Open and blended histories

Thanks to Stephen Downes, yet again, for pointing out Terry Anderson’s excellent piece on Open, distance, e-learning and other name confusion in his always useful Virtual Canuk blog. As Terry noted there has been a lot written on the subject. I was reminded of two pieces of work.

Robin Mason and Frank Rennie recently produced an elearning lexicon, E-Learning, the key concepts. I have a quibble with their conflation of e- and distance learning, but it is a very useful work which as much as resolving, illustrates the problems of trying to resolve definitions in a politicised field: micro institutional as well as in respect of national and international educational policies (q.v. one laptop per child project).

I was also reminded of work I contributed to an article for the UK Higher Education Academy on the Undergraduate experience of blended learning (citation below, link to pdf) by colleagues at Brookes.

We identified a number of dimensions of blended learning from the literature not far off of Rumble’s list that Anderson cites. But we tried to make the political dimension explicit, saying that one could blend overt and covert curricula, or at least one had to recognise that overt and covert curricula were always blended into any educational practice.

If e-learning is reified as unidirectional, transmissive, computer-based learning, then any “blend” is bound to find greater acceptance by academics. Anything that allows non-e into the blend is more acceptable than all e. Stubbs and Martin speak of blended learning as preserving “… pleasurable opportunities we have for face to face contact with our students.” (Stubbs and Martin 2005) Motschnig-Pitrik describes blended learning as making “… person-centered learning and teaching more effective and feasible by enriching it with elements of computer-supported learning” (Motschnig-Pitrik 2005, and see also University of Hertfordshire CETL, 2005).

According to Oliver and Trigwell, any attempt at definition:

… simply hides the politics of the situation. The emphasis within corporate training is usually upon efficiency, being concerned with a return on investment. Within education, it has traditionally been on effectiveness, although recent policies (e.g. National Committee for Inquiry into Higher Education, 1997) have attempted to shift the emphasis towards a cost-driven model. In effect, introduction of the term ‘blended learning’ allows trainers to adopt practices prevalent within higher education without having to call what they are doing ‘education’. It is thus a face saving discourse. Ironically, the adoption of this term by researchers and teachers within higher education leaves us paying homage to a group who are effectively seeking to redeem their failures by adopting our practices. It bolsters the subservient relationship of higher education to industry advocated by government. (Oliver and Trigwell 2005)


Motschnig-Pitrik, R. (2005). “Person-Centered E-Learning in Action: Can Technology Help to Manifest Person-Centered Values in Academic Environments?” Journal of Humanistic Psychology 45(4): 503-530.

Oliver, M. and K. Trigwell (2005). “Can ‘Blended Learning’ Be Redeemed?” E-Learning 2(1): 17-26.

Sharpe, R., G. Benfield, et al. (2006). The undergraduate experience of blended e-learning: a review of UK literature and practice, Higher Education Academy.

Stubbs, M. and I. Martin (2005) “Blended Learning: One Small Step.” Learning and Teaching in Action 2(3).

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