Blended Learning

Blended learning environments hold much potential for expanding learning opportunities and services for professional education and information access. Libraries and LIS programs are increasingly connecting people across distance and time, using the capacity of technology to augment or replace face-to-face encounters. Two major areas influence the quality of these interactions - computer-mediated communication and the characteristics of the learning environment.

Creative Tension: Face-to-Face and Online Presence

Herbert Clark's (Clark & Brennan, 1991) theory of common ground provides a theoretical basis for understanding the creative tensions of the face-to-face/online duality through the inhibiting and enabling factors characteristic of different types of communication media. The theory posits that common ground must be established for effective communication to occur. One of the key tenets in grounding is efficiency - least collaborative effort. The ability of communicators to see, hear, and converse with each other simultaneously using verbal and nonverbal cues marks efficiency for face-to-face communication. The lack of any of these singly or in combination causes communication barriers and inefficiencies in online media. Online media provide the ability for communicators to review and revise their own and sometimes others' messages, providing efficiency for recording, reporting, examining, and reusing communication as artifacts.

Establishing common ground for communication entails costs, including the effort needed to formulate utterances, process communication received, understand communication, start up new communication, take turns, and gesture and indicate, as well as the adverse effects of delaying one's communication or committing a communication mistake. The type of medium influences the techniques used to compensate for the costs of establishing common ground. In addition to face-to-face sessions, media that I use in my blended courses are wikis, email, chat, web conferencing, and social networking tools such as blogs. These offer different configurations of enablers and costs. Though more costly in most areas, the online media allow reviewability and revisability, which support learning in ways not possible under face-to-face conditions. Notably, the online media uniquely support reflection and co-reflection through the persistence of online communication.


Clark, H. & Brennan, S.E. (1991). Grounding in communication. In L.E. Resnick & J.M. Levine (Eds.), Perspectives on socially shared cognition. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.