The spring of 2020 thrust almost every direction of education into a sudden switch from in-person instruction to distance learning. I use the term “distance learning” very lightly as what has been deemed “crisis learning” is not interchangeable with what is considered true distance learning.
A true model of distance learning has an extreme amount of intentional planning, best practices, and specific execution. The spring 2020 model did not have any of these.
In a model with truly no best practices, every teacher just tried to do the best they could with what they had at their disposal.
Warriors. Every single one of them.
However, with so many questions unanswered about the safety and stability of returning to a new normal in the classroom, most schools are discussing the option of blended learning moving into the 2020-2021 school year.
While this is the best possible option, will school districts prepare all for true blended learning or just a “crisis learning” model that includes instruction both within and outside of the classroom?
What does blended learning mean?
On a basic level, most people understand that blended learning means a mix of instruction both inside the classroom and out. This includes a model that is technology infused. While schools have had computer labs since the 1990s and have relied on the internet for some time, there hasn’t actually been a “blend” of instruction that gives students both control and choice when it comes to their learning.
It might seem strange after decades of education to hear the necessity of giving students control and choice in their learning. However, with Generation Z in the classroom, also known as the “YouTube Generation”, it is absolutely imperative to be amending our schools with the times that make certain that this youngest generation of learners is being reached on the level that suits them best.
Therefore, the model of true blended learning gives an element of learning online, not just the completion of assignments. There is actual instruction taking place at the pace of the individual student. A technology-rich lesson may use technology, but all students are expected to work on the same assignment in the same way. When the lesson is truly blended, they determine how, where, and when they dive in.
Without this very specific element, there is no differentiation from in-class, direct instruction. Blended learning is not just using tech tools outside of the classroom but giving the student individualized freedom to not just learn content, but to also develop personalized mannerisms to instruction.
Helping with Differentiation for Students
We know we are told that we need to differentiate for all students. This is a great way to have that happen. Students can work on their learning goals and needs at their own pace. They can pause, refresh, and move quickly through content as is appropriate for their own needs. They might find that they learn better in the morning or perhaps in the evening. Maybe there is a certain way they want to investigate a topic. There are several variables that can be considered that are personalized to the student and do not affect their overall outcomes in terms of what is the teacher’s concern.
This helps immensely when there is instruction in the brick and mortar classroom. By having them complete specific learning objectives at home using the blended learning model, it gives more time for deeper analysis, hands-on instruction, and other such intricacies when together in the classroom.
The key element of the Blended Learning Classroom
The key element of the blended learning approach is that both the in-class activities and out-of-class assignments work together and integrate to move the curriculum further. This goes beyond traditional homework. With a traditional model, homework is assigned to merely reinforce what is done in the classroom. There has been a lot of research in the past several years that actually question whether or not this specific model of homework is effective at all.
The key to this is to be certain that there are data points that can be tracked during the out-of-classroom assignments. This way not only can a teacher prepare for in-class activities based on that data, but it is easy for them to track progress and help steer each student in the direction that they needed to be headed.
How does blended learning work?
There is a defined difference between a technology-rich model and a truly blended learning environment.
This is most likely where schools will struggle without the proper training.
Technology-rich activities have all students using technology to complete assignments that could just as easily be done in a whole-class instructional model. This is not a blended learning classroom. While there are benefits to introducing this generation to different tech-tools, it is not actually changing instruction.
Again, for it to be a truly blended learning environment, there needs to be a specific element of student control over his or her learning and a level of differentiation and personalization for each one.
Why blended learning? By using the blended learning model effectively, student achievement will improve. It will be easier for the instructor to work with students individually. Whereas with a traditional, teacher-led model there is only time for concentration on the classroom as a whole and helping the students who need individual attention as needed, this allows the teacher to work with each and every student, breaking down information or challenging the student more as needed.
This will ebb and flow with each student and being able to have those one-to-one connections will help their educational needs. Imagine a high school teacher being able to effectively work with 150 students on an individual level based on the student’s individual needs. This is the model that can help that to happen without an increase in teacher stress.
Are you prepared for blended learning?
Most teachers are going to just give assignments to be completed at home. Not only is this not blended learning, but it is going to add an exorbitant amount of stress to the teachers trying to manage it all.
Don’t do that.
The absolute best part about preparing for a blended learning classroom? Even if school is 100% in the classroom (or frankly is still 100% online), you can use 100% of your blended learning lesson plans in the classroom. Can you say that confidently about your traditional lessons?
In closing, DON’T make attempting a blended model more stressful than it has to be. Your sanity will thank you for it!
Below is an abbreviated version of the Blended Learning 101 video series we ran during summer 2020. Please feel free to take a look.