The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning

The Innosight Institute, a non-profit think tank, just released a report titled  “The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning: Profiles of Emerging Models” written by Heather Staker which provides and overview of 40 different operators leading the rise of K-12 blended learning.

The thorough 175 page report explores the way that “a small but growing number of schools…are starting to introduce blended learning into their core programming for mainstream students” (Staker, 2). The number of schools across the country implementing a variety of blended learning models is on the rise. Staker states that this increase is due in part to “bleak budgets coupled with looming teacher shortages” as well as the proliferation of “virtual content providers” that are designing curriculum for online and blended courses.

Blended Learning

The 40 organizations detailed in this report span the spectrum of approaches to blended instruction. The report offers a beacon of hope to many teachers, myself included, who wonder where education is headed in the current climate of budget cuts, teacher layoffs and standardized exams. Staker notes that, “online learning has the potential to be a disruptive force that will transform the factory-like, monolithic structure that has dominated America’s schools into a new model that is student-centric, highly personalized for each learner, and more productive” (3).  The assertion that the current structure of traditional schools is “factory-like” and that online learning can offer a more individualized and “personalized” experience is counter intuitive for many teachers, who take offense to the idea that their methodology is outdated and ineffective.

Many of these same teachers fear that online instruction is isolating and impersonal when compared to the interaction that takes place in a classroom. This report helps to shed some light on the myriad possibilities that are available in blended learning models. The integration of technology, virtual instruction, collaborative asynchronous group work, digital writing and online discussions actually make it possible to design curriculum that meets the needs of each student while providing the teacher with more time and flexibility.

Many blended learning models being implemented have “re-imagined the traditional teacher role” (77) to monitor performance online, tutor students, and design “experiences” that bring students together in a physical space for debates, labs or other collaborative tasks. Ideally, the teacher in this model is able to spend more one-on-one time with students providing individualized explanation and instruction.

Blended Learning

As Staker says at the start of the report “some blended-learning programs produce stellar results; others do not” (5). As online learning continues to evolve and disrupt traditional learning, there will be a time of development and transition that takes place. Even though online learning “started by serving students for whom there was no alternative to learning” (1), it is evolving and taking a variety of forms.

Blended learning is the solution that offers the best mix of traditional and online learning.

This trend will skyrocket in the next decade as new models are implemented to better meet the needs of a diverse population of students. As blended learning gains momentum and various models are introduced throughout the country, teachers have an opportunity to begin cultivating the skills needed to be successful in education long term by implementing some online work with students. Exploring the benefits of online learning platforms to complement traditional instruction is the simplest way to experiment with this new blended model of instruction.

As Michael Horn, executive director of education at Innosight, states in his blog “we’re not talking about the end of school then by any means, nor are we talking about eliminating teachers. Parents need schools, students like to be with their friends, and teachers are crucial for learning.” In contrast, he says, “we are talking about is the end of the classroom structure that was built to standardize the way students are taught and tested. The opportunity this is creating to remake and improve our education system is unprecedented.”

This opportunity to personalize instruction may be the answer to the educational crisis taking place in the United States that is resulting in a 30% drop out rate nationally and a general underperformance compared to other developed countries.

Staker, Heather. “The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning: Profiles of Emerging Models.” Innosight Institute. May 2011.

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