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Why bother with blended learning?

Photo of Rachel Forsyth.

The use of technologies to support teaching was essential during the pandemic. But what can they do to support education at a campus university in ‘normal’ times? Here are four reasons why the university might want to plan strategically for the use of digital learning to enhance campus experiences. Continue reading and you will find out more in this opinion piece by Rachel Forsyth.

Photo: Ben Davies.

Teaching is fundamentally a social activity, so should we actively seek to reduce our dependence on online and blended learning? Should the university be thinking about further development, or should we just get back to the way things were in 2019? Or is it wrong to frame this discussion in such binary terms? Can we consider technology use in an integrated and strategic way? Fawns (2022, p1) coins the term of “entangled pedagogy that encapsulates the mutual shaping of technology, teaching methods, purposes, values and context” to describe this process of making decisions and negotiating agency between stakeholders. 

The decision to use digital tools in teaching can be considered as a wicked problem - is one which, among other characteristics, is unique, poorly defined, has many stakeholders with potentially conflicting values, and has no single correct solution (Rittel & Webber, 1973). Addressing a wicked problem requires the practitioner to continually monitor what is happening, to continue to consult with stakeholders, to work with others to make sense of the problem, and to adapt behaviours and actions to reflect the current situation (Jordan et al., 2014). Figure 1 shows a process for working with wicked problems. You can see that it rests on discussion and consensus-building, but the key message should be that one approach does not fit every situation.  

Figure showing the process for working with a "wicked problem".

Figure 1: process for working with a wicked problem (Hamshire et al., 2019), reproduction allowed by copyright holder .

Click here to see full figure as a PDF

The main blended learning pages give a definition of blended learning and some good reasons for using digital technologies in teaching, alongside examples and a literature review of teaching in ‘the new normal’.

The main blended learning pages

A literature review of teaching in "the new normal"

Here are some reasons why the university might want to plan strategically for the use of digital learning to enhance campus experiences.

Reason 1: To improve the intertwining of research and education

This is the first of the university’s current strategic priority areas (links in Swedish or in English below). Digital tools can help to develop the research-teaching nexus (Healey, 2005) in various ways. Using online tools, students can:

  • learn about and try out the use of digital technologies in research and development in their discipline.
  • follow the development of research, understanding knowledge construction through live examples and projects (using blogs, scientific social media, etc).
  • have extended access to examples of relevant research (eg digital library, virtual visits).
  • have opportunities to ask questions about current research (eg masterclasses from experts elsewhere).
  • choose from a wider range of research projects, because of digital access to situations, resources, collaborators, and simulations which are not available physically.

Lund University’s current strategic priority areas in Swedish –

Lund University’s current strategic priority areas in English –

Reason 2: To give students confidence to create, collaborate and communicate digitally in ways appropriate to the disciplinary area

As part of many, if not most, university curricula, students learn how to identify opportunities for collaborative working, make decisions about how to achieve their professional goals, and present their findings to a wider audience. We live in a world where technology is used to facilitate many ordinary tasks. Students should also learn how to make best use of digital tools to support these work, and to critically analyse situations so that they can also decide when technology is not the best choice, or when it may be misleading. They need to gain experience in trying out these things, using digital tools similar to those which they will find in a contemporary workplace: Office, Teams, Zoom, search engines, and so on. The use of these tools can be integrated into their learning activities so that their use seems natural and relevant (Reyna, 2021; Reyna & Meier, 2020).

Reason 3: To use appropriate digital technologies to offer students and staff more choices about how the curriculum is designed, supported, and assessed

Our students are not all the same. They have different educational backgrounds, disabilities, home arrangements and external commitments such as caring responsibilities. Choices can help to mitigate these differences, and there are situations in which digital tools can make some parts of the university experience more inclusive (Wilkens et al., 2021). For instance, there may be situations in which students can make choices about certain parts of their courses to suit their circumstances, such as offering small group tutorials either online or in person, or using online storage to share documents online for group work. Some digital tools also improve accessibility to students with certain disabilities, and many students will benefit from having access to resources like powerpoint slides ahead of the session so they can read through and check unfamiliar terms. However, context is always important. Students also have varying access to digital tools and technologies, and every programme team will have a good idea of what their students can manage. 

Reason 4: To use appropriate digital technologies to provide information and resources in convenient ways

We may feel cynical about the extent to which technology makes our lives more convenient, or at least, we may see that it might be convenient sometimes, but that it may create more work for us (example – scanning our purchases at the self-checkout in a shop). There are some technologies which make some teaching and learning tasks less onerous and potentially more effective: for instance, presentation of slides, digital submission of written assignments, distribution of information and resources, arranging appointments, and many others. It may also save travel time and resources if students and staff do not need to be on campus to complete routine administrative tasks. 

However, these potential benefits are lost if the systems are incompatible and difficult to use, or require extensive ‘digital labour’ from users. If we are going to use technology to support teaching, then there needs to be a clear process and rationale for selection and purchase of appropriate digital tools, accompanied by pedagogic support for their use. 

Whose decision is it?

Every course/programme team needs to decide what will work for them and their students, but some centralised planning and support can help with making these choices. In addition, the cost of buying and supporting new digital systems means that there needs to be some consistency in the use of tools across the university. The university management is currently reviewing the landscape of digital tool use in education, and Utbildningsnämnden is receiving regular reports. Anyone who would like to discuss this further, share good examples, argue against the reasons in this blog post or provide additional ones is welcome to get in touch with me. 


Rachel Forsyth
Project manager at Strategic Development Office
rachel [dot] forsyth [at] rektor [dot] lu [dot] se


Fawns, T. (2022). An Entangled Pedagogy: Looking Beyond the Pedagogy—Technology Dichotomy. Postdigital Science and Education. 

Hamshire, C., Jack, K., Forsyth, R., Langan, A. M., & Harris, W. E. (2019). The wicked problem of healthcare student attrition. Nursing Inquiry. 

Healey, M. (2005). Linking Research and Teaching to Benefit Student Learning [doi:10.1080/03098260500130387]. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 29, 183–201. 

Jordan, M. E., Kleinsasser, R. C., & Roe, M. F. (2014). Wicked problems: inescapable wickedity. Journal of Education for Teaching, 40(4), 415–430. 

Reyna, J. (2021). Digital media assignments in undergraduate science education: an evidence-based approach. Research in Learning Technology, 29. 

Reyna, J., & Meier, P. (2020). Co-creation of knowledge using mobile technologies and digital media as pedagogical devices in undergraduate STEM education. Research in Learning Technology, 28(0). 

Rittel, H. W., & Webber, M. M. (1973). Dilemmas in a general theory of planning. Policy sciences, 4(2), 155–169. 

Wilkens, L., Haage, A., Lüttmann, F., & Bühler, C. R. (2021). Digital Teaching, Inclusion and Students’ Needs: Student Perspectives on Participation and Access in Higher Education. Social Inclusion, 9(3), 117-129.