Supporting Blended Learning and Setting the New Norm in Education

In Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew it is the younger daughter of Baptista Minola, Bianca (sister of the “Shrew”) who states:

“Old fashions please me best; I am not so nice

               To change true rules for odd inventions.”

This musing shouldn’t surprise the audience for Bianca has had many suitors and proposals over the years. The traditional convention of marriage is indeed serving her well. But alas, technology has altered the ways we have traditionally done things. Shopping, communicating, travel, and (yes, Bianca) meeting our significant other have all been transformed multiple times by technology.

The same goes for the way we teach and learn. Technology provides the opportunities for teachers to transform their classrooms and, therefore, the experiences students have. Specifically, technology impacts everything from the way teachers set up their class environment to the overall purpose of education. Everything else in-between is ripe for innovation. Moreover, if the innovation without technology is already part of the culture in a school, then technology can augment that teacher innovation with digital experiences. The combination of traditional education with digital pedagogy is commonly called blended learning.

But, the effectiveness of technology to transform education is less about the existence of technology and more about the intent behind the technology’s use. Therefore blended learning must be a purposeful venture that is a normal, expected part of the class. Simply put, in order to be a meaningful experience, blended learning cannot be marginalized or relegated as a “nice to have.”

Blended Learning ModelSupporting schools with the implementation of blended learning requires pivots in instruction and assessment by teachers as well as supporting students’ ability to use technology in their learning. The Christensen Institute, a leader in education innovation, emphasizes the power of blended learning to provide students with a “more personalized learning experience, including increased student control over the time, place, path, and/or pace of learning.” Their seven blended learning models provide specifics about how to “do” this in the classroom (see figure to the left).

The Christensen models are a practical step in the transformation of education in which blended learning is the way students learn. But, these models aren’t the final step. Schools need support to make blended learning a sustained reality. Below are 6 areas where growth is needed.

  1. 1:1 initiatives: Getting students access to devices across schools and school systems is an arduous and complex task. There are case studies available online, but when the rubber hits the road, help with implementation and all that it involves (communication, infrastructure, access surveys, etc.), are much needed services.
  2. Professional learning for teachers: Teachers are humans and humans develop at different rates. Building capacity around blended learning’s “Why”, “How”, and “What” should be ongoing and involve choice for teachers in both process and content. If your product supports a blended learning model, make sure you provide built-in Help and Support features for teachers to access on their own; articles, case studies and other content that demonstrate how the product can be integrated into lessons; and webinars, workshops and other learning events where educators can gain valuable information and strategies to help them improve their practice.
  3. Instruction: How teachers and students use technology to teach and learn varies according to the grade level and content area. One thing I have learned is that blended learning initiatives must have direct application and examples to specific content areas. Otherwise, generalization results in decreased intentionality with blended learning. When developing lessons and content for your product, make sure you connect it to real life and the real experiences of students.
  4. Assessment: Students should have the opportunity to use technology to demonstrate what they have learned (both content and skills) and apply that learning. Blended learning transforms assessment through digital portfolios, enhances formative assessment to guide instruction, and allows for immediate feedback. Assessment features are no longer a “nice to have” with products but essential if your product is going to fully support learning.
  5. Connecting classrooms: One of the most powerful aspects of blended learning involves expanding student experiences beyond classroom walls. Doing this can be complicated, but these experiences are what students will remember. Use video conferencing, discussion boards, and social media (and other tools) to connect your students with classes, professionals, and organizations around the world. Every student should have this experience each year. Supporting teachers to do so is a much needed area of development.
  6. Digital content: The textbook and teacher are no longer the sources of all information in a course. The democratization of content and access to information means there is a lot out there. Knowing how to find, navigate, curate, and use digital content is an essential skill for teachers and students and an essential feature of blended learning.

Transforming education in a way that incorporates technology explicitly and intentionally is a necessity for the relevance of education. Just as other areas of life have incorporated digital features to augment their experiences, so to must the field of education.



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About the Author

Craig Perrier is the High School Social Studies Curriculum and Instruction Specialist for Fairfax County Public Schools in Fairfax, VA. He is also an online adjunct professor of history and education for Northeastern University and Adjunct Professor of Education, at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College. He has taught in public schools throughout the U.S. as well as in Brazil for six years. Craig maintains the blog The Global, History Educator and is the creator of the free online teacher resource U.S. History in a Global Context. You can follow him on twitter @CraigPerrier.

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