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[Talking Ed] Which Blended Learning Model Is Right for You?

[Talking Ed] Which Blended Learning Model Is Right for You?

Deciding to implement blended learning at your school can feel like a massive undertaking full of many decisions to make and points to consider. In this Talking Ed video, you’ll dive deep into the four most common blended learning models with Edmentum Services Program Manager Tony Skauge!

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Video Transcription

Hi, everybody. Welcome to our whiteboard session here today focused on blended learning models and how to choose or select the best one for you and your site. My name is Tony Skauge. I'm the services program manager here at Edmentum. I'm really excited to take you through four of the primary blended learning models that we see when we work with sites both here in the United States and across the globe.

I’ll start with some of the models that we get to look at and we see sites implement on a daily basis with both elementary schools and at a high school level. The four primary models that we see are the rotation model, the a la carte model, the flex model, and the enriched-virtual model.  These titles are coming from the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, which is a fantastic website that I highly recommend you take some time to look at. We worked with sites across the country to go through and help figure out ways to make sure that these different models fit not only their classrooms—educators’ classrooms—and, more importantly, what those students need.

Let's talk about some of the models, how they differ, and some of the ways that you can be benefitted from using this type of model in your classroom. As you're starting to think about how this might look in your classroom or with your students, we'll highlight some of the considerations that you might want to think about as you're starting to plan for it.

1. Rotation Model

I’ll start with one of the models that I see used almost on a daily basis, especially in that elementary and middle school classroom. That would be the rotation model. The rotation model is a terrific model in the sense that there is a tremendous amount of ways to utilize this model in a classroom setting. You don't need to modify an entire schedule to accommodate it.

Benefits of the Rotation Model

Let's walk through some of the benefits. One of the first benefits  is that it's really easy to go through and implement in your day-to-day instruction. I'm sure many of you remember when you were in classes, being in small groups, or stations, as they're called. I remember being in the redbirds or the bluebirds, and you would rotate through these different stations in math, for instance, or in reading, but you can take that model and extrapolate it even further to be used in all of your subject areas.

What's really beneficial about this is that not only can you implement this quickly in your classroom, but you don't need to go through and change your entire schedule to accommodate this, and you don't need to have every single device, such as iPads or Chromebooks, for a student. You could have a small number and have students rotate through those different stations.

Considerations of the Rotation Model

Some of the considerations, though, when you're thinking, “How could I go through and implement this?”—one of the biggest considerations to think about is how do you manage the classroom? How do you, as a teacher, go through and have students work independently while you're at a small table in the back, for instance, working with a smaller group of students? How do you make sure that when those students are away from you, you know that they're working on what they need to be doing? This is where classroom management comes into play.

Good classroom management—and I would almost say excellent classroom management—skills are imperative. It's really crucial to make sure that when you're letting students work independently that you know they're doing what they need to be doing. Getting to see good classroom management skills is obviously not easy. It's something that's practiced. But, doing some modeling and some team teaching can be a great way to model some of those strategies.

Another consideration for the rotation method is to make sure if you have the opportunity to work with or expand some of the blocks of time in your classroom you can. Students really need as much time as they possibly can get with the pros, with the teachers. The more you can facilitate a classroom environment where students get more one-on-one time, the better. Making sure you have blocks of time where students can be successful is crucial.

OK, so the rotation method is a phenomenal way to start using some blended learning models, and it's one method that I see used across the country, and it’s probably one of the oldest blended learning models.

2. A La Carte Model

Next, we’ll move down  and talk a little bit about the a la carte model. A la carte is a slightly different model. What's unique about a la carte, in particular, is that this is where students can go through and take courses or take, in some cases, a full period of instruction almost exclusively virtually. What makes it so unique is that students can go through and take either a portion of their day or a period or two of their day working on content that is almost exclusively virtual.

This is a model that I see a lot inside of high schools. If you are a student who's saying, "Hey, you know what? I'm deficient or short on credits. I want to earn these credits in anticipation of going through and earning my high school diploma. I want to have some other options." This is where sites will do a great job of offering some virtual programming for students to try and recover those credits.

The same hold true if you're a site that says, "Hey, I would love to offer some unique or different types of courses—maybe some language courses or career and technical education courses." The a la carte method is terrific way to give students options or choice.

Benefits of the A La Carte Model

From a  benefits standpoint, there's a lot to go over.. We ran out of whiteboard space, so we put that one there [under flex], but I'll speak to some more of these. It's really easy to implement on a student-by-student basis. You don't need to go through and make this an entirely schoolwide or even districtwide approach. If you have a couple students who have some specific needs—maybe it's a hospital homebound group of students who needs an opportunity to work on courses outside of the traditional classroom—then a la carte method's a terrific way to do it.

Considerations of the A La Carte Model

From a consideration standpoint, this is a big one right here—and, I almost want to star this and double underline it—but students really need to be able to successfully learn in a completely virtual setting. Having the ability to go through and understand what it means to be a virtual learner—how to move through content at a more self-paced environment—is absolutely essential.

What makes this also really unique is that I see a lot of schools and districts across the country trying to implement this model more and more to try to help prepare more 21st century learners. As students move onto a postsecondary education, or even into the workforce, more and more postsecondary schools are going in a virtual setting where they're giving students the opportunity to do online schooling, or you go to an organization that has some online training components. Preparing students to be good 21st century learners—the best way to do that is to give them practice doing that—practice being a 21st century learner. One of the best ways to do that is offer an a la carte or some element of a virtual learning opportunity for students, day in and day out. I'm seeing more and more of this as more and more expectations are being placed on sites around 21st century learning skills, but it's a terrific way to jump into the deep end of blended learning.

