The teaching and learning environment is embracing a number of innovations and some of these involve the use of technology through blended learning. This innovative pedagogical approach has been embraced rapidly though it goes through a process. The introduction of blended learning (combination of face-to-face and online teaching and learning) initiatives is part of these innovations but its uptake, especially in the developing world faces challenges for it to be an effective innovation in teaching and learning. Blended learning effectiveness has quite a number of underlying factors that pose challenges. One big challenge is about how users can successfully use the technology and ensuring participants’ commitment given the individual learner characteristics and encounters with technology (Hofmann, 2014). Hofmann adds that users getting into difficulties with technology may result into abandoning the learning and eventual failure of technological applications. In a report by Oxford Group (2013), some learners (16%) had negative attitudes to blended learning while 26% were concerned that learners would not complete study in blended learning. Learners are important partners in any learning process and therefore, their backgrounds and characteristics affect their ability to effectively carry on with learning and being in blended learning, the design tools to be used may impinge on the effectiveness in their learning.
This study tackles blended learning effectiveness which has been investigated in previous studies considering grades, course completion, retention and graduation rates but no studies regarding effectiveness in view of learner characteristics/background, design features and outcomes have been done in the Ugandan university context. No studies have also been done on how the characteristics of learners and design features are predictors of outcomes in the context of a planning evaluation research (Guskey, 2000) to establish the effectiveness of blended learning. Guskey (2000) noted that planning evaluation fits in well since it occurs before the implementation of any innovation as well as allowing planners to determine the needs, considering participant characteristics, analyzing contextual matters and gathering baseline information. This study is done in the context of a plan to undertake innovative pedagogy involving use of a learning management system (moodle) for the first time in teaching and learning in a Ugandan university. The learner characteristics/backgrounds being investigated for blended learning effectiveness include self-regulation, computer competence, workload management, social and family support, attitude to blended learning, gender and age. We investigate the blended learning design features of learner interactions, face-to-face support, learning management system tools and technology quality while the outcomes considered include satisfaction, performance, intrinsic motivation and knowledge construction. Establishing the significant predictors of outcomes in blended learning will help to inform planners of such learning environments in order to put in place necessary groundwork preparations for designing blended learning as an innovative pedagogical approach.
Kenney and Newcombe (2011) did their comparison to establish effectiveness in view of grades and found that blended learning had higher average score than the non-blended learning environment. Garrison and Kanuka (2004) examined the transformative potential of blended learning and reported an increase in course completion rates, improved retention and increased student satisfaction. Comparisons between blended learning environments have been done to establish the disparity between academic achievement, grade dispersions and gender performance differences and no significant differences were found between the groups (Demirkol & Kazu, 2014).
However, blended learning effectiveness may be dependent on many other factors and among them student characteristics, design features and learning outcomes. Research shows that the failure of learners to continue their online education in some cases has been due to family support or increased workload leading to learner dropout (Park & Choi, 2009) as well as little time for study. Additionally, it is dependent on learner interactions with instructors since failure to continue with online learning is attributed to this. In Greer, Hudson & Paugh’s study as cited in Park and Choi (2009), family and peer support for learners is important for success in online and face-to-face learning. Support is needed for learners from all areas in web-based courses and this may be from family, friends, co-workers as well as peers in class. Greer, Hudson and Paugh further noted that peer encouragement assisted new learners in computer use and applications. The authors also show that learners need time budgeting, appropriate technology tools and support from friends and family in web-based courses. Peer support is required by learners who have no or little knowledge of technology, especially computers, to help them overcome fears. Park and Choi, (2009) showed that organizational support significantly predicts learners’ stay and success in online courses because employers at times are willing to reduce learners’ workload during study as well as supervisors showing that they are interested in job-related learning for employees to advance and improve their skills.
The study by Kintu and Zhu (2016) investigated the possibility of blended learning in a Ugandan University and examined whether student characteristics (such as self-regulation, attitudes towards blended learning, computer competence) and student background (such as family support, social support and management of workload) were significant factors in learner outcomes (such as motivation, satisfaction, knowledge construction and performance). The characteristics and background factors were studied along with blended learning design features such as technology quality, learner interactions, and Moodle with its tools and resources. The findings from that study indicated that learner attitudes towards blended learning were significant factors to learner satisfaction and motivation while workload management was a significant factor to learner satisfaction and knowledge construction. Among the blended learning design features, only learner interaction was a significant factor to learner satisfaction and knowledge construction.
The focus of the present study is on examining the effectiveness of blended learning taking into consideration learner characteristics/background, blended learning design elements and learning outcomes and how the former are significant predictors of blended learning effectiveness.
Studies like that of Morris and Lim (2009) have investigated learner and instructional factors influencing learning outcomes in blended learning. They however do not deal with such variables in the contexts of blended learning design as an aspect of innovative pedagogy involving the use of technology in education. Apart from the learner variables such as gender, age, experience, study time as tackled before, this study considers social and background aspects of the learners such as family and social support, self-regulation, attitudes towards blended learning and management of workload to find out their relationship to blended learning effectiveness. Identifying the various types of learner variables with regard to their relationship to blended learning effectiveness is important in this study as we embark on innovative pedagogy with technology in teaching and learning.