Thursday, August 14, 2014

Blended Learning

Educators are constantly working on their craft. In our field, new ideas, strategies and best practices are consistently developed and shared in an effort to continually improve the teaching and learning process. One of the instructional strategies at the forefront of the educational conversation today is blended learning. Blended learning combines online learning with traditional classroom instruction. Most often, this means teachers will share content such as small, targeted segments of videos or screencasts online for students to access when, where and how they desire. Class time can then be spent working through student questions rather than sitting through classroom lectures. Students are able to take control and personalize their learning.

Time and targeted professional development is required in order for teachers to feel comfortable with this model. In my experience, the biggest hurdle teachers must overcome is simply the lack of confidence to get started. Newton told us that an object at rest tends to stay at rest. It takes effort to overcome inertia. Support and encouragement for teachers who are reluctant to try new things or to take a risk is critical. 
Blended learning can benefit the child who needs more time to review the day’s lesson. She can access the content as many times as necessary. Accelerated students can quickly move through the lesson and then go beyond to explore and consider new questions and further applications. Blended learning promotes classroom differentiation (individualized learning) – another powerful teaching strategy.

Blended learning is often more engaging than traditional lecture.  The online platform allows teachers to embed pictures, videos and resources which make the instruction more interesting. Online discussions and the use of online tools to engage in conversation with teachers and other students build community and interaction that is difficult to have in traditional classrooms. Shy, quiet students now engage more actively.

Time and money (not to mention the environment!) are also saved since assignments, notes, articles and resources can be posted to the online platform. The need to print is reduced or eliminated.

This model is helpful for the student athlete or thespian that often misses part of the school day because of away games, performances or competitions. The student who has a doctor’s appointment or an illness is also able to catch up when he begins to feel better. Teachers who have mastered this model of instruction are well equipped to teach electronically when their school is closed unexpectedly.  Say goodbye to snow days as we have known them. At the same time, say goodbye to make-up days.

I believe that the greatest benefits involve the students and their ability to optimally focus and learn at school. Students deal with issues on a daily basis and it is impossible to learn when they are experiencing anxiety, have had little sleep or are consumed by something that happened in the hallway or even at home before they came to school. The ability to learn without typical adolescent distractions is a significant benefit of blended classrooms. Blended learning strategies enable the teacher to meet students where they are and offer multi-faceted, rigorous learning experiences that continually foster a passion for learning.