The idea of blended learning and leveraging digital resources in schools is not a new one. Technology has been in the classroom in various forms for decades and many teachers have embraced it with open arms. They are willing to innovate their teaching methods with the latest and greatest in educational technology. However, willing-innovators and technophobes alike seem to be unclear on best practices regarding merging technology and pedagogy.
As a result, several myths about blended learning have been perpetuated. Some see these myths as barriers to entry to using technology in their classes or rebuttals for why they do not use technology in their instruction, while others see underwhelming returns on the time they invest in finding, learning, and implementing new digital resources.
Let’s review and debunk some of these myths about blended learning.
Myth #1 – “I have to put all of my materials online.”
This misconception is often born from an unclear definition of blended learning. What is being described in this myth is a “flipped classroom” which is a type of blended learning. A flipped classroom is one in which content is consumed outside of class, usually through a Learning Management System like Brightspace or Moodle, and using time with the teacher for discussion, exploration, and application of that content. This model is great for older students (secondary and post-secondary) but is not realistic or effective for younger students.
Blended learning, more generally, is the intentional application of technology and digital resources as part of a larger learning experience. When including technology or digital resources in your lesson plans, it ought to enhance, not replace, what you are doing in the lesson. As the name suggests, blended learning should be a seamless integration of hands-on and digital learning.
Myth #2 – “Kids find technology engaging.”
This is one of the most dangerous myths surrounding blended learning! Technology is NOT inherently engaging – it is the content contained within and the way it is used.
This is an easy myth to believe because technology is pervasive in our daily lives and so much of the software we engage with leverages behavioural psychology to keep us engaged. The question we must ask is, “What is engaging about it?” In the classroom, we intend for students to be engaged with the learning objectives and the lessons at hand. A math game, for example, may have robust math questions, but if students spend most of their time customizing their avatar, collecting points, or adding to their collection of non-player characters (NPCs) they are not engaged for the right reasons.
Sure, answering math questions may be the means through which they are able to collect points, NPCs, or avatar features, but this positions the targeted content as secondary to what their focus is. What’s worse is that it positions the content as a barrier – something they must overcome in order to continue on their mission. Shouldn’t learning the math content and solving robust problems be the mission? This is not to say a digital resource should be completely devoid of these elements, but you should be wary of whether they enhance or distract from the goal the digital resource was employed to achieve.
Myth #3 – “Educational technology must be robust and sophisticated.”
Bear the KISS rule in mind when looking at technology for your lessons – Keep It Simple Sometimes. Sophisticated technology can provide robust learning opportunities, but it can also create unnecessary complications. Consider the following examples: an augmented reality (AR) mobile app versus a simple pattern blocks web app.
The AR example is highly sophisticated and offers students the opportunity to walk on the surface of the moon (kinda) which sounds very exciting but the content is rather lacklustre. This example is expensive, rigid, and cumbersome for many learners.
The pattern block web app is far less sophisticated but offers much more robust learning opportunities. Consider presenting young learners with the challenge of building a triangle from other shapes – a great creative problem-solving activity that can, and should be, done in a hands-on environment. Now, consider presenting the same challenge with an infinite number of blocks and infinitely large work area. Students can now explore this idea in new and unique ways and can manipulate their creations in ways they could not at their desks.
Putting these two examples side-by-side serves to demonstrate that it is not the technology that you use that’s important, but rather how you use it. The former offers a clunky impractical way to look at a few pictures of the moon’s surface while the latter offers an augmented extension to a common in-class activity.
Myth #4 – “Screentime is isolating and limits collaboration.”
This myth is only true if you allow it to be true. As we saw with Myth #3, the impact of technology has is strongly dependent on how you use it. Booking the school’s set of Chromebooks or iPads for your class, or visiting the computer lab so that each student can work on their own device is great from time-to-time, but this implementation strategy ought to only be used as often as you would conduct a formal assessment. It is this scenario where technology can indeed be isolating.
However, leveraging digital resources as part of a centre-based lesson or as the centrepiece of a full-class discussion (i.e. number talk) can encourage collaboration in new and fascinating ways. Consider the examples below. Collaboration is being spurred on through the use of technology and students are succeeding together. Would the same level of excitement result from solo play or from collaborating over a worksheet?
Myth #5 – “The more technology I have in the classroom, the better.”
Simply modernizing your classroom and instruction or bringing in ