Monday, February 22, 2016

What is Blended Learning? (Part 1 of 6)

When I first started in my role as a Technology Integration Specialist four years ago, I was introduced to the concept of the Flipped Classroom and shortly after, Blended Learning. What I heard and read about each of these ideas piqued my interest and I had to know more. Subsequently, as more teachers and administrators within our district heard about the possibilities with Blended Learning, we began exploring what this model might look like in our classrooms. This six-part series will discuss what we have found Blended Learning to be and lays the foundation for Blended Learning that we use to train our teachers. 

Perhaps you have heard the new catchphrase in education, Blended Learning. Education is no stranger to catchphrases or pendulum swings, the same concepts creep up year after year as something new. Well, I believe blended learning is something different from the new kid on the block or that reimagined technique from days past. I believe we are at the beginning stages of a new age in education, and blended learning is the model that fits this age. So, what is this new model? What is Blended Learning, really?

A number of definitions have surfaced as educators have struggled to understand what blended learning is or how it manifests itself in our classrooms. However, a frontrunner has shown itself as the champion in this struggle. This definition was developed by the Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.

The definition of blended learning is a formal education program in which a student learns:
    • at least in part through online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace;
    • at least in part in a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home;
    • and the modalities along each student’s learning path within a course or subject are connected to provide an integrated learning experience.

For an example of what blended learning may look like, take a few minutes to view this video, also from the Institute. (This video is a wonderful overview and a fantastic conversation starter. It is not all encompassing, simply a beginning to build understanding.)

What did we see in the video? 

I see a classroom and school that combines the best techniques from both online and traditional learning. Many times the idea surfaces of students setting the pace of their learning, thereby bringing a sense of personalization. Collaboration among students appears to be high on the list of must do’s. And finally, I see, not only the concept of data-driven instruction but that of data-driven learning. Empowering our students to know what they know and to focus on closing the gaps in their understanding just makes the educator in me drool. I want this for my classroom!

I have watched this video on several occasions and openly discussed with teachers those concepts that bring joy and excitement and those concepts that bring pause, uncertainty, and at times even fear. Blended Learning, for many, represents this body of uncharted water that appears to shift and transform as concepts crest and fall. Though the technology we use may change and evolve, I believe the concepts of blended learning provide for us a solid foundation with which to construct the learning for our students. And, by applying this foundation and holding fast to its principles, uncertainty and fear melt away.

As I watched this video, yet again, in preparation for this article, I decided that I wanted to “see” what my notes looked like as a word cloud. (Word clouds are a great way to visualize concepts from a body of text.) Below is the word cloud generated from my notes. Simple as it is, this cloud shows me that student learning through a shift in instruction is the primary focus of blending learning. Hence, why we do not call it blended teaching. (That would just be silly and would miss the whole point in what we are trying to accomplish.) The FOCUS is on LEARNING.

If that last statement is true, then I believe we, as educators, need to spend more time developing our understanding of learning. If we can better understand the brain and how learning works, then we can help empower our students to take hold of their own learning. I recommend looking for resources on learning and the brain and digging in. I recently finished the book Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel. I would not consider this the definitive work on learning; however, it does provide a great foundation for understanding how learning works. Through its use of anecdotes and examples, this text is an easy, enjoyable, and thought-provoking read.

So what about technology? What does technology have to do with blended learning in the classroom?

As I have stated, the most significant impact of blended learning is its effect on student learning. Technology is the tool that gives us the ability to be effective and efficient in reaching that goal. Does that mean our students are always on the computer or another device? Absolutely not! As with any tool or technique within the classroom, if it does not further the learning, DO NOT use it. However, by making proper use of technology, learning and teaching can make better use of time, meaning more time can be freed up to work individually, one on one, and in small groups. Technology also allows students to interact with content and concepts to create and explore in ways previously unavailable. The creative use of technology helps students make connections between concepts that aid in transferring that knowledge into long-term memory. 

Finally, every teacher I have met that has taken the time to grow their classes or classroom into Blended Learning has expressed a new excitement about teaching and learning. They have gushed about the engagement level of their students rising. They beam when speaking about the depth of understanding they have gained about their students’ learning and the strong student/teacher relationships in learning that have developed. Be mindful, that I did say these teachers have “grown” into blended learning. This is a new way of teaching. Implementation does not take place overnight. It is a process. However, it is worth the time and the effort for both you and your learners.

To recap, Blended Learning is…
  • New and Lasting
  • The Best of Online and Traditional Teaching
  • Student Control over Time, Place, Path, and/or Pace
  • Collaborative
  • All about the Learning
  • Access to Technology to be Effective, Efficient, and Creative
  • A Growth Experience
  • Exciting and Scary
  • Totally worth it!

In my next article, we will talk about “What Blended Learning is Not.”




The Christensen Institute for Disruptive Learning, Blended Learning

What is Blended Learning?

Word Clouds, Google Search

Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Paul for this. I've been looking at clarifying a good definition. The Institute video was helpful.