The events of the last nine months have launched the phrase “blended learning” into the mainstream. I worry that instead of articulating the value of a powerful blend of online and offline learning, teachers are receiving the message that they “must” adopt blended learning to meet the demands of the moment.
Yes, blended learning can help teachers navigate the challenges of teaching at this moment. However, the pandemic cannot be the “why” driving a shift to blended learning. This shift should not be viewed as simply a reaction to the pandemic. That isn’t a compelling reason and does not encapsulate the value of this shift.
Leaders must articulate the purpose and value of weaving together online and offline learning. That way, teachers are inspired and motivated to work through the challenges associated with this shift in designing and facilitating learning.
Blended Learning Defined
Blended learning is the combination of active, engaged learning online combined with active, engaged learning offline to provide students with more control over the time, place, pace, and path of their learning.
My adaptation of Staker and Horn’s (2012) often cited definition is rooted in constructivist principles emphasizing the student’s role as an active participant in the learning process. Ultimately, the goal of blended learning is this fundamental shift in control from teacher to learner.
The why driving my shift to blended learning has always been a desire to increase student engagement. I want students to want to be in our classrooms–physical or virtual.
The goal of the various blended learning models is to shift students to the center of learning and architect lessons that provide them with more control over their experience.
“Blended learning” is an umbrella term. Within the umbrella are many different models that give students different degrees of control over time, place, pace, and path. On one end of the spectrum are the rotation models, like the station rotation and flipped classroom models, where the teachers are the drivers of instruction. On the other end of the spectrum are models, like the a la cart and enriched virtual models, that rely heavily on online learning as the driver of instruction and learning happens primarily online.
Most of the schools and districts I work with are focusing on the rotation models because they work well in a traditional school setting.
The Station Rotation Model
The station rotation model is a series of stations, or learning activities, and students rotate through them. Typically, there is a teacher-led station, an online station, and an offline station. The total number of stations depends on various factors, the length of the class or the total number of students. This model is flexible and can be adapted for a variety of learning landscapes–in person, online, or a combination of the two.
As teachers navigate an online learning landscape, the station rotation model is flexible enough to allow teachers to break the class into smaller groups and rotate them through a series of learning activities. The teacher-led station in a virtual station rotation is synchronous, offering students a differentiated, small-group experience. While the online and offline stations can be done synchronously in breakout rooms or asynchronously, giving students control over time, place, and pace.
The Flipped Classroom Model
The flipped classroom model leans on videos to make explanations and instruction available asynchronously so that students can practice and apply during synchronous class time.
Videos put students in control of the pace at which they consume and process information. Unlike a real-time mini-lesson or explanation, students can manipulate a video’s speed, slowing it down, or add closed captions to increase accessibility. They can pause, rewind, or rewatch a video. Videos can provide on-demand instruction, explanations, and models.
Students are most likely to hit a bump or need support when applying what they are learning. That’s why this inversion of the traditional approach to instruction and application is so powerful.
The Playlist Model
The playlist model presents learners with a series of learning activities that they self-pace through. Playlists mix learning modalities and media, combine online and offline tasks, and create opportunities for teachers to meet with individual students.
Teachers can differentiate playlists for groups of students with different skill levels, interests, or language proficiencies. If teachers build conferencing sessions into the playlist, they can also personalize each student’s playlist as they progress through the various learning activities. Conferencing during a playlist gives the teacher time to meet with students–in person or in a breakout room–to review their progress and modify the playlist based on each student’s individual needs.
Shifting from teacher-led, whole group instruction to blended learning models can positively impact student engagement because they have more control over their learning.
I also want teachers to enjoy the time and space necessary to connect with small groups and individual learners. It is that human side of teaching that is so rewarding. I want teachers to feel confident designing and facilitating learning experiences that free them to nurture their connections with students and develop those critical relationships. Now, maybe more than ever before, students need to feel seen and supported.
This summer, I created a “Getting Started with Blended and Online Learning” self-paced course to support teachers as they prepared for this school year. For those who have already purchased that course, I just added a “bonus module” with three new lessons, so make sure to check that out!
For educators looking to advance with blended and online learning, I have created a second course titled “Advancing with Blended and Online Learning.” So, if you are curious and want to deepen your practice, the advanced course is available and on sale for a limited time!