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Blended Learning: The Best of Both Worlds for Busy Professionals

by Chuck Zona

Hooke College of Applied Sciences

Busy scientists and technicians always are seeking new ways to make the best use of their time. When it comes to pursuing specialized education, it makes sense that blended learning programs are becoming a popular choice.

Blended learning – an approach that combines online education with in-person classroom time – is on the rise in today's education market because it allows students to establish a solid base of knowledge on new concepts before coming to class. Then, when they begin the hands-on portion of the course, they're able to take full advantage of laboratory time with expert teachers and high-tech instrumentation.

"Professionals tend to find that blended learning is easier to fit into their schedule than traditional classroom-only education," said Tom Van Howe, Jr., an instructor with the Hooke College of Applied Sciences in Westmont, IL. "Students can complete the web-based modules on their own time so that they can best utilize their time in the teaching lab."

Prior to the hands-on portion of a course, students in a blended learning program access introductory materials on the web and communicate online with fellow students and instructors to ensure they fully understand the premise of the course, Van Howe explains. The classroom portion of the course allows students to receive instruction from a subject-matter expert while practicing skills and methods in a hands-on environment.

In most traditional training programs, learning ends when class is dismissed. But blended programs further enhance learning with post-course activities that help reinforce new concepts and practices. For example, web-based follow-up material provides students with real-world scenarios that they can explore on their own time, using their workplace equipment.

In addition, post-course sessions facilitated by the instructor allow students with little experience to build confidence, while those with more experience can share insights with their less-experienced colleagues. Students exchange ideas, techniques and approaches to problems, and delve into additional subjects not discussed during the course. Students also begin self-directed learning and inquiry, reinforcing ideas and skills from class.

The greatest challenge of a successful post-course learning program is getting students to continue their participation in the face of everyday work demands, Van Howe said. But for those who do participate, the sessions become yet another valuable aspect that makes blended learning a highly effective approach to scientific training.

Chuck Zona is the vice president and dean of Hooke College of Applied Sciences, a microscopy training center based in Westmont, IL. He designed and implemented the blended learning program at Hooke College. To learn more, call 630.887.7100 or visit www.hookecollege.com.