3. Flex Model

Let's talk a little bit about flex. The flex model kind of takes the a la carte method almost a step further. In a flex model, you're really thinking about going through and customizing or changing, to a certain extent, students' schedules to accommodate almost a fully personalized learning or fully virtual environment.

Benefits of the Flex Model

In this type of model, you have students who are really having the opportunity to work on courses or entire years of study using a virtual environment only. What's terrific about this is that if you've made a significant investment in devices or giving students opportunities to work on their laptops or devices, the flex model does a great job of utilizing one-to-one tech. It's also a terrific way to go through and facilitate a team-teaching environment that is conducive to success. Giving students an opportunity to have some autonomy or control is really central to a blended learning strategy, giving them the autonomy of choice as they move through content. This is where you can also supplement or augment that student choice with some really unique team-teaching environments that you're going through.

Considerations of the Flex Model

Let's talk about some of the considerations here. Two big ones are space and scheduling. When I have an opportunity to go out and see sites that do a great job of utilizing flex environments or flex blended learning strategies, they really focus on trying to create an environment that is conducive to a student’s ability to not only access that content virtually but also have access to educators and getting to them as quickly as possible.

Let me give you an example. I was at a site recently who implements a flex blended learning model at a really high level. When you walk into their building, it's unique. As you walk into the entryway of their building, you will see that there is a large open area, and at the center of that open area are all the computer workstations. As you walk in, you can select a workstation as a student, and around the outside edge of all those workstations are teachers' desks. You'll have a little section for the math department, you'll have a section for the science department, and you’ll have a section for the Social Studies department. As students are working virtually on their courses, they can stop at any point in time if they have a specific question and go right over to a content expert and say, "You know what? I'm having a hard time, for instance, with polynomials. Can you walk me through this process?"

You can see how it really lends itself to some team-teaching components. That being said, you can also see how space and scheduling modifications become essential to making sure that you have what you need. So, giving students the ability to access the knowledge, not just within the content but also those content-area specialty teachers, is absolutely essential.

This is another big piece right here. Giving learners the ability to take ownership of their learning. I mention that thought process of having student agency or autonomy over the learning process as being so essential and critical to blended learning. You really see that shine through in a flex environment when you have to go through as a student and understand what pace means to move through the course—how do I as a learner understand when I might be struggling or need some additional assistance? Those are skills that 21st century learners need, and those are skills that you can really develop and continue to help students adapt to using this environment.

4. Enriched-Virtual Environment Model

With that being said, let's move to the enriched-virtual environment. This is another terrific way to implement a blended learning strategy, so start thinking about taking the flex model but making it even a little bit deeper. With enriched-virtual model, what we're looking at is that students take that content in almost an exclusively or entirely exclusively online environment. If I'm a student, for instance, and I want to go through and take my entire junior and senior of high school in a virtual setting, I'd be using an enriched-virtual model.

Benefits of the Enriched-Virtual Environment Model

Some of the benefits here are that, obviously, it goes back to the autonomy that students have as they go through and work through their content or schedules, but it is also up to them to make sure they can manage their time effectively. Another big benefit is that educators can reach far more students. They might have a class load of 100 or more students, but they can really isolate, pinpoint, and spend time with those students on their strengths and weaknesses because they know what those are. The data that's received going through online programs or courses in enriched-virtual environment is instant in most cases and, more importantly, it's really accurate and up to date. So, educators have the opportunity to build and develop really meaningful relationships and pinpoint, again, strengths and weaknesses.

Another big benefit is that students still receive face-to-face support. This is not a setting where [students might think], "Hey, you know what? You're in a virtual school. We'll see you in six months. Good luck." In fact, it's the opposite—where you'll have a virtual list of courses you'll work through, but you'll have opportunities to work with your educators in a variety of ways. I was at a site recently where they hold weekly class meetings at a local coffee shop. So, all of the educators come into the coffee shop, and they sit in their respective areas. They have team-teaching opportunities with other educators, and they meet with students one on one. So, it's a great way to continue to foster and develop relationships.

It's also a really good way to go through another benefit that's not listed here. It’s a great way for students who might not fit in the regular education setting for whatever reason. If this wasn’t an appropriate setting for them, but they still really want to continue to achieve their goals, utilizing an enriched-virtual environment is a great way to do it.

Considerations of the Enriched-Virtual Environment Model

If you're a school or a district who's considering opening up a virtual school or really interested in trying to afford more opportunities for your students in an enriched-virtual model, some of the key considerations you have to think about are how you're going to orientate your schedules. How am I going to orientate my schedule not only as a student but also as an educator? How do I prioritize my day? If I'm not getting up and doing direct instruction, what does that look like? How do I build meaningful relationships? Having really specific outcomes and goals for educators about how they're supposed to go through and interact with students is absolutely essential.

The last one here is that it is a complete shift. We're moving away from the traditional stand-and-deliver method of instruction to a much more student-driven component. Keeping that in mind is essential, but also helping educators get from point A to point B, helping them understand what a good virtual—what an excellent virtual—teacher looks like and what are some of those strategies is essential to being successful in an enriched-virtual environment.

There's a lot to cover here. I know we're scratching the surface, but we talked a lot about the key four models that we see: the rotation, the a la carte, the flex, and the enriched virtual. We'll continue to spend more time on this topic as we go forward because it's one that we get asked every day. Thank you so much for taking the time and joining us. We'll see you in future whiteboard sessions.