Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you wanted to do more for your kids, but were out of ideas?
Many years ago, I was teaching a class of middle school students who were struggling to engage with the content. I had tried everything, from hands-on activities to group projects, but nothing seemed to work. Then I decided to try blended learning. I created a series of online and offline activities that allowed students to work at their own pace and explore the content in a more interactive way. The students loved it (and so did I)! They were more engaged than ever before and were excited to come to class each day. Not to mention, the amount of time that I gained was a wonderful surprise! I could then use this extra time to help individual students, create future lessons, or just walk around the room building relationships with the student. Blended learning had transformed my classroom, and my teaching, and had given every one of the students the opportunity to take ownership of their learning.
In this blog post, we will look at:
Understanding blended learning.
Benefits of blended learning.
The 3 Key Elements
5 Steps to implement blended learning in the classroom.
In a blended learning setting, teachers are not sidelined by technology but rather, enabled by it to craft dynamic, interactive, and tailored learning opportunities for their students.
Understanding Blended Learning
Imagine walking into a classroom and seeing students engaged in a variety of activities, from collaborating with peers to completing online assignments. This is the power of blended learning, a pedagogical approach that merges in-person and digital learning. As educators look for ways to personalize instruction, increase student engagement, and provide flexibility, blended learning has been gaining popularity in recent years.
Catlin Tucker is an educator, speaker, and author who focuses on blended learning. She has written several books, including "The Shift to Student-Led" and "The Complete Guide to Blended Learning," and is a frequent presenter at educational conferences and workshops. She defines blended learning as "an instructional model that combines face-to-face teaching with online learning." In a blended learning environment, students participate in both traditional classroom activities and online learning activities, which are typically delivered through a learning management system or other online platforms. This approach allows for greater flexibility and personalization of the learning experience, as students can work at their own pace, review materials as needed, and access a variety of resources and multimedia materials to support their learning. Blended learning also offers opportunities for teachers to differentiate instruction and provide individualized support to students based on their specific needs and learning preferences.
Blended learning comes in many shapes and sizes, but two popular models are the station rotation and the flipped classroom. The station rotation model involves students rotating between various learning activities, including working on computers, participating in small group instruction, and completing independent work. (The Ultimate Guide to Station Rotation) Meanwhile, in the flipped classroom model, students watch instructional videos at home and then come to class ready to engage in hands-on activities and discussions. With that being said, blended learning isn't just about technology; it's about crafting a customized and adaptable learning environment that caters to the individual needs of each student. By offering different ways of learning and the chance to work at their own pace, blended learning encourages the development of critical thinking, promotes collaboration with peers, and empowers students to take charge of their learning.
Why Blended Learning
It is crucial to meet the needs of all learners because every student is unique and has different learning preferences and abilities (fans of Universal Design for Learning already know this). When we fail to meet the needs of certain students, we risk leaving them behind and depriving them of the opportunity to reach their full potential. Moreover, when students feel like their needs are not being met, they may become disengaged, frustrated, and even resentful of the learning process. On the other hand, when we take the time to understand each student's individual needs and provide them with the support and resources they need to succeed, we create a more inclusive and supportive learning environment that benefits everyone.
Blended learning can lead to improved learning outcomes, as it allows students to receive personalized instruction, immediate feedback, and access to a wider range of learning resources. Additionally, blended learning provides a solution to common obstacles faced by traditional classroom learning, including restricted instructional time, low student engagement, and limited chances for peer collaboration. By combining the best of both online and offline learning, blended learning has the potential to transform the way we teach and learn, making education more accessible, engaging, and effective for all learners.
The effectiveness of online and blended learning was explored in a meta-analysis conducted by Means et al. (2013), which reviewed empirical literature published between 1996 and 2011. The study included 99 studies and found that, on average, students in online and blended learning environments performed better than those in traditional face-to-face courses. The analysis further revealed that blended learning was the most effective approach, as it offered the benefits of both online and face-to-face instruction. The authors suggest that the increased flexibility and customization of blended learning, combined with the opportunity for more individualized attention from instructors, may be contributing factors to its effectiveness.
3 Key Elements
Differentiation & Personalization
Control over the pace of learning
Blended learning offers three key aspects of high-quality education: student agency, differentiation and personalization, and control over the pace. These elements are woven throughout the approach and can help educators prioritize student agency, allowing them to make key decisions about their learning. With differentiation and personalization, students can engage in learning that meets their unique needs and learning styles. By giving students control over the pace of their learning, teachers can ensure that each student is able to learn at their own speed, which can help reduce classroom management issues.
Student agency refers to the learners' ability to take control of their learning experience by making key decisions about what, how, and why they learn. By giving students the agency to make decisions about their learning, they become active participants in the learning process, which can have a positive impact on their engagement over time.
When students have agency in a lesson, they have the power to pursue learning from an angle of interest, which is likely to make it more interesting and meaningful for them. This approach to learning is especially important in today's fast-paced, technology-driven world, where students need to be able to think critically and problem-solve to succeed.
