What is blended learning, is there value in it and, if so, how do I do it?
“Blended learning” is a phrase tossed around a lot in education these days, but what exactly does it mean and does it work?
This column will explore those two questions with contributions from Angel Cintron Jr., Connie Parham, Catlin Tucker, Sheri Edwards, Cheryl Costello, William J. Tolley and George Station. You can listen to a ten-minute conversation I had with Roxanna, Dave and Julia on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.
What is blended learning?
We have to start by approaching this question broadly on two levels:
- For some, blended learning refers to large hybrid learning platforms and experiences offered by universities and some school districts. Writ large, it’s distance learning with a face to face element.
- For the teacher on the street, blended learning speaks to the combination of strategies and technologies that allows for a similar split between face to face encounters and online exploration of course content, but facilitates so much more of value in our day-to-day learning with our students.
As important as the first definition is becoming in the greater scheme of learning, definition two is the one most relevant to the classroom teacher who wants to transform her learning environment into space of choice and opportunity.
The Value of Blended Learning:
In short, the value of blended learning resides in its ability to empower teachers and students to do what excites them most in learning. There is no denying that the demands (for better or worse) on teachers and students have grown over past decades, whether they are subject to the rise of accountability measures, pressure for admission into higher education or the need to bridge gaps between the performance of their students and national or international standards. Adopting blended learning strategies frees up space and time to meet such demands, while still allowing for individualization and differentiation. Most importantly, when done right, it involves students in the shaping of their learning, reviving democracy in what so easily becomes an environment of oppression and standardization.
How to start?
Lose control. Go messy. Embrace chaos. Fall in love with flux. Or, as David Lee put it eloquently at the recent Learning2Asia conference: be comfortable being “Always In Beta.”
The blended learning environment that described my own practice last December has transmogrified–it is barely recognizable within my current practice. My commitment to empowering students in democratic space and time remains the same, but the trappings have evolved. One of my favorite old techniques, the “mastery quest” system, has been completely replaced by assessment apps like Memrise that allow me to design purely formative retention activities with my students.
I have previously offered suggestions for creating successful blended learning classrooms, and I am sure that taken together, the responses to this edition of Q&A will offer plenty of tools you can take into class on Monday. But buyer beware: if one thing is certain, it’s that in blended learning, the old notion of developing a routine over a few years is obsolete. The true value of blended learning, done right, is not that it gives you a toolbox that will serve you until you retire, but that it prevents your workroom from becoming an anachronism by always keeping it in flux, by not only facing, but fashioning the future.