The variety of humans in a classroom is remarkable. Their needs, skills, interests, pacing, preferences, and language proficiencies are incredibly diverse. As educators, we have the challenge and honor to teach a dynamic and unique group of students each time a class period begins. Universally designing blended learning presents educators with the opportunity to transition from designing a single experience that is teacher-paced and teacher-led to a more flexible experience that gives the students more control over the pace and path.
I realize that flexibility can feel a bit daunting, both in our design work and as we facilitate a learning experience. It requires that we relinquish some of the control that comes with orchestrating a lesson from the front of the room. Ultimately, that is what universally designed blended learning is all about…a shift in control from teacher to learner. This shift in control demands that learners assume more responsibility for their learning. If our goal is to cultivate expert learners who are resourceful, strategic, and motivated, they need opportunities to drive their own learning.
So, what might flexibility look like when universally designing blended learning?
#1 Student-Paced, Free-Flow Station Rotation Lesson
The station rotation is a popular blended learning model that rotates students between online and offline learning activities. A station rotation comprises three types of stations: 1) a teacher-led station, 2) an online station, and 3) an offline station. However, the total number of stations varies depending on various factors, like the total number of students a teacher ideally wants at a station or the length of the class period.
A minor variation on this typical structure that prioritizes flexibility is to run the lesson as a “free-flow,” or student-paced, station rotation. Teachers can break the class into groups and ask students to start at a particular station and allow them to transition to the next station when they are ready. Instead of a teacher-paced rotation where students move after a set amount of time, the student controls the pace at which they navigate tasks and move around the room.
This design demands that the teacher-led station function more as a “drop-in,” which I always referred to as “Tucker Time.” During a free-flow lesson, I used my teacher-led station to provide feedback on work-in-progress (e.g., writing task, performance task, research project). That way, I could give each student who arrived at my station time to continue making progress on their work while I provided them with focused, timely, actionable feedback.
#2 Your Choice Station Rotation Lesson
Another variation on the station rotation is to design a series of stations (e.g., 5 or 6 total) and ask students to visit at least 2 or 3 of the stations during a rotation. That way, the students decide where they think they would benefit from spending their time and energy during a lesson. This works particularly well for a series of stations designed to help students review key vocabulary, concepts, or skills before an assessment. It is also a nice way to provide more personalized practice with skills or processes that students need more exposure to or time with.
Teachers may also use formative assessment data to identify a “must-do” station for each student and ask them to start the rotation at their “must-do” station. When they are done with the required station, allow them to choose the other “may-do” stations. That way, the teacher can ensure that students are hitting a station that addresses their specific needs based on formative assessment data.
It is helpful to conclude a “your choice station rotation” with an exit ticket that asks each student to identify the stations they visited, provide a brief explanation for their choices, and reflect on what they learned. This is a nice way to keep track of where students spend their time during a your choice station rotation.
#3 Choose Your Learning Path Adventure
One of my favorite blog posts to write last year was my choose your learning path adventure! When working with Dr. Katie Novak on UDL and Blended Learning, we provided an example of transforming an Engage NY/Eureka elementary math lesson into a choose your learning path adventure. It was fun to reimagine a typical whole group, teacher-led lesson through the lens of a choose your learning path adventure that positioned the student at the center of the learning experience.
Teachers can build a choose your learning path adventure in a choice board format where students move from left to right, selecting one item from each column. Alternatively, they can build a dynamic experience inside a digital slide deck with hyperlinks, embedded videos, images and graphics, and meaningful choices woven throughout. Teachers can design the experience to allow the students to decide 1) how they engage with information, 2) how they process, practice, and apply what they are learning, and 3) how they want to demonstrate their learning and reflect on the experience.
#4 Hyperdoc Lesson + Teacher Time Coaching Station
Another way to create flexibility in a lesson and allow students a high level of control over their experience is to design a hyperdoc, a complete lesson or learning cycle built inside a digital document (e.g., Google Documents or Google Slides).
