[ISTE 2016] Defining & Implementing Blended Learning

Friday, June 24, 2016 -- Mark Radcliffe

At this year’s ISTE Conference & Expo, I’m looking forward to another great opportunity to talk to educators about blended learning. It’s been nearly 15 years since I gave my first presentation on blended learning. Back in those days, we were all pretty naïve about what blended learning was. The school district I was working in had just received a federal technology grant that required us to increase our use of technology. As a young district-level administrator, I was enthusiastic about this development and spent plenty of time online researching the buzz phrase “technology integration.”

This was in 2001–02, and the district I was working in served a rural region of Pennsylvania. I was new to the area and new to education. I had to learn a lot quickly, and I continued my lifelong pursuit of making it up as I go along. Once I grew familiar with the district and its schools, I rapidly learned that good teaching was good teaching; my job as a technology integrator was to make teachers’ lives easier and also improve student performance. Now, working for Edmentum, I offer blended learning consulting services to schools across the West Coast, but my goal remains the same.

My main takeaway from the computer science courses I took in college was that these machines are great at doing boring tasks efficiently. This became core to my strategy of integrating technology into classrooms. The more tasks I could automate with technology, the more teachers’ lives improved, and the easier it became for them to implement more advanced teaching strategies. Every test teachers don’t have to grade is more time they can spend one on one with students or analyzing formative assessment data.

As the years have progressed, technology has improved dramatically. A shift away from technology integration to true personalized learning is underway. We’re not putting the odd test online or just using a digital whiteboard to present digital slides; we are leveraging technology to meet the unique needs of each student. When I observe blended learning now, I see teachers using their talents. Instead of repeating lectures over and over again and then grading tests, they are analyzing data, tutoring students, and designing meaningful, student-driven projects.

Blended learning is essentially about leveraging technology to allow us to “customize for the masses.” With the sheer number of students schools must serve, the only way learners can be provided with the flexibility they require is by arming educators with deep knowledge of students’ needs. Then, the key is to simply empower educators to do what they do best—engage their classrooms and individual students.

Since starting my own blended learning journey, I’ve moved from working in single classrooms to directing multistate programs, but I’ve always tried to stay as close to teachers as possible. I’ve found that blended learning is truly successful when schools plan for and support the idea of teachers’ ability driving success. Administrators who have created sustained implementation plans and used innovation theory to spread ideas are now seeing dramatic improvements in student success.

At ISTE this year, I will be talking with Tony Skauge, Edmentum’s Services Program Manager, about what blended learning is and how it can be implemented. Between the two of us, we have seen tens of thousands of students benefiting from the truly customized learning that blended programs can enable. We’ve seen increases in graduation rates, students earning college credit in high school, and students eagerly waiting in line to learn. We hope you can join us at Edmentum’s booth #2316 for an open discussion of how blended learning can benefit your students and take away some solid ideas to increase success in your own programs!