BLENDED LEARNING AS SOLUTION FOR DEALING EFFECTIVELY WITH DIVERSITY IN HIGHER EDUCATION
To address complex societal problems pleas are made for a different kind of knowledge production: interdisciplinary research, which refers to a process of integration of knowledge of different scientific disciplines. To increase the interdisciplinary research capacity it is essential that master students are educated to fit the needs of this type of research. Our master program (Management, Policy Analysis and Entrepreneurship in the Health and Life Sciences) aims to educate students to become interdisciplinary researchers.
The challenge we experience is dealing with students who have a diversity of bachelor backgrounds. They all need to reach the same level of understanding and skills at the end of the program. This is a constraint which is faced by various programs, who deal with a diverse group of students. This problem is described in literature as a hampering factor for effective learning, since the complex learning tasks that accompany interdisciplinary learning create a high cognitive load.
In 2014 and 2015 we conducted an experiment during one of the courses. We applied an innovative instructional design based on blended learning theory. We offered students short video’s in which the theory was explained. These video’s aimed to enable students to better manage their cognitive load by offering them the possibility to study according to their preferences. The videos are not only combined with working groups –which is regularly seen in practices of blended learning- but also with master classes in which all students are present. The masterclasses provide the opportunity to have and in depth discussion with a full professor or key note speaker. The preparation beforehand allows the students to enter a discussion with the professor that can be conducted at a high level.
To study the effects of this new instructional design we collected different types of data: 1) the viewing behavior of student based on the video’s server data, 2) a questionnaire, 3) interviews with 26 students and 4) responses towards the changed design of students who followed the course in the old instructional design. After the first year we made some adaptations in the course and again collected data using a questionnaire.
Important observations that we found after the introduction of the new instructional design in the first year were: a very positive attitude of students towards the videos and the possibilities they offer in preparing for the exam, a positive change in exam grades and success rates and an improved course evaluation. After the adaptations in the second year we observed a strongly increased attendance rate of the master classes and the students seem to see the masterclasses as higher added value in their learning.
We discuss that the combination of videos, workgroup and masterclasses is a very valuable combination. The instructional videos are very helpful to reduce the cognitive load and allow students to reach the same level of understanding, the workgroups allow applying the theories in practice and the masterclasses allow for in depth learning of students and thus the quality of the course. Especially this deeper learning is not possible by only offering videos and workgroups. We argue that this combination could be a valuable tool for other programs, which have a diverse group of students.