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Blended Learning in Higher Education: Framework, Principles, and Guidelines

reviewed by Brent Muirhead - January 30, 2008

coverTitle: Blended Learning in Higher Education: Framework, Principles, and Guidelines
Author(s): D. Randy Garrison and Norman D. Vaughan
Publisher: Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco
ISBN: 0787987700, Pages: 272, Year: 2007
Search for book at Amazon.com

Effectively integrating technology into university classrooms remains a major challenge for educators. Teachers and students can become disillusioned with the teaching and learning process when it lacks a dynamic interactive character. Students want classes that are enjoyable places where learning expectations are built upon relevant intellectual activities and discussions. Garrison and Vaughan believe that part of the problem involves having a rigid learning environment that fails to acknowledge that learning must be context sensitive. Students must be fully engaged in the teaching and learning process to transform the educational process. The advent of new computer technologies offers the promise of creating and sustaining reflective learning communities. People can communicate through email notes and online dialogs which often translate into more meaningful learning experiences. The authors advocate blended learning as a realistic approach to cultivate more opportunities for enduring learning. Their blended learning paradigm combines face-to-face instruction with web-based learning. This educational model is considered and presented in a positive and innovative manner throughout their new book.  

Garrison and Vaughn share an informative overview of blended learning through seven design principles, illustrative scenarios, practical insights and instructional techniques. Educators are encouraged to utilize the instructional strengths from both traditional and online education. The authors clearly communicate their technology-oriented educational vision. They have developed a promising new distance education model known as the community of inquiry, which involves three main elements: social presence, cognitive presence and teacher presence. These elements are comprehensive and each plays a vital role in establishing an environment where students are given opportunities to experience more in-depth learning. The model reflects a greater emphasis on social factors with less attention to psychological factors, which has characterized distance education literature. As such, the book represents a theoretical and practical application of ideas that are designed to enhance the quality of higher education.

Technology based education reflects philosophical and practical problems similar to the traditional classroom setting. The authors recognize that students want consistent interaction and feedback on their work from their instructors. It is interesting to observe teachers who claim to be student-centered in their educational philosophy but who actually are quite controlling in their classes. Teachers can dominate in online dialogs by posting an excessive number of messages that highlight the instructor’s expertise but undermine the communication process. Instructors can become threatened by the online setting which has an open-ended quality that may cause them to strive for security through greater control in such communication. Sadly, students are receiving a less academically rigorous education because they are not challenged to be independent thinkers. Students wonder about the quality of their ideas because the teacher fails to create a legitimate dialog that affirms the worth of their questions and concerns.

The author has trained and mentored university instructors who work online and in face-to-face settings. These experiences have shown that some instructors struggle with an assortment of issues involving technology and facilitating online discussions. A major concern raised by the authors involved questions about technology training in traditional universities. Often, universities focus training sessions on acquiring the skills for using specific software. Garrison and Vaughan highlight problems with this approach: “…faculty often come to the workshops and become enthused about the possibilities of using educational technology but then must return to their offices without the necessary time, or follow-up support, required to put their new ideas into practice” (p. 50). The authors fail to adequately address the issue of professional development.  Integrating technology into higher education classrooms requires providing effective professional workshops and sustained teacher support. The authors offer a few illustrations of university programs that enhance teacher training, but they fail to offer a detailed discussion. Higher education institutions have provided few resources for professional development activities, which helps to explain the frequent flaws in the design and implementation of technology oriented workshops. Hopefully, university leaders will give attention to professional development as institutions integrate more technology-based instruction into their classrooms.

Garrison and Vaughn effectively relate the advantages of blended learning that is supported by contemporary research studies. Blended learning allows students to devote more time on specific learning assignments, encourages those who have a diversity of learning styles, and establishes a positive pattern of student and teacher interaction. Also, students appreciate the face-to-face class time, which personalizes their educational experiences. A growing number of universities are exploring the feasibility of blended instruction as computer technology continues to provide greater benefits for sharing and accessing information. For instance, the University of Phoenix has an online library that has over 20 million full text journal articles and 600,000 digital dissertations available to their students (UOP, 2007). A vital question raised is how teachers can effectively help their students utilize the vast body of knowledge and resources available through the Internet and computer-oriented technologies (e.g., online dialogs). This is a strategic implementation issue. The authors provide practical advice and resources for helping university teachers and administrators to use the technology in a traditional classroom.

The authors have also addressed a serious problem involving student dissatisfaction with professors who allow only limited access for meaningful interaction while offering irrelevant course content. The blended learning model offers a flexible approach for reflective discussion utilizing communication technology that strives to reduce the number of large and impersonal lecture-style classes. Their community of inquiry model does encourage teachers to embrace an educational philosophy that stresses reflective activities and class dialogs. Students are viewed as partners and collaborators in producing meaningful experiences. Garrison and Vaughn advocate that teachers must provide “…ongoing facilitation, monitoring, and modeling of the course expectations for students throughout the entire semester” (p. 141).  

The transition from being a traditional teacher to working as an online facilitator is a challenging one because instructors often need professional staff development to properly prepare them. Educators must continue efforts to investigate what are the appropriate and most effective pedagogical and technological skills to enhance interaction and promote academic achievement. Communication theory highlights how a number of variables impact online dialogs such as length and number of messages, type of information shared, and the amount of time between responses. The authors have provided insights into the promise of blended learning, and educators can build upon their community of inquiry model to enhance their current teaching practices.


UOP (2006). UOP fact book. Phoenix, AZ: University of Phoenix.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: January 30, 2008
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 14948, Date Accessed: 5/22/2022 9:29:29 PM

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About the Author
  • Brent Muirhead
    University of Phoenix
    E-mail Author
    BRENT MUIRHEAD is the College Campus Chair of the Arts and Science College at the University Phoenix campus in Atlanta, Georgia. He has published numerous journal articles on technology issues and is an Associate Editor of the journal Educational Technology and Society. He mentors faculty candidates and doctoral students and teaches in a diversity of classes across the academic disciplines in online and face-to-face settings. In the fall of 2007, he presented a paper entitled “Interactivity challenges facing online educators” at an international technology conference at Cambridge University, England. He will be publishing a book in the spring called A Reader in Online Education that is designed to help distance educators and students.
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