The term "agency" comes from the Latin word agentia, which means doing. This doing requires that the learner take an active role in the learning process. A constructivist approach to blended learning strives to shift students to the center of learning, enabling them to construct meaning both through individual processes and interactions with other members of the learning community.
There are three moments in a learning experience when we should consider giving students the agency to make decisions. These three questions are what, how, and why. By providing students with choices in these areas, we empower them to take control of their learning experience and create a more meaningful and engaging learning environment. (Student Uprising: How to Use Agency to Start Your Own Education Revolution)
The "what" question allows students to choose what they want to learn and explore topics that interest them. This can help to spark their curiosity and motivate them to learn more.
The "how" question gives students the freedom to choose how they want to learn. They can choose to learn through traditional lectures, online videos, interactive exercises, or group discussions. This approach helps students to take ownership of their learning and find a learning style that works best for them.
Finally, the "why" question enables students to understand the purpose of what they are learning. By giving them a clear understanding of why they are learning a particular topic, students can better connect with the material and find it more meaningful.
Differentiation & Personalization
Blended learning can be an effective approach to differentiating and personalizing learning experiences for students. While these terms are often used interchangeably, they have distinct differences. Differentiation is teacher-focused and involves designing instruction that meets the needs of a diverse group of learners through proactive approaches and formative assessment data. Teachers make the decisions about learning and strive to meet students where they are in their learning journeys. For example, a teacher may provide scaffolds and support for a reading strategy based on students' current reading abilities.
On the other hand, personalization is learner-focused and involves tailoring learning experiences to each student's strengths, needs, and interests. It requires a partnership between the learner and the teacher in articulating learning goals, selecting strategies, and co-constructing learning experiences. Personalization prioritizes student agency and allows students to make key decisions in the learning process, such as how they want to approach a task or what aspect of a topic is interesting to them. Teachers need to engage students in conversations about their needs and progress to ensure that learning experiences are within their zone of proximal development.
It is important to note that blended learning does not equate to personalized learning. By differentiating and personalizing learning experiences, teachers can create a more engaging and effective learning environment for all students.
Control Over the Pace of Learning
Blended learning also allows students to have greater control over the pace of their learning. The traditional one-size-fits-all approach to education can often leave students feeling frustrated, disillusioned, or bored. When students are rushed through content or learning activities, they may not feel valued and may realize that the quality of their learning is not the priority. On the other hand, when the pace is too slow, they may disengage and become bored, seeking their own diversions.
With blended learning, teachers can create learning experiences that invite students to control the pace of their learning. This approach can help ensure that all students have the time and space to engage in deep and meaningful learning experiences. By allowing students to control the pace of their learning, teachers can let go of the lockstep approach that has characterized education for hundreds of years.
When we prioritize student agency, differentiate and personalize learning experiences, and shift control over the pace of learning to the students, we are more likely to create engaging and effective learning experiences that meet their diverse needs and ensure all of them make progress toward mastering grade-level standards. So, whether you're a teacher or a student, blended learning can offer you the opportunity to take charge of your learning experience and make it truly meaningful.
"Blended learning requires a mindset shift, as educators must be willing to let go of traditional approaches to teaching and embrace new tools and methods for facilitating learning." - Catlin Tucker
5 Steps to Implement Blended Learning in the Classroom
Implementing blended learning in the classroom can seem overwhelming at first, but with some planning and preparation, it can be done successfully. Here are some steps you can take to implement blended learning in your classroom:
Start small: Don't try to implement a full-blown blended learning program all at once. Crawl before you walk.
Before you start designing your blended learning activities: Set clear learning objectives that align with your curriculum and standards. Then, use formative assessment data to help design the learning experiences for your students
Choose the right technology tools: There are many different technology tools available for blended learning, from learning management systems to video conferencing tools to educational apps. Choose the tools that best fit your teaching style and the needs of your students. My recommendation is to use The Triple E Framework for support in choosing what works best for you.
Provide ongoing support: Blended learning requires ongoing support and feedback to be successful. Constantly check for understanding and provide students with opportunities for peer collaboration and feedback, and be available to answer questions and provide guidance.
Evaluate and reflect: Evaluate your blended learning activities regularly to see what's working and what's not, and make adjustments as needed. Reflect on your own teaching practice and look for opportunities to improve.
With blended learning, you have the power to take education to the next level. You can create a learning experience that's tailored to students' needs and learning preferences, and make learning more engaging, more interactive, and more fun! After all, learning doesn't have to be boring, and teaching doesn't have to be a chore. With blended learning, you can create a classroom that's lively, vibrant, and full of energy!
Means, B., Toyama, Y., Murphy, R., & Baki, M. (2013). The effectiveness of online and blended learning: A meta-analysis of the empirical literature. Teachers College Record: The Voice of Scholarship in Education, 115(3), 1–47. https://doi.org/10.1177/016146811311500307