposes of practical blended learning:
- What sort of knowledge does a learner needed and what type of pedagogic tools are needed to achieve the desired result?
- How should be the learner’s “space” organised?
- How to create the necessary learning milieu?
- Which tools does the teacher/lecturer need to support the choices, described above?
According to Gynther , the definition of blended learning should be directly linked to specific didactic methodology. Gynther  suggests that the use of the term of blended learning should not be limited solely to the idea of blending face-to-face and e-learning. The combination should include the dimensions of substance of learning and pedagogic methods and semantic understanding of which tools should be used in case of the specific teaching/learning methods and substance of learning concerned. It is important to prefer technological solutions that support the chosen didactic methods. According to the approach, adopted by Gynther , the term “blended learning” refers to both pedagogic approach, teaching/study methods, use of media, technology and their mutual relations, considering, of course, what is being learnt.
Wiepke  has depicted holistic approach to blended learning visually (Figure 1.5) indicating the components of blended learning, which are linked to constructivism, cognitivism, behaviourism, asynchronous and synchronous teaching and communication and media not linked to web and web-based media.
Figure 1.5 Holistic approach to blended learning 
Torrão  suggests that the following aspects should be considered before a blended learning course is launched:
- What are the advantages of face-to-face learning?
- What are the known dangers that accompany virtual learning?
- Which parts of training should be preferably planned as face-to-face learning and which components can be web-based?
- What to consider for choosing different (technological) tools and so-called mediated teaching methods?
It’s highly important to be aware of the possible threats and first consider the learning process in detail. Each tool and teaching methods has its advantages and disadvantages, every chosen method can both support and restrict the student’s and lecturer’s opportunities for acquiring the material .
Gynther  recommends to consider the following details for planning blended learning:
- Does the chosen medium allow the student to observe communication from the lecturer?
- Does the chosen medium allow the lecturer to observe communication from the student?
- Does the chosen medium allow the student to observe the learning process of other students?
- Does the chosen medium allow the student to obtain consistent overview of his/her own learning process (activities, outcomes etc.)?
- Do the chosen communication tools and environment ensure the student with an opportunity for obtaining information and communication?
- Do the chosen communication tools and environment ensure the lecturer with an opportunity to organise communication between the lecturer and the student? Between students and for group work purposes?
- Do the chosen communication tools and environment contribute to creation of general positive learning milieu?
The use of blended learning will offer lecturers many different opportunities for communicating information to students. This will ensure students’ enhanced readiness to acquire the information. In addition, blended learning will offer new didactic opportunities and in training groups, consisting of students with uneven level of knowledge and skills, there will be more alternatives for learning the material .
Several institutions of higher education that participated in the „B-Learn“ project have stressed that the learning outcomes of students improved after the employment of blended learning . For example, using blended learning for a course conducted by University of Helsinki, Data Analysis II (30% web-based, 30% face-to-face and in average, 30% independent learning), used to improve the learning outcomes of second and third year students of social sciences . Organic chemistry course can be suggested as an other example – examination results of biology bachelor degree sophomores of Tallinn University improved .The students’ feedback to both blended courses was positive .
Blended course, Physics of Dynamic Systems, by University of Porto was compared by Villate  to another course, organised earlier, using face-to-face learning, Classic Mechanics; the results showed that apart improved learning outcomes, the number of students skipping the course also diminished from 34% to 14%. In addition, Villate  noticed that the proportion of those successfully passing the course increased from 43% to 94% and the proportion of those participating actively yet failing at graduation examination dropped from 47% to 13%. Moodle learning environment forums, chat room, tools and tasks, questionnaires and dictionary were used at the blended learning course .
Chen Michigan from Flint University and Jones from University of Illinois  investigated the opinion of master degree students of North-American universities on both the traditional and blended learning accounting course. One of the groups passed a course, that was fully based on face-to-face approach (38 students) and the other group (58 students) – as blended learning course. The results showed that those participating in blended learning course assessed the growth of their analytical, inter-personal and computer literacy skills to a higher level than the students of the other group. In addition, the participants of blended learning course gave higher rating to the lecturer, understanding of the subject, usefulness of the course and they also enjoyed the course more than the participants of face-to-face course. 90% of the participants of the blended learning course wanted to use the same learning methods also for their consecutive accounting course  .
