There is a definite shift taking place in K–12 school districts and classrooms across the country to provide students with a more personalized approach to education. This has led to increased emphasis on providing educators with professional development opportunities that focus on innovative and creative ways to integrate new learning strategies in their classrooms. One of the most popular strategies is the blended learning approach, which is defined by the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation as: “a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online delivery of content and instruction with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace and at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home.”
School district administrators’ foundational knowledge of blended learning and how it can positively impact students varies greatly across the country. That can have tremendous impact on the professional development educators receive on incorporating blended learning best practices into the classroom. Here, I want to talk about three essential aspects of blended learning professional development that school administrators and educators can focus on to successfully leverage more blended learning techniques in their classrooms.
1. Shared Understanding of the Definition of Blended Learning
The cornerstone of a successful blended learning implementation in any district, school, or classroom is a clear and consistent understanding of various blended learning models and how one or more of these models may be implemented with success at your site. This foundational knowledge of blended learning models and the research that supports them should be an essential portion of any professional development program with educators and can help set the stage for future conversations rooted in common understanding.
The Clayton Christensen Instituteis a terrific resource for school leaders who are looking to gain a deeper understanding of blended learning and the various models that can be applied to support student achievement. Facilitating an informed conversation about blended learning models and research can act as a “grounding exercise” in a professional development setting, and can help spark discussion about how one or more models may work in a given grade level or classroom. This guided dialogue gives educators an opportunity to provide their feedback on which models could provide the maximum benefit to their students and allows participating educators to take ownership of the implementation process. Additionally, making this conversation part of a professional development session can help raise and address any critical questions that the staff may have about the shift to a blended learning model. It also helps begin the process of creating a blended learning program plan, including implementation timelines, goals, and metrics for success.
2. Implementing Blended Learning Practices Using Existing Resources
There is a distinct difference between classrooms that simply have a lot of technology in them, and a true blended learning classroom. Highlighting that difference should be an integral part of a blended learning professional development session for educators. Creating meaningful professional development opportunities for educators who are new to the practice of blended learning can be challenging, but time must be spent outfitting them with a variety of techniques, including best practices and time to collaborate with peers in order to make the classroom implementation process successful.
There are several ways to approach the topic of exactly “how” to integrate blended learning in the classroom during a professional development session. Try focusing on these two key themes to help keep everyone focused and on track:
- What We Have with respect to existing technology at the site
- Who We Have on staff who can leverage new ways to support a blended learning implementation with a student-first approach
When addressing the topic of “What We Have,” focus on accessibility, flexibility, and strong content to help everyone see new and creative ways to fully utilize technology in a blended learning model. If a school or grade-level team is only able to purchase a finite amount of workstations or tablets, using a “Lab-Rotation” model based upon flexible student-grouping may be a way to “solve for” the inability to purchase one device for each student. Discuss how important it is to think about ways to maximize the use of available technology across as many grade levels or classrooms as possible. Search out technology and content that is customizable—and focus on training staff how to fully take advantage of that functionality. Customizable tools offer both formative and summative assessment opportunities and provide student data in a variety of ways that will help make the technology more user friendly and help instructors more effectively personalize learning.
As you begin to focus on the topic of “Who We Have,” think about the unique skill sets of each staff member. Who can help drive the adoption of your blended learning initiative, who is enthusiastic and knowledgeable about edtech, and who is great at fostering a collaborative environment across grades and disciplines to continue teaching, encouraging, and empowering educators during the implementation process? Make use of all of these individuals to make your blended learning program a true team effort. Giving educators time to plan for how the practice of blended learning may look in their classrooms and following up that time with opportunities to model and shadow more experienced colleagues can help everyone continue to move from merely a technology-rich environment to a true blended learning classroom.
3. Leveraging Data in the Blended Learning Classroom
One reason that many school districts move to a blended learning approach is for the ability that technology affords educators to collect timely and accurate student data. However, this data can feel overwhelming, so providing strategies for educators to quickly interpret and make informed instructional decisions should be a key aspect of a meaningful blended learning professional development session.
Administrators can help make student data more “actionable” for educators by providing them with additional planning time in grade-level teams or professional learning communities to review existing student data and set new student achievement goals. In the past, educators and administrators often had to wait weeks or months to receive formal student assessment data and then work to aggregate that information to make any needed instructional changes. Thanks to more and more sophisticated technology in the classroom, teachers and administrators can now work as effective teams to anticipate and identify skill deficits among students. Student data can help guide and shape classroom instruction in a matter of days, not weeks or months. Couple that data with a blended learning classroom that provides students with an element of control over the time, pace, path, and possible place, and you have a much more dynamic environment capable of easily adjusting to individual student needs. In addition, setting aside time to review student achievement successes and challenges in a collaborative way will only strengthen a blended learning implementation.