The pandemic has elevated the phrase “blended learning.” When schools closed or shifted to hybrid schedules, many institutions turned to blended learning to navigate the new demands placed on teachers and educational institutions. As an outspoken advocate for blended learning over the last 10 years, I was initially excited to see so much momentum in this area. However, as schools prepare to welcome students back for in-person learning, I’ve had several encounters with school leaders who seem to think that returning to in-person learning means there is no need for blended learning anymore. This perspective stems from a lack of clarity about what blended learning is and why it is valuable.
What Blended Learning Is
Let’s start with a clear definition.
Blended learning is active, engaged learning online combined with active, engaged learning offline to give students more control over the time, place, pace, and path of their learning.
A key aspect of this definition is positioning the students as “active agents” in the lesson or learning experience. The students should be doing the heavy cognitive lift of making meaning. In a blended learning environment, the students are doing the thinking, discussing, making, questioning, exploring, collaborating, and reflecting.
Blended learning can happen entirely in a classroom, online with strategic use of synchronous video conferencing sessions and asynchronous work, or a blend of the two. The idea that teachers returning to classrooms don’t need or won’t benefit from learning about blended learning models signals a lack of understanding about what this term actually means.
When compared to the whole group, teacher-led model, the benefits of blended learning include:
- Giving students the agency to make key decisions about their learning
- Differentiating more consistently and effectively
- Partnering with students to begin personalizing their learning paths
- Shifting control over the pace of learning to students
Teachers returning to classrooms for the new school year can leverage models like the station rotation, whole group rotation, flipped classroom, and playlist to design student-centered learning experiences that shift control to the learner.
When I work with teachers, I emphasize the value of building a dynamic skill set composed of many different approaches to designing and facilitating learning. Just like in life, no one tool solves every problem. The same is true for teachers. There is no single instructional model that will work for every learning outcome. We must approach our work with a high level of intentionality, selecting the best model for the objectives of a specific learning experience.
What Blended Learning is Not
It is also important to highlight what blended learning is not. A technology-rich classroom does not equate to blended learning. Every student can have a device and still not control any aspect of their learning experience. Simply adding technology to the mix does not mean students are active agents in the learning process or have opportunities to control the time, place, pace, and path of their learning.
I’ve also heard the phrases blended learning and personalized learning used synonymously, yet they are not the same thing. Blended learning creates exciting pathways toward personalization, but personalization requires a partnership between the teacher and the learner. This partnership is easier to achieve in a blended learning environment where teachers have the time and space to work directly with students, providing individualized instruction, support, and feedback. Conferencing is another routine that teachers can build into a blended learning environment that allows them to personalize a student’s learning experience more effectively. Conferencing creates regular opportunities to discuss student progress, identify areas of need, and customize their learning path to ensure they continue growing and developing.
The last year and a half have presented myriad challenges for educators and educational institutions. With those challenges have come exponential growth. I want that momentum to continue. I don’t want teachers to hear the message that “The pandemic is over. We don’t need blended learning.” Returning to business as usual and teaching the same way we did pre-pandemic would be a lost opportunity to improve the quality of learning for students. Instead, teachers should be encouraged to continue blending active, engaged learning both online and offline to give students more agency regardless of the learning landscape.
Leaders looking to support teachers with self-paced online learning opportunities can request a quote for my Getting Started with Blended and Online Learning and my Advancing with Blended and Online Learning Courses!