Blended Learning: Top 10 FAQs

Friday, December 11, 2015 -- Jasmine Auger

What’s the buzz about blended learning? Whether referred to as blended, mixed, or hybrid learning, this kind of program allows educators and students to take advantage of the connections that face-to-face instruction builds, combined with the convenience, independence, and personalization that online learning provides. So, is a blended learning model right for your school or classroom? Our Virtual Program Manager Tony Skauge has answered the ten most frequently asked questions we receive regarding what blended learning actually is and how to successfully plan and implement an initiative.

1. What research is out there regarding the effectiveness of blended learning in the classroom?

More and more research is being done to help measure the overall effectiveness of blended learning, and that research is working to not only measure student test scores, but also other elements that relate to overall student success. Elements such as graduation rate increases, decreased drop-out rates, and increases in daily attendance are just some of the ways that researchers are working to define the impact of implementing blended learning strategies in the classroom. One great example of this research is a list released by the Clayton Christensen Institute in conjunction with the Evergreen Education Group titled “Proof Points: Blended Learning Success in School Districts.”

2. I want to begin using blended learning strategies within my classroom, where should I start?

Creating a blended learning environment can initially be overwhelming, but using the backward design process to first determine coherent program goals/success metrics is a great place to start. From there, begin by looking at your available technology resources (iPad tablets, Chromebook laptops, etc.), your available space, and which content you anticipate using in your blended learning environment. Once you have established your resources, you can begin looking at which blended learning models may be a good fit for you and your students. Additionally, our Edmentum Services Team can help guide you through the process of creating a blended learning program plan and refine existing blended learning implementations. 

3. Would a blended learning model fit into an “alternative learning” setting?

Alternative learning settings are terrific places to implement blended learning models, and integrating a new learning model can often have a positive impact on student learning outcomes. Of the four common blended learning models, many alternative learning settings that I have worked with utilize either the Flex Model or some combination of an À la Carte and Enriched Virtual Model to help give their students both flexibility and increased access to content. Giving students in an alternative learning setting the ability to control some aspect of pace, place, and time can really serve to empower students who may not have otherwise felt that way in the traditional classroom.

4. Where does student data fit into the picture in a blended learning classroom?

The ability to gather meaningful and accurate student data that you, as an instructor, can easily interpret to make more informed classroom decisions is a key piece of what makes blended learning so effective. Using technology in the classroom affords educators an opportunity to gather and utilize student data in a much more efficient way. Ideally, student data is used to help shape and guide and instruction for both the individual student as well as for the entire class on a daily basis. Blended learning environments are centered around giving students online content/instruction with some element of student control over pace, time, path, and the place in which they which they work. Gathering and using student data is one of the many positive outcomes of implementing this type of instruction in your classroom.

5. How do I implement blended learning in my classroom if I do not have enough computers for all of my students?

There are many different ways to incorporate blended learning strategies within a classroom that has limited access to technology. The ‘Station Rotation’ model, as defined in this Clayton Christensen Institute paper, is a very popular blended learning strategy that does not require each student to have a computer. In this model, ‘students rotate on a fixed schedule between learning online in a self-paced environment and participating in a classroom with a face to- face teacher.’ Even in a classroom with very limited technology, leveraging a blended learning model such as Station Rotation can help educators make the most of the resources they do have.

6. We are trying to decide between purchasing tablets or laptops for our blended learning initiative. Is one better than the other for supporting students in a blended environment?

There is no right or wrong answer to this question; it all depends on the specifics of your unique program. To determine what the best option is for you, spend time with your colleagues thinking about how the tool will be used within your learning environment. If you anticipate having students do a significant amount of writing in your blended learning classroom, laptops may be the way to go. Alternatively, if you are most focused on portability and ease of use, you may want to consider tablets. Focusing on how you want to use the tool in your classroom should help you settle on a tool that both fits you and your students’ needs and expectations.

7. Which Edmentum-based solutions fit best in a blended-learning environment?

Part of what makes blended learning such an effective instructional practice is the flexibility it offers teachers in the classroom. This being the case, all of Edmentum’s solutions, including Plato Courseware, Study Island, ESL Reading Smart, Edmentum Assessments, and EducationCity, can easily fit into a variety of blended learning models. From online content delivery to interactive practice activities, our solutions can support teachers in building and maintaining a variety of successful blended learning environments.

8. What is the most common blended learning implementation model that school districts utilize?

This is a question that I get quite frequently, and I always recommend that educators keep in mind that each implementation is unique. That said, I do see more elementary and middle school blended learning implementations focus on Rotational models such as Station Rotation and Lab Rotation, while high schools tend to use a different Rotational model, Flipped Classroom, and the À la Carte model. Institutions that are doing a great job of implementing blended learning models and strategies have all taken the time to focus on program planning and to set goals and metrics for the initiative as a whole prior to rolling out the full implementation.

9. We are beginning to implement a Flex model of instruction at our site and are offering students the ability to take online courses for the first time. What tips or tricks do you have for instructors as they begin to support students?

I would begin by recommending that all of your instructors are fully trained on the platform(s) that they are helping to support, as training will serve to not only familiarize them with the technology but also give them much-needed confidence when working with students. I would also recommend that you help your instructors set expectations for progress monitoring within the courses. In my experience, instructors who regularly communicate with students regarding their progress in online coursework see much more student success and can act as a guide and even as a cheerleader for students as they move through their courses. Meeting weekly, or even daily, with your students in online courses can also have a tremendous effect on overall student success.

10. My teachers do not have a lot of time to work as teams, and I am hoping that implementing blended learning strategies may help. What strategies do you suggest using to give my instructors more time to work as a collaborative group?

This is a great question, and I feel that instructor collaboration is a crucial aspect to overall classroom success. One site in particular that I have worked with that had excellent instructor communication and collaboration utilized the Lab Rotation model to support its middle and high school students. This model allows for instructors to focus on their specific skill sets (i.e., algebra, science, etc.) and still operate as a part of the larger “student success team” to ensure that students are making progress. Instructors would have time set aside each week to work across disciplines to reinforce common themes and share data derived from their online-learning platform to make both individual and grade-level instructional decisions. Implementing this Lab Rotation model really allowed for instructors to collaborate in new and creative ways that ultimately led to further student success.

Edmentum is proud to provide a variety of online solutions to individualize instruction, proven to achieve results. Want to learn more? Find out about Blended Learning with Edmentum or check out Vincennes Community School Corporation’s outstanding success with blended learning