Technology has transformed the ways that teachers and students interact, and is continuing to evolve the learning process. Blended learning is an tech-driven education technique that leverages both in-person and online experiences to personalize and strengthen the learning experiences.
Here’s what teachers should know about blended learning, plus how different models can work for your classroom.
What is Blended Learning?
Blended learning is a broad category often used to describe a variety of internet learning techniques. Still, most educators understand blended learning to include portions of both online and in-person learning, says Paula McNamee at LearnUpon. While the online learning component provides opportunities for students to direct their own learning, instructor-led learning in class or through webinars helps them engage meaningfully with that material.
Similar parameters are defined by the learning management company Mindflash. They agree that blended learning requires a combination of structured classroom time and online learning time. Additionally, the team at Mindflash says blended learning uses classroom time differently than ordinary teaching methods. Rather than using college classroom time to deliver lectures, for example, the blended learning approach is more likely to use it “for structured exercises that emphasize the application of the curriculum to solve problems or work through tasks.”
An important point to make about blended learning is that it isn’t just using computers or tablets during school. Rather, it’s an intentional, instructional shift towards web-based instruction, explained Clifford Maxwell of the Christensen Institute’s Blended Learning Universe. This deliberate shift is what enables students to take ownership of their own education in a blended learning environment.
“In some cases students can choose the time at which they do their online learning, the path they want to take to learn a concept, or even the location from which they want to complete the online work,” Maxwell explains.
For teachers who want to incorporate blended learning models into their classrooms, this element is key. Providing students with “increased control over the time, place, path, and/or pace of their learning pathways” is what separates traditional classroom models from blended learning, according to the educational nonprofit iNACOL.
Blended Learning Models for Your Classroom
It’s important for educators to choose the right tools for their blended learning plan. Prodigy’s Marcus Guido says appropriate digital tools should offer scaffolding to struggling students. This means advanced students will be delivered with more challenging content, while less advanced students will also have the right level of content delivered to them.
Teachers also need to ensure they take the time necessary to learn the tool fully before integrating it into the classroom. This ensures it will be used to its full effectiveness by both educators and students.
Aside from specific software tools, video is perhaps the most common technology tool in blended learning. Digital content can be viewed in a flipped classroom format. Here, students are asked to watch instructional videos outside of class, which frees up classroom time to engage with the material.
This usually involves educators recording short video lectures, explains video recording company Panopto. These lectures can include a webcam recording of a board lecture, a screen recording of slides or a video of a hands-on demonstration. Video recordings can also be used to introduce students to more difficult concepts at home, so that they have more background information when introduced to the topic in the classroom.
Face-to-Face Driver Models
Getting started with blended learning can be overwhelming for both teachers and students. That’s why it might be best to ease into the process with a face-to-face driver model, the team at Classtime writes. This is the blended learning technique that’s closest to ordinary classroom instruction. It involves using digital tools to engage and supplement instruction for students who are behind.
Students who have missed class or need extra support can tune into online learning models and work on practice sessions at home. This is one way to close learning gaps and make in-class instruction more effective.
One of the greatest benefits of blended learning is that it can be flexed and adapted to meet the specific needs of students. Looking at successful examples of blended learning can inspire you to create a model that works for you and your learners.
At the Randolph Central School District in Randolph, New York, district leaders implemented a blended learning model with the intention of improving ELA and math test scores. By emphasizing individual student data, teachers were able to create specific learning paths based on each learner’s need. This resulted in a significant improvement in math scores across the district: “The percentage of 3rd-grade students scoring at the upper end of the scale (a score of three or four) on the state test went from 56% to 72%.”
Now, teachers create individual learning paths for all elementary school students. This personalized learning is powered by technology-based diagnostic instruction and adaptive testing which helps assess strengths and opportunities in each student’s learning journey.
Stephanie Avery, a high school health science teacher in Alberta, Canada, also uses blended learning to personalize instruction. Since her students range in age from 15 to 18, a blended learning model allows her to cater to different skill levels. During online modules, which are completed in class, Avery is available to answer questions. Students who need the most help can take advantage of Stephanie as a resource, and those who are farther ahead can continue at their own pace.
Shannon Sipes, Ph.D. at Indiana University Bloomington explains how she used a flipped classroom model to personalize instruction in her blended learning course. In the course she taught, Sipe’s online assignments included supplemental videos, graphics, peer review activities and weekly responses to assigned reading. Class time was reserved for exploration and expansion of the topics learned online, during which students asked questions, checked in on research project milestones and engaged in peer feedback.
Collaboration and Teamwork
Blended learning can be used to facilitate and improve group work. This is because digital tools can track each student’s participation in a more transparent manner, explains Veronica Hunt at eLearning Industry. This can ease the evaluation process and make group work more equitable. Plus, online scheduling and participating allows students to contribute from anywhere, freeing up more class time for projects.
Blended learning models can facilitate collaboration not only between students, but across place and time. Linkedin and Twitter, for example, can connect students with experts who can inform research topics and lessons. Once a connection is made, education consultant John McCarthy, Ed.S., author of “So All Can Learn,” says a deeper conversation can take place. “Using video conferencing,” he explains, “students can follow up with these experts, further linking curriculum to real-world interests.”
Stations are another way to incorporate blended learning into the classroom, and works especially well with elementary students. Many classrooms may already use this approach, which is when students cycle through different centers, each with its own activity.
One way to set up this model is break up the class period into different stations that students cycle through, according to the curriculum provider Odysseyware. A 80-minute math block can be broken up into four, 20-minute blocks, for example. The activities present different learning styles, with one being teacher-led and one being online. Incorporating multiple types of learning approaches in the same classroom gets students accustomed to blended learning techniques.
Teacher Catlin Tucker, who wrote “Blended Learning in Action,” offers a few more tips for making the most of the rotating stations model. First and foremost, she suggests taking advantage of the teacher-led station (that one you’re working at). Rather than using this station solely as a place for direct instruction, teachers can model a process and lead a small group discussion.
Mixed ability groups can be beneficial to learners, and switching them based on interests and strengths can also ensure students are getting the most out of these group dynamics. Lastly, she says that having a strategy for transitioning between stations can save time and make each rotation more efficient.
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