Pereira, Pleguezuelos, Meri, Molina-Ros, Molina-Tomas and Masdeu  conducted a study at Pompeu Fabra University, Spain, to explain how does the use of blended learning to teach human anatomy will affect the results and satisfaction of students. 134 biology students of Pompeu Fabra University took part in the study. Blended learning was carried out in one group (69 students) while traditional group consisted of 65 students. Although similar tools were used to test both groups, statistically, the grades received by blended learning group were much better (6.3 versus 5.0; P < 0.0001). In addition, the share of those passing the examination at the first attempt was also higher (87.9% versus 71.4%; P = 0.02) while the percentage of those attending the examination yet failing was lower (4.3% versus 13.8%; P = 0.05) than in those participating in blended learning course. Both groups came similar feedback to the human anatomy course ; .
Face-to-face learning has become one among many different learning and teaching alternatives. Paradigmatically, blended learning is not an independent method but instead, one of the possible means for transferring education among different pedagogic models .
In the case of behaviourist approach, the main task of teacher is to provide students with stimuli and then confirmation to their responses. Students will respond, passively, to external influences. In today’s education system, behaviourist approach is still quite common.
According to the cognitivist methodology, teachers should mostly assist in learning and developing independent learning skills in students.
According to the social learning theory, teachers will create, by their authority and personal example, new behavioural models which the students will copy/imitate and thus acquire. Main purpose of teaching is to support socialisation process.
Humanists see supporting students’ self-actualisation as the main purpose of teaching and education. Learning, based on self-regulation, plays a highly important role in teaching students and adults. Teacher remains in the background and will be equal to any other person, standing by the learner.
Teaching is, according to constructivism, an activity that is expressed in a dialogue with students, attaching meaning to their surroundings. Teacher remains at the same level with all the other sources of learning. Knowing different learning approaches and theories will give us fulcrum for acknowledging our own understanding of learning. To understand learning, a student must obtain a visual overview of learning process, learning and teaching, while also understanding how s/he will acquire new knowledge and skills, how attitudes and values evolve and how we experience emotions.
Blended learning is understood as a combination of face-to-face learning and teaching involving technological tools. We must observe blended learning, for teaching technically complex and complicate disciplines, as a special symbiosis of methodologies. Here, apart face-to-face and information communication tools we need to employ technical tools that are meant for developing practical skills.
There are still several different approaches to practical blending and combining. In every single case, one must weight all the opportunities, advantages, priorities accompanying the use of both face-to-face, practical and technological tools. Blended learning is not a new phenomenon in higher education. Only the understanding of the number of components to be combined and blended can be described as new.
To see the complete picture we need to employ individual’s ability to acquire graphic information at a faster pace to obtain a quicker and easier overview of the processes that take place in reality. For that purpose, we must give the subjects (students and lecturers) a visual overview of the learning process, learning and teaching. Students and lecturers will create dynamic models of real objects within their mental space for the fulfilment of visualisation tasks (as a part of learning).
Five main fields need to be analysed in the sphere of blended learning:
- Students and their self-regulation;
- Pedagogic skills and methods of lecturers (instructors);
- ICT (information communication) technology and the opportunities it provides for visualisation of mental models and real objects;
- E-learning courses and study objects and their structure and feasibility;
- Main technical tools for practical studies and their feasibility for the purposes of real-life work procedure and operations.
Every single institution of education has to decide, relying on selection criteria determined earlier, upon the ratio of face-to-face and e-learning to be adopted, attempting to achieve a result that is, didactically, most justified. Regardless of the combinations, it is always most important to focus on the expected learning outcomes. Learning outcomes play a central role for assessing the sustainability of learner, culture, available teaching materials, (technological) infrastructure and teaching work.
Blended learning will allow to learn the knowledge, provided by a subject or discipline, at most suitable time. It’s very important that quite often, students can find practical use for their knowledge, using technical tools. Such a practical process will allow students to obtain experienced information, using the knowledge that is already available. Therefore, students who have acquired real experiences, feel smarter.