Skip main navigation

Blended learning for practical work

In this video, Diana Laurillard introduces ways in which teachers use digital methods to support their students' practical work.
In this video, we’re thinking about the issue of helping students do practical work while studying online. Sarah Wongs, for example, wanted to focus her class time on group discussion and practical work. But to get the best out of this precious class time, she worked with Matt Smith. And they worked together to create pre-class activity sets to guide the student’s independent learning. [VIDEO PLAYBACK] - These activity sets are made up of both passive activities, such as watching videos, listening to podcast clips and reading articles, and active activities, which require the students to submit a response. I’m going to focus on the active activities, as we have found these to be the key to success.
We like to start each activity set with an active task. For this set, the students are asked to give a short definition of marketing based on their prior knowledge. Next, if I skip forward to question 7, in this activity, you can see that students are given a Heinz beans adverts and asked to identify what they think the three target markets for the product are, which they enter in the block box below. This is a very straightforward type of activity requiring students to input a textual answer. Going back to question 6, here we have an example of submission type tasks.
For this activity, students are required to watch Sarah’s video in which she explains the Ansoff matrix, and then draw up their own Ansoff matrix for a company of their choice. They are then required to submit this to the submission inbox. [END PLAYBACK] This approach is sometimes called flipped learning, which makes class time more active by providing students with a long video to watch instead of being in the lecture. And so that’s the flip. Instead of doing the lecture in class, you do it online beforehand. But this actually just shifts that non-active part of learning to a time and place where students are often quite disinclined to just sit passively watching a long video.
Students working alone and independently need to be active. [VIDEO PLAYBACK] - The power of all of these activities are that they require students to submit responses. As you will see, this plays a very important part in the process, and provides the link between the pre-class and face-to-face learning, which we consider vital to success with the flipped approach. [END PLAYBACK] And then Scott Hayden uses animation and visuals in his 10-minute video for students where he explains what he means by the aims and the process for the students to work through as they work on their project on creating adverts for new product. [VIDEO PLAYBACK] - You will create an advert project.
You have been asked to create a series of advertisements for a brand new product. Any product, it could be a pair of trainers. It could be a new energy drink. The product and what it is is down to you and your team of no more than three people to decide. [END PLAYBACK] So part of the motivation of the students here is the potential link to work. So giving them these kinds of practical opportunities to find out how best to work in this context is extremely important to them. [VIDEO PLAYBACK] - Our partners at DeskLodge are going to be overseeing this and are keen to take on our students for work experience this year.
They want to see the quality of work that you can produce first, your research skills, and original ideas, and products as well. So on the 11th of October I’m going to be putting forward the ideas, and the best projects, media companies who use the DeskLodge co-sharing creative space, which we will go to on the course, will be asking to take on our students, potentially you if your project shows that you have good research skills, and the ability to come up with ideas to a deadline. [END PLAYBACK] Scott also wants to help students understand the reasons for the practical work set.
For example, for the component design skills that they’re going to need for their project, he illustrates the storyboarding process, and then guides them through what they really have to focus on and attend to. [VIDEO PLAYBACK] - What we need to do most of all is to consider that this is a visualisation process. This is to think about the flow and the mood of your particular projects. It’s really important to me that you try to control the process. And storyboarding, for me, is one of the best ways to do that. Any questions, feel free to speak to me, but this is an overview, an introduction, storyboarding 101, essentially, to give you the ingredients to get you started.
[END PLAYBACK] And in the context of teaching math education trainees, Yasemin Allsop tries to make sure that in the face-to-face sessions as much as online she keeps a good balance in using a range of different digital tools. [VIDEO PLAYBACK] - I also think that we need to balance the ways in which we facilitate their learning using different methods. So I might– I may give them a video to watch prior to the session, and perhaps ask them to answer a question collaboratively on Padlet during an online session, or create a scratch game, or design a web to tools document using Canva collaboratively.
What is important is not allowing online learning to impose barriers to those interactive activities that we were doing in the classroom during our face-to-face sessions. [END PLAYBACK]
Learning through practice is particularly challenging when circumstances mean that students are unable to attend f2f classes and workshops.
The video shows ways of scaffolding students’ work between f2f sessions, so they are better prepared to make the most of them, of guiding students through the skills they need to develop in their independent learning, and the tools we can use to create a good balance of practical work, even when they are learning wholly online.
Digital methods offer a lot of opportunities for teachers to guide and support students online to prepare them for what limited practical work they can do, or to hone relevant skills in a wholly online context. The learning design on Thermoregulation in Downloads shows how a teacher manages a practical class with some students joining in from home.
There is no substitute for the wet lab, or the playing field, or the studio, so wholly online teaching is necessarily limited in what can be taught. But there are still many ways in which digital technologies can support practical learning whether blended or wholly online:
  • Video clips of the expert practice in action to give students a window onto what to aim for – e.g. a voiceover screencast of an experiment, or manipulation, or exercise. The learning design on Fractionating Oil in Downloads shows how a Chemistry lesson can be run for both in class and online students unable to attend.
  • A video of 3 representative students doing the practice with feedback from the teacher, with the other students learning vicariously from their peers’ experience – e.g. a livestream or asynchronous video, with audience chat for Q&A
  • A tutorial to talk through a system or diagram or machine operation, or the principles of practice to prepare students better for their own limited practice opportunities – e.g. a voiceover talk through of the system or diagram.
  • Students working together on aspects of skills such as one-to-one teaching, drama performance, physical performance, communications skills etc., using a rubric for students to offer feedback to each other – e.g. via video-conferencing breakout rooms.
  • Interactive digital simulations or virtual models where students can explore the behaviour of a system by changing input parameters, and test their knowledge by trying to create a specific output – e.g. using a simple Excel model
  • Role-play simulations with advice on roles and how to collaborate or compete on an issue or creating an outcome – e.g. a synchronous online discussion forum, recorded for reflection on the playback.
  • Student videos of their practice for peer and teacher assessment – e.g. using smartphone videos or photos of their practice uploaded to the class site for sharing.
  • Problem-based learning activities for all the non-practical aspects of a practical project, such as planning for the aims, research questions, data collection, and data analysis techniques using given data – e.g. using small group collaboration in video-conferencing rooms with a shared Googledoc.


Discuss the most challenging aspects of creating online methods around a reduced amount of practical activity.
Please share a practical learning problem and your initial idea for a solution
Browse through other posts, and comment on those you find useful.
Have you found any useful digital resources you would recommend to support practical work?
This article is from the free online

Blended and Online Learning Design

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education