As the field of education braces unpredictable shifts amid school reopening, how to ensure the quality of classroom experiences for both instructors and students has become a global challenge. In a recently published pilot study, researchers of China, the US, Spain, and South Africa set out to explore a hybrid learning dynamic, Online-Merge-Offline (OMO), that offers flexibility and promotes collaborations in the face of uncertain circumstances. With a two-stage qualitative project investigating the application of OMO learning in China, scholars foreground promising findings that may open the door to an innovative digital solution for a sustainable future of education.
What Is OMO Learning?
The OMO approach creates a simultaneously shared learning space for both online and offline students with the goal of providing “authentic and innovative learning experiences”. More specifically, the new hybrid learning method builds on a well-rounded classroom ecosystem with the support of infrastructure, technology, and open educational practices. As opposed to a simple technical fix that connects online and offline spaces, the OMO approach prioritizes pedagogical considerations and classroom communication in an effort to deliver efficient learning outcomes.
Creating an OMO Learning Space - ClassIn X as an Example
To design hybrid classrooms with a high degree of flexibility, an OMO learning space operates based on a smart tool, in this case ClassIn X. In their study, Huang et al. highlight several crucial functions of the technology in facilitating OMO education – ClassIn X enables interactive activities, an online database of open educational resources, virtual breakout rooms, and classroom management mechanisms. Working together, these digital affordances not only ensure in-sync access to the class, but they also encourage interactions by all participants.
Classroom infrastructure in an OMO learning space also revolves around the use of ClassIn X. Researchers have outlined concrete requirements for hardware, ranging from stable internet connection to interactive screens and sound equipment. In the meantime, even with advanced technology and electronics in place, the question remains: how can educators successfully apply OMO learning to real-life classrooms?
What Is It Like to Teach and Learn with the OMO Approach?
Moving from theory to practice, scholars set their eyes on the adoption of OMO education in post-pandemic China, where a few public schools and universities have incorporated this new hybrid learning method into everyday classes. A sample of 10 teachers and 20 undergraduate students participated in written interviews after three months of OMO education experience in English language courses. They report overall positive and hopeful views of the approach and shed light on what they think are vital for successful implementation of OMO education.
The majority of interviewees believe that the classroom setup improves their learning experience by promoting communication and expanding access. One student describes the convenience that comes with on-site facilities that “we can quickly respond to teachers and communicate with classmates offline and online”. More importantly, what transforms the classroom experience as we know it is open and flexible access to resources. Besides providing safe yet quality schooling in a pandemic, through OMO learning, students are empowered with extensive access to multiple educational sources as well as the option to contribute to teaching materials and share resources with their peers. Therefore, as researchers observe, “the learning process becomes more student-centered”.
Likewise, many teachers enjoy strengthened connections with their students and technology-enabled possibility to synchronize their courses to reach more classrooms. A few teachers also draw our attention to the feature of data collection and analysis, which informs pedagogies as classes go on. At the same time, instructors recognize greater efforts on their parts to realize the full potential of OMO learning. As with any new technologies, it takes some practice to gain proficiency and familiarity. Particularly with the realm of education, while OMO learning lifts the burden of having to design in-person and online syllabi separately, teachers need to be mindful with activities and assignments to maintain balanced interactions between students in both spaces.
How would OMO Learning Impact Education in the Post-Pandemic Era?
Based on its proven feasibility, researchers acknowledge the OMO approach as “a long-term, sustainable implementation to ensure effective education, learner performance, and teacher engagement”. Especially, they advocate for flexibility without compromised quality in education, something OMO has brought into reality against the odds of a pandemic.
Looking to the future, scholars put forth suggestions for further investigation into key components of OMO to enhance the learning experience. In terms of facilities, Huang et al. believe there is still work to be done in identifying the most suitable hardware that can best complement an OMO education space. And for educators, it is important to equip them with interactive resources as well as technical trainings.
Overall, with the support of a comprehensive framework and real-life implementation, OMO learning presents bright prospects for a new mode of learning, where education is characterized by openness and flexibility without the limitation of time and space.
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*ClassIn is a leading edtech company that provides a one-stop solution for digital learning.
ClassIn software enables interactive classrooms, in-school social app, lesson scheduling, homework management, and school management dashboard, which start free and scale up to meet our customers' needs at any stage of teaching. Today, thousands of schools and institutions around the world benefit from ClassIn's powerful and easy-to-use tools to teach online and offline.