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What you should know about self-paced blended learning

Self-paced blended learning suits learners who are introverts, while still allowing the collaboration and group work that suits extroverts

self-paced-blended-learningSome general research supports the move to blended learning, particularly self-paced blended learning. This research includes sources as diverse as Daniel Pink, Susan Cain, and Anders Ericsson.

Daniel Pink explores motivation in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, and concludes that past models for motivation (for example reward and punishment) are not particularly effective in the modern world. He suggests that Motivation 3.0 requires workers (and students) to have more autonomy as motivation in our complex world is more intrinsic than extrinsic. He outlines four main drivers.

• Time – Allow students some choice when they learn. Allowing students to fit the pace of learning to their situation, and providing the choice when and if to have a break, provides flexibility and individuality. Time is not at the center of the learning paradigm in self-paced blended learning; understanding and results are, which provides flexibility.

• Team – Allowing students some choice about who they work with. At any time students may be working individually, with one other person, with small groups or with larger groups.

• Technique – Allowing students a choice of how they learn. A good self-paced blended learning environment provides a number of parallel learning options.

• Task – Allowing a choice of tasks. Experience has shown that providing a choice of topics or sub-topics to be studied by students is very effective in improving student engagement and satisfaction with learning.

Observations in self-paced blended learning classrooms over several years, even with younger students in middle school classes, support this view to increase student motivation.

Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, and her TED talk provide some other insights. Her basic premise is that 30 percent to 50 percent of people are introverts. This does not mean that they are shy. It doesn’t mean they don’t like to talk or that they don’t know how to make friends. It does mean that they need quiet spaces and quiet time to be alone and to think.

Her research indicates that introverts tend to

• Be creative.
• Be careful, reflective thinkers.
• Make considered decisions.
• Not look for personal glory.
• Get better grades and are more knowledgeable.

Yet collaboration is pervasive. A significant percentage of our population may find the wide use of collaboration to be a negative influence on learning. Self-paced blended learning suits learners who are introverts, while still allowing the collaboration and group work that suits extroverts.

Anders Ericsson researched excellence in a wide range of endeavors over many years and this is outlined in The Road to Excellence. His research indicates that experts, “stars” of the arts, the business world, sport and politics, are created through practice and effort rather than simply innate talent.

He pioneered the idea that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert. The idea of deliberate practice is central to his theory; it requires quiet, concentration, repetition, lack of distractions and regular, individualized feedback. It does not require collaboration or group work, even though these may be valuable for other reasons.


Students and teachers require time to adjust to the self-paced blended learning environment, and the courses take time to develop, but experience and research show that the benefits can be significant.

Peter West is Director of eLearning at Saint Stephen’s College in Australia. He has over 15 years experience leading K-12 schools in technology enhanced education, particularly Blended Learning using Online Learning Environments. He can be contacted at

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