It’s a fascinatingly complex digital student that attends today’s classrooms. Instructional methods that meet their needs and expectations have evolved. The good news is these have largely been integrated into the lives of teachers and students with much success. One of these methods is blended learning.
The concept of blended learning has been around since the 1960s. Something that has survived in educational culture for that long deserves applause. Today we continue to expand and improve on its methodologies. In turn, we increase our chances of incorporating it successfully into teaching. Just think of the benefits to our students!
Hallmarks of Blended Learning
Blended learning is defined by these characteristics:
- A portion of the learning is delivered with digital or online media.
- Some of the learning is student-directed in terms of time, pace, path, and place.
- It provides a learning experience that is appealing and that delivers successful learning outcomes.
The Clayton Christensen Institute says most blended learning works on one of these four models:
- Rotational: Students rotate through different modes of learning. At least one of them is online or digital in nature.
- Flex: Students do the learning mostly online. It is still done at the school under teacher supervision, though.
- A La Carte: Students do their learning entirely online with an online instructor.
- Enriched Virtual: Students receive one-on-one sessions with their instructor. They are then free to complete the rest of the coursework online independently.
Blended learning practices are a great way to mix it up the classroom. It lets teachers teach learners in their own technological turf. With a careful mix of instruction and technology, it can be a great way to boost learning outcomes.
Why Is Blended Learning So Popular?
It’s because blended learning practices help to keep things interesting. There are many different possibilities, and these variables keep it engaging. It can use things like:
- Practical exemplars
- Illustration and graphical content
- Technology and edtech
- Flipped learning approaches
- Hands-on instruction
- Online quizzing and polling
- Speed variation
- Differentiated learning strategies
You’ll find almost every modern classroom has opportunities for blended learning. It’s been this way for a long time. Course content is increasingly designed to be accessible online. Discussion and study groups are the norm and learning labs are everywhere in schools, colleges, and universities.
It’s not new, it’s just getting better and better all the time. Like all other forms of teaching, it evolves constantly. We innovate, we revise, we add and subtract, and constantly improve it. Best of all, our students reap the benefits.
5 Ways to Achieve Blended Learning Success
So how can you ensure blended learning success happens in your classroom? What strategies can you use to deliver a blended experience that really works? Consider these ones below.
Take it Easy
There are so many things to consider in this kind of transformation. Slow and easy is always the best way to go. Believe it or not, students are not always as prepared as we think. They’re not always ready to step in right away and take responsibility for their learning. It doesn’t mean they won’t or can’t. Sometimes they just need time to adjust.
Consider also that some students will be more adept with technology than others. This is where a strong system of school and peer support come in. Don’t be afraid to use every resource, including student ability, to make blended learning really work. Listen to the pros who have experienced blended learning success of their own in the past.
You’ve also got to think about how this change will be supplemented. This involves discussions between teachers and administrators about these considerations:
- What are your space/budgetary/facility conditions?
- Will your blended learning adopt a BYOD approach?
- Are you purchasing new technology?
- How will that technology be used and maintained?
These and other considerations will come to the forefront of a blended learning initiative. Research, discover and ask questions about how it works. Then ask more questions—in this case, there’s no such thing as being over-prepared.
Get a Clear Picture
Blended learning isn’t just for students. It’s a way for teachers to connect to both their learners and the digital world they inhabit. Pupil and instructor grow together, as it should be. This is a big part of true blended learning success.
One misconception about blended learning is that it’s synonymous with “distance” and “detachment.” This can be why some teachers shy away from it initially. The fact is the blend is in harmony with both digital learning and traditional instruction. The teacher plays a modified role from the old “stand and deliver” one. It’s meant to be the best of both worlds combined.
With blended learning, teachers still work with students and groups very closely. They lead lively class discussions to supplement the digital interaction that’s happening. Students know the teacher plays a role just as valued and appreciated as the technology. It’s a more rewarding form of interaction.
Teachers can benefit greatly from this kind of instructional environment. In a blended learning environment, they circulate, collaborate, and mediate. In the process, they learn a lot themselves.
Students as Classroom Leaders
This one is a bold maneuver, but it can be empowering for teachers and students. Letting students be the teachers once in a while can be a great way to boost engagement. You get to see your kids really stretch into unknown territory. Let them step into your shoes for a lesson or two. The benefits are many:
- They’ll see what it takes to teach in a manner that engages learners from a unique perspective
- They’ll learn about cohesive organization and planning.
- They can outline projects from an instructional standpoint
- It gives them a chance to demonstrate and reinforce what they’ve learned. If they can teach it to their fellow students, you know they’ve got it down.
Not everyone has an innate instructional ability, so it helps to pick the right students. Observe who your in-class instructors are. Which ones are guiding other students? Which ones do the others really listen to and connect with? Who knows the material almost better than most? Those are your candidates.
Consider Using Movement
Today, our students are always on the go. Stick them in one place in front of one thing for too long and they get bored. They need entertainment, stimulation, and variety. This is a good time to mix your classroom up into a digital playground.
Here’s an example using the rotational model we discussed earlier:
- Phase 1: View a short and purposeful video about a problem facing our society. Give students time to have a round-table discussion and share their opinions.
- Phase 2: Announce the challenge for them. “Your job is to come up with a solution for this issue.” Break them off into groups to do initial research using different digital and non-digital media.
- Phase 3: A computer game gets spread out through the classroom at different terminals. Take each group through a series of challenges that deepens their understanding of the issue.
- Phase 4: Set up a design/construction area where students work on activities for developing a solution. Set criteria and a reward system for certain milestones being met. Add some friendly competition into the mix.
- Phase 5: Presentation day and display of projects. The Debrief, an important part of the process of Solution Fluency, happens now. Students discuss the projects, the effectiveness of the solutions, and what could have been done better.
This is a rough example of how this might look and it’s open to different options. Movement and stimulation are sure to keep your students engaged and bring blended learning success. Change things up and explore different ways to learn in the classroom, or even outside it. The class landscape you set up is only limited to your imagination (and budget, of course!).
Create Great Challenges
The key to learning in any kind of setting is that the learning must be useful. Digital students are very perceptive, and also pragmatic. They are always going to be asking the question, “Why do I need to learn this?”
Any project we give students in a blended learning environment should be one that inspires them. The idea is to get them to devise a creative solution to a real-world problem. When students leave school they must already be deep critical thinkers and problem solvers who can handle any challenge. Students buy into learning when it connects to the real world and to their own interests.
Give them this and they will dive in with passion and gusto. They’ll own the process and take responsibility for what they need to learn. That’s how learning really sticks, and you know you’ve achieved blended learning success.
- University of Central Florida—Blended Learning Toolkit
- Knewton—Blended Learning Infographic
- Mindflash—Designing Blended Learning is Easier Than You Think
- Contact North—Top Resources for Blended Learning
- Emerging EdTech—7 Excellent Free Blended Learning Resources
- Blend My Learning—Video Tutorials for Blended Learning