Prospects and pitfalls associated with implementing blended learning in rural-based higher education institutions in Southern Africa
Keywords:Blended learning, Institutional goodwil, Curriculum deficit, Student-centredness
While blended learning is well entrenched in many developed countries as a solution towards enabling access to educational resources and managing student diversity, this may not be the same for rural based universities in developing countries. Yet, blended learning is ideal for the current terrain of the COVID-19 pandemic which requires learning modalities that promote social distancing to reduce the spread of the disease while ensuring that students have access to quality teaching and learning materials and to frequently stay engaged. For many rural based universities, successful blended learning implementation implies an exploration of possible ways to strengthen existing practices. This paper, using the document analysis method, sought to explore the prospects and pitfalls of implementing blended learning in rural- based universities in Southern Africa. The blended learning implementation framework by Graham, Woodfield and Harrison (2013) served as a guiding framework as it was specifically designed to determine success in blended learning adoption and implementation in education. This framework utilises the constructs of strategy, structure and support to differentiate the stages of adopting blended learning. These three stages are in a continuum and comprise awareness and exploration as stage 1, adoption or early implementation as stage 2 and mature implementation and growth as stage 3, with stages differing depending on the extent of formalisation of the institutional strategy, structure and support. Findings indicated prospects of blended learning entail providing opportunities for flexible learning, enabling access to a wide range of educational resources and limiting alienation associated with purely online education delivery. For many institutions, however, implementation of blended learning is still a mirage with the majority still at the first stage of Graham et al.’s (2013) blended learning adoption and implementation framework owing to technical resource constraints related to unstable or non-existent network coverage characteristic in rural locations, curricular deficit stemming from the blended learning model not aligning to context, thus lowering morale for wider implementation. This is exacerbated by weak goodwill and limited policy guidelines on a specific blended learning model. The study concludes that creating conducive conditions for blended learning in rural based universities necessitates a context friendly implementation model where institutional evaluation data inform strategies, support and pedagogical approaches and related resources that can be used locally. The study recommends governmental support for resourcing rural universities to acquire affordable and usable resources to offset challenges hindering blended learning. Rural institutions should also strive to strengthen support to students and staff to build confidence in the potential of blended learning.
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Copyright (c) 2021 Patricia Muhuro, SM Kangethe, Patricia Muhuro
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.