Blended and Online Distance Learning in Indonesian Higher Education: A Systems Perspective


 Dewi Wahyu Mustikasari, Keith Heggart


This study investigated the external factors that influenced teachers' design processes during the adoption of blended learning (before COVID-19) and online distance learning (during COVID-19) in higher education settings. This study sought to understand the relationship between university leaders, educators, and other actors inside and outside university contexts through a systems perspective. A multiple case study design was employed, and eight Indonesian university English teachers (IUETs) were voluntarily recruited to participate. The findings showed that the institutional support services and tools influence teacher design practices during the adoption of both modes of learning. Activity theory was used as a conceptual framework to explore the common pitfalls that disconnected the roles of university leadership, institutional policy and units, and actors within the broader higher education system.
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Blended learning has been chosen as an institution-based approach to accommodate students with technology-integrated learning in some universities involved in this study. The Indonesian government has mandated that universities shift to an online distance learning mode, a terminology used for online learning to deliver teaching and learning processes remotely during the pandemic in 2020. Later in this chapter, an online distance learning approach will also be called emergency remote learning (Green et al., 2020).

This chapter discusses the interconnected roles of actors in the university ecosystem and how these roles either supported or hindered the adoption of blended and online distance learning for English language teachers. It seeks to find common ground between activity theory's focus on human activity as a socially situated phenomenon (Engestrom, 1999) and the holistic and self-organising nature of systems thinking (Arnold & Wade, 2015). One feature of systems thinking is that systems possess a continuous feedback loop (Monat & Gannon, 2015). This feature can be used to improve each system element and, thus, the system as a whole. However, a clearer understanding of the actors themselves and their interactions is required to use the feedback loop. Activity Theory (Engeström, 2001) provides a framework to understand each system element and how they interact comprehensively. It is possible to visualise connections between each element in a complex system and recognise obstacles and solutions experienced by the element and those between the elements in the system. Adopting different learning modalities in a university setting, especially during a crisis such as COVID-19, relies on a complex interaction between various elements; there is more to consider than teachers' pedagogical decisions! By examining this complex system through the lens of Activity Theory, it is possible to arrive at a deeper understanding of how these elements influenced each other and ultimately determined the success or failure of blended or online learning at specific institutions.

Several rationales of this study are described as follows. Blended and online learning have been practised for at least two decades in Western countries, but adoption has been slower in developing countries (Farooq et al., 2012; Priyatno, 2017). Universities and other higher education institutions in Indonesia have recently started experimenting and trialling blended learning modalities in diverse disciplines (Dewi, 2014; Dwiyogo, 2018; Irawan et al., 2017; Kristanto, 2017; Mulyadi et al., 2020; Priyatno, 2017; Sulisworo et al., 2016). These trials were made more challenging and urgent due to the unprecedented global health crisis caused by COVID-19 in 2020-2022. Indonesian teachers (like their counterparts in other countries) were required to move much of their teaching from blended or face-to-face to entirely online to ensure that instruction continued while also seeking to minimise the opportunity for the virus to spread.

The study described in this chapter shows that this change in modality relied upon more than just teachers’ pedagogical decisions or learning designs. While that was an important part, other factors either assisted or hindered the success of the shift in modality. This paper highlights the different elements of university organisation and administration and their effects on the quality of the teaching and learning experience for teachers and students. In particular, misalignment between institutional leaders and educators, the efficacy of different support forms, and individual practitioners' resilience were exposed during the pandemic. While many universities and higher education institutions are returning to normality, essential lessons to be learned from this experience might have enduring consequences on how Indonesian higher education institutions are structured and how the different elements within these systems relate.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Blended Learning: Teaching and learning processes that comprise face-to-face and online sessions. A face-to-face session can be delivered in a classroom setting, whereas an online session can be delivered via e-learning, mobile learning, and social media applications.

Online Distance Learning: A term in the study used by the Indonesian government for teaching and learning processes that comprise online learning remotely during the pandemic in 2020.

Emergency Remote Learning: Teaching and learning processes that shift from face-to-face or blended learning mode and adopt online learning formats during the pandemic in 2020. It is categorised as emergency learning because the pandemic has caused anxiety for teachers and students to recognise the unknown circumstances of the future ahead. However, this approach must be provided to accommodate students with education.

Learning Designs: Various ways to design technology used for student learning experiences that include sequences of types of activities and interactions at the level of a subject or subject component.

Distance Education: Teaching and learning processes in the online space that are offered in distance education BA and MA degrees via remote learning coursework programs.

Online Learning: Teaching and learning processes that combine synchronous and asynchronous learning activities supported by technological tools. It is delivered in the online space. Students do not require to attend in person. However, online learning as a part of online courses is not offered in distance education programs.

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