A hyperdoc has everything a student needs to complete the lesson (directions, links, and resources), so they can self-pace through the experience. Students should also enjoy agency and choice as they move through a hyperdoc. Teachers can strategically pair students or create small groups to provide peer support as they work. Then the teacher is freed to run a help desk or coaching station. They can pull individual or small groups of students who would benefit from additional support, guided practice, reteaching, or feedback. These moments allow teachers to better meet the diversity of needs in a classroom.
There are myriad ways to universally design blended learning experiences that prioritize flexibility, honor learner variability, personalize the experience for students, and help to cultivate expert learners. If you want to explore the exciting intersection of Universal Design for Learning and blended learning, you can check out my book UDL and Blended Learning: Thriving in Flexible Learning Landscapes. Dr. Katie Novak and I have also completed a self-paced online course that will be on sale for $49 in August to support teachers as they gear up for back to school! If you are a school leader interested in exploring a book and course pairing for your teachers, you can submit this form to get a quote for bulk course licenses and a discounted price on our book.
My Getting Started with Blended and Online Learning and Advancing with Blended and Online Learning courses are also on sale this August for teachers who want to do a deep dive into blended learning as they prepare to head back to school this fall!
Dear Dr. Caitlin,
Thank you for the blog post all about universally designed blended learning. As a teacher for 15 years, I have been using blended learning in my classroom of 5th graders for the last several years. As you well know, blended learning is the soft-spot between asynchronous and synchronous learning (Heliporn, Lakhal & Belisle (2021). I liked how you explained four different models for effective blended instruction. I personally employ the station rotation model and the hyperdoc learning model. What I like about the station rotation model is the ability to monitor and motivate students to rotate throughout each station. At times, students are working with technology and are in charge of their own learning path, whereas in other stations they are working directly with me. I feel that while in theory the choose your own path model has a place in the classroom, I find it harder to assess, monitor, or motivate students when this model is being employed. Do you know of any classroom management strategies or tips for teachers who chose to employ this model of blended learning?
Next, when you discussed the hyperdoc model of blended learning, all I could think about was the Bitmoji classroom pages that I have constructed over the years with Google Slides or the comprehensive Google Sites I have created for learning units. I had never known these fell into a category of blended learning, but I am happy to learn that all my hard work on such projects does have a place in learning models.
One specific project that I created for my 5th graders that fits into this blog post about blended learning was a technology project that I named blended delivery/flipped classroom/and a podcast too. For this project students started by listening to an exemplar history podcast at home. For step two, in school, students wrote their own three minute original podcast transcript. Third, students work on a digital presentation for the podcast that contains only images. This presentation would spotlight parts of the transcript. According to Vandenberg (2018), podcasts in the classroom can help flip the learning experience; provide stimulus for student learning; model form, language and structure; provide ideas for writing; and stimulate critical and creative thinking. Do you think this project fits in with blended learning?
Thanks for your post and time,
Heilporn, G., Lakhal, S., & Bélisle, M. (2021). An examination of teachers’ strategies to foster student engagement in blended learning in higher education. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, 18(1), 1–25. https://doi-org.ezp.waldenulibrary.org/10.1186/s41239-021-00260-3
Vandenburg, D. (2018). Using podcasts in the classroom. mETAphor, (2), 54-55. https://eds-a-ebscohost-com.ezp.waldenulibrary.org/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=5&sid=10d76377-fcaa-4f19-a639-c6bc91a4cba4%40sdc-v-sessmgr03
Thank you for posting such a detailed response! I love hearing what resonates with other educators and what they are doing in their classrooms. I’m thrilled my descriptions of the models were helpful.
Your project sounds like a blend of active, engaged learning online with active, engaged learning offline, which is how I define blended learning. The offline and online work could all happened in the classroom if you wanted, and it would still be blended learning.
Dr. Catlin Tucker,
I love your articles. They have really helped me understand blended learning. My district is implementing this next year. We received a grant through Raise Your Hand Texas. I completed a Uteach course as well. I was wonder, do you offer PD sessions?
Thank you for the kind note! I’m thrilled my articles have been helpful. I do offer training sessions and workshops. You can take a look at some of my offerings HERE and submit the inquiry form if you or someone in your district wants more information on online or in-person training. I also offer both asynchronous training via my three online, self-paced courses.