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Blended Learning: Engaging 21st Century Students

Wednesday, September 16, 2015 -- Winnie O'Leary

What Is Blended Learning?

The term blended learning has become a hot topic in the education world, but what does it actually mean? And how does it affect a typical classroom teacher?

The Clayton Christensen Institute  defines blended learning 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.”

The practical application is a bit more complicated than you may think. At its core, blended learning is about rethinking how a classroom is structured, how time is used, and how resources are allocated. It involves combining various approaches to instruction with the use of educational technology. The Online Learning Consortium defines hybrid courses as those that “integrate online with traditional face-to-face class activities in a planned, pedagogically valuable manner.”

In blended learning, technology is used to serve multiple learning styles or needs, engage learners, prepare students for life after school, and bring the brick-and-mortar classroom into the 21st century. Classroom teachers have sought similar goals for years and have been incorporating resources to achieve the same outcomes. With the advent of technology and the ease of access that it affords, the unique environment for blended learning can be more easily and successfully created. We now are offering names for the various models, such as rotation, flex, self-blend, enriched-virtual, and subcategories of these. Whether referred to as blended, hybrid, or mixed learning, this type of education is a process where technology and instruction inform each other as a complementary approach.

Why Blended Learning?

For decades, a traditional classroom has involved one teacher for ten or more students, and by necessity, teachers are limited in how much time they can spend with each student one on one. The model has been limited by sheer numbers up to this point. The pace of instruction must continue at an average speed. Teachers have been teaching to the middle, which can be too fast for some learners and too slow for others. In a traditional classroom, it can be difficult for teachers to determine exactly how well each student knows a particular concept because they are responsible for so many students and so many concepts. Now, technology is available to support teachers and allow them to individualize instruction. Programs can gather data, engage students, and maintain instruction while the teacher facilitates and provides one-to-one support for unique learning styles. Teachers are vital to the success of our students, and as technology evolves, it should be used to support them and their learners. 

The ever-changing world of technology and ever-increasing demand for technological skills makes it clear that it’s time for educators to evaluate their role in the classroom and determine if their curriculum is designed to help students become successful in this environment. As the delivery of content shifts from the teacher to a wide variety of online and traditional media sources, many teachers feel like their role is diminishing. But, in fact, it is quite the opposite; the role of the teacher is more critical to student success than ever before! The role of an educator in the 21st century is to guide students in dealing with massive amounts of content, to develop the skills and understanding necessary to use technology as an effective tool in a responsible manner, and to assist students with developing their personal learning styles.

Blended learning can enhance both student engagement and teacher efficiency. While it may require more instructional attention, the time can be made up easily with clearer data, expansive instruction, and unique teaching opportunities. When you invest time into creating a blended learning atmosphere, the payoff is a highly engaging classroom that promotes student interest and learning.

Through the integration of educational technology tools, content can be available for student learning on a 24/7 basis, individual needs and learning styles can be addressed more effectively, and learners become more accountable for their own education.

What Should I Keep in Mind?

We must remember that blended learning is unlikely to magically result in better learning; more likely, it will offer enhanced opportunities for individual students as they need it. Blended learning is scalable and complementary to traditional classroom instruction. It allows teachers to reach students in ways never before possible. However, for it to work, educators must not consider blended learning or technology solely for the sake of it as a tool. They must take care in the design process and choose content that best corresponds with students’ needs and their teaching style. Taking the time to discover content that seamlessly merges with classroom routine will mitigate risks and will help avoid costly mistakes—both in student time and precious school budgets.

Success is in the implementation. Blended learning thrives in a good classroom, making it great, but it can also take a bad classroom and make it terrible. Implement your program and process with care, and with eyes wide open. Be prepared to accept and embrace change; even a great plan won’t work for every child. So, plan ahead, and feel free to disrupt the classroom!

Interested in finding out about how Edmentum can help extend learning in your school or district beyond the traditional classroom? Read more about our blended learning solutions here! You can also check out this quick 10-minute on-demand webinar for practical strategies to start incorporating blended learning with a rotation model into your classroom curriculum!