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[Digital Learning Day] Embracing the Shift Toward Online and Blended Learning

Friday, March 13, 2015 -- Winnie O'Leary

What is your definition of a digital world? When you hear talk about “online learning,” what do you think it means? What can you contribute to the conversation? Ask most educators, parents, and policymakers, and they will say that online learning refers to remote instruction and learning. They think solely about circumstances where the teacher and students are not in the same location. However, online learning is not just one thing

Thanks to technology, content can be available for student learning on a 24/7 basis. Individual needs and learning styles can be addressed more successfully, and learners become more responsible and accountable for their own education. Blended learning is an approach that can be used to engage students while extending the school day or bridging the gap between home and school. The confines of the brick-and-mortar classroom disappear when virtual content provides instruction anytime, anywhere. Students begin to develop and expand on their personal learning networks online and advance lifelong learning habits.

This Digital Learning Day, let’s look at virtual learning through the eyes of a classroom teacher. We’ll apply what we know of gaming, digital natives, and changing technology to think about how the learning process is changing and how teaching practices must evolve to meet the needs of today’s unique learners.

As content delivery shifts from educators to a wide variety of sources, many teachers feel like their roles are diminishing. This is far from the truth; in fact, the role of the teacher is more critical to a student’s success now than ever before. The role of a 21st century educator is to guide students in navigating and interpreting massive amounts of content and to help them develop the skills to use technology effectively and responsibly. Teachers need to support students in understanding and developing their personal learning styles and actively employ them in a technology-rich classroom.

So, let’s start by reviewing the models for online learning.

  • In Rotation Models, the student alternates between face-to-face conventional classroom learning and guided computer learning, giving the teacher flexibility to incorporate digital instruction in a vast array of ways.
  • The Flex Model is preferred in high schools where a digital curriculum comprising projects and online tutoring allows students to work independently and at their own pace in their own space.
  • The Self-Blend Model is described by The Christensen Institute as a situation where students choose additional online courses to supplement their school curriculum in order to gain credit or recover a missed credit.
  • And finally, the Enriched-Virtual Model, where an entire course or class is taken online with occasional face-to-face meetings with the teacher. 

Classroom centers (station rotation), flipped classrooms, computer labs, and individual rotation models are sub-models that provide more opportunities for the station rotation model to be implemented and expand the role of technology in students’ day-to-day academics. 

Teachers have no choice but to find a way to capitalize on the technology that students are using every day. Every school is a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) school whether you call them that or not. Students shouldn’t have to power down their devices when they walk into a classroom. Blended learning is about finding ways for students to use their technology productively in order to enhance their access to content, use of content, and ultimately, application of that content in multiple areas of their lives. 

Crossing the digital divide in a blended learning classroom can facilitate:

  • A deeply centered learning experience
  • More confident and safer digital learners
  • Support for standards of higher-order thinking skills
  • Data-driven personalized learning 

Consider a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) classroom. It starts with the premise of solving in “intellectually messy” learning situations, where content overlaps and students must rely on their knowledge of multiple subject areas to approach new information. A STEM classroom might pose a question, situation, or problem and require students to do original research inspired by a class-wide inquiry project. Students would have to use technology to gather and analyze data, design, test, and improve upon a proposed solution and then communicate their findings. 

Understanding the available resources is a part of such a process. In STEM classrooms, the teacher does not need to know everything about what students must discover or how the project will evolve. Instead, the teacher needs to provide a framework that allows students to grow. 

The teacher acts as a facilitator of opportunities for students to hypothesize, experiment, analyze, and present. Opportunities to use technology are imbedded within this process and offer students the ability to strengthen their research using online resources and work on content outside of the brick-and-mortar classroom.  

Teaching has never been a simple task. With the rise of online and blended learning, teachers must learn to navigate new models and strategies as classroom emphasis shifts from merely imparting knowledge to truly facilitating student learning. When better to explore this shift than on Digital Learning Day?

Edmentum is dedicated to being at the forefront of technology and learning solutions. Want to learn more about how we can be a part of your online and blended learning initiatives? Take a look at our solutions overview!