In this series of posts I will focus on ways teachers can implement a blended learning model in their classroom. Each post will delve into related types of resources, with recommendations for implementation and samples of use.
What is Blended Learning?
Blended learning addresses the way most students learn now: through a combination of online tools and tried-and-tested in-class instruction. A blended educational model stands in contrast to models where learning is conducted solely online (through virtual schools and online courses), and models that introduces no online component (and they do exist).
According to Tina Barseghian, writing for KQED Mind/Shift,
Simply stated, blended learning is combining computers with traditional teaching. Knowing that today’s learners are wired at all times, teachers are directing students’ natural online proclivity towards schoolwork. It’s referred to as different things — reverse teaching, flip teaching, backwards classroom, or reverse instruction. But it all means the same thing: students conduct research, watch videos, participate in collaborative online discussions, and so on at home and at school — both in K-12 schools and in colleges and universities.
Blended learning is a purposefully vague descriptor. Instead of indicating a specific ratio of online to in-person instruction, focusing on a “blend” emphasizes the sporadic nature of the model. It can look different from school to school.
Even though most teachers already incorporate a blended model into their instruction (whether they know it or not), it is important to analyze how online resources and web apps are being used. Focusing on the reasons for teaching with a blended model may lead to greater success implementing these online tools.
We can’t afford not to
In many ways, the question teachers should ask is: “how can you not blend?” As Ken Key argues in his forward to 21st Century Skills: Rethinking How Students Learn,
Twenty-first century skills are the ticket to moving up the economic ladder. Without 21st century skills, people are relegated to low-wage, low-skill jobs. Proficiency in 21st century skills is the new civil right for our times (xvii).
If we want our students to succeed, we need to prepare them for the needs of our digital marketplace. Our curricula must address key twenty-first century skills, including an enhanced focus on information, media and technology literacy. (For more details, visit the Partnership for 21st Century Skills.)
Our lives are already blended
Our students already live their lives in a combination of digital and real spaces. Mobile phones are getting so inexpensive and essential that the Pew Research Center estimates that as of 2010:
Some 75% of 12-17 year-olds now own cell phones.
Many parents and students have an expectation of constant contact through mobile devices, and this expectation may clash with school policies about phone use.
Online learning can be ideal for differentiation
More and more schools are looking to incorporate models that focus on student-driven learning. When engaging one-on-one with a virtual instructor, students dictate the pace of their instruction. Many teachers have been able to successfully incorporate online instructional tools such as the Khan Academy and Learnzillion to enhance remediation and basic skills.
Many other teachers are incorporating a flipped classroom model to assign recorded lectures as homework, allowing students more classroom time to work on their skills with enhanced teacher supervision.
Blended learning can potentially save costs by providing unique solutions
Teachers may be able to save costs on materials by using open online resources and learning management systems to create alternatives to textbooks. More and more tools, such as the iBooks Author app, are making it easier for teachers and students to create their own textbook materials from scratch.
Online tools can enhance parent involvement and student buy-in
More and more parents are beginning to expect access to their students’ learning materials online. A consistent school-wide use of online tools such as learning management systems and portals could encourage parents to take a more active role in their students’ education.
These same tools may also motivate students to engage deeper with their learning. Tapping into our students’ love of technology may be an ideal way to enhance the learning process, and drive our students to greater success.
Types of Tools
In future posts I will cover various tools that could be useful to enhance a blended instructional model. These posts will cover:
1 – Tools for Classroom Management:
- Classroom/learning management systems
- Grading systems
- Project management systems
2 – Tools for Research & Supplemental Education:
- Study tools
- Personal learning networks
- Content curation sites
- Digital Portfolios
Three Trends That Define the Future of Teaching and Learning
KQED: Mind/Shift. February 5, 2011.
Teens, Cell Phones and Texting: Text Messaging Becomes Centerpiece Communication
Pew Research Center Publications: Pew Internet & American Life Project. April 20, 2010.
Blended Learning: Combining Face-to-Face and Online Education
Edutopia. April 28, 2011.
A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute
New York Times. October 22, 2011.