Has coronavirus shone any light on how pupils can learn more effectively?

Making the

grade: blended vs face-to-face learning?


As children and young people begin to return to school to engage again in face-to-face learning, the sighs of relief are many. From teachers, who can get back to something more like traditional classroom instruc- tion. From pupils, who can now interact with their peers not only in the classroom, but outside it. From parents, who have suffered home-schooling but are glad to see their children back in school. In the midst of this, might we

revert all too quickly to the way things were? Is there nothing to be learned from what happened dur- ing the pandemic? As part of my work at the University of Dundee, I have compiled a synthesis of re- search evidence from 1,355 papers on blended and online learning which informs this debate. In brief, this found blended learning to be more effective than online learning – and more effective than 100 per cent of traditional class- room instruction. Of course, these were research papers and might

bear little relationship to what schools could provide at very short notice in the heat of battle in a pandemic. Doubtless schools var- ied in how well they rose to this almighty challenge, and probably teachers within schools varied too. Indeed, a number of parents have been in touch with me to say the research results do not reflect their recent experience of reality. Of course, during the pandemic

most pupils were forced into wholly online learning, which would usually be reserved for those living in remote areas who could not access ordinary schools. But post-pandemic, should it just be flipping from totally online to totally face-to-face learning? Of course, this has never quite been the case, as even during face-to- face teaching homework is often assigned which pupils complete at home, perhaps “assisted” by some conversations with friends on Facebook, WhatApp, or other social media software. Could blended learning be

effective for most if not all stu- dents? Tere are many studies in many different subject areas


which show that when students spend some time on independent work in the morning, then come to school in the afternoon to discuss their findings, collaborate in peer groups to bounce different perceptions off each other, and receive more detailed and struc- tured feedback from their teacher, they learn better. Of course, this depends on a short gap between

studying the material indepen- dently and having the opportu- nity to understand it more deeply and consolidate it, otherwise the demands on memory would be too great.

This is all very well, you might say, but would pupils in age- appropriate groups be at home in the morning hopefully studying

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