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How do students cope with self-paced blended learning?

The learning rates in a vanguard self-paced blended learning course have increased dramatically, and we think we know why

self-paced-blended-learningA new school year. Students new to middle school from primary school. A new subject with a new pedagogy. How do students cope? Surprisingly well. The learning rates in a vanguard self-paced blended learning course have increased dramatically.

Material that took eight to ten lessons when taught in a traditional fashion is now being completed successfully by some students in three to four lessons. The number of students completing the learning at this accelerated pace has also been increasing in recent years as the course and the teachers “mature.”

The increase was first noticed in 2012 when an individual or two in each class studying the topic worked at a significantly accelerated pace. This was the first time in an updated, efficient online learning environment (OLE) was used. Before this a less intuitive and less effective learning management system (LMS) was used. The number of students completing the learning at an “accelerated” pace increased again in 2013; from one or two students to a handful of students in each class.

The teachers facilitating the course also became more comfortable and experienced with the self-paced blended learning model during these years. 2014 has seen the number of students working at an “accelerated pace” increase again.

(Next page: Self-paced blended learning results) The students were new to the middle school and it was a new school year. Thus, the first lesson was traditional in many ways. It involved familiarizing students with the network and the OLE and guiding students through the initial setup of individual network resources.

Students were then provided with an overview of how to work in a self-paced Blended Learning environment; something completely new to them. Hence, they could really only begin their learning experience toward the end of the first lesson. The course consisted of thirteen tutorials, each with associated activities.

The results by the end of the third lesson were surprising. The class in question was of mixed academic ability, and results in other classes were similar. The quality of understanding demonstrated by students was excellent. Current tutorial being worked on number of students in class

9 Pace of learning
Table: Sample data from one class. Completed all tutorials 1

The reasons for the increased pace of learning seem to be

  • The “maturity of the course.” The learning materials and methods of delivery have been refined over the past few years.
  • The “Blended Learning maturity” of the teachers. The teachers involved are increasingly comfortable and experienced with this method of learning, and have a palpable belief in the approach. This translates to a particular “feel” in the class and a high level of expectation.
  • Students becoming more used to computers. While instruction methods have not changed in the primary classes the students have come from (the school is K12), students are generally more immersed in a computer centric society.

The rate of change and the reasons for the change will provide a rich area for future research, as we attempt to quantify the factors affecting the pace of student learning. The author also believes that this is not “accelerated learning.” Rather, it is a “natural pace of learning;” each student is free to learn at his/her pace. In a traditional class, this is not always the case. Students have always been more capable than we believe; we need to provide the environment and support to allow them to demonstrate this.

Peter West is Director of eLearning at Saint Stephen’s College in Australia. He has over 15 years’ experience leading K12 schools in technology enhanced education, particularly blended learning using online learning environments. He can be contacted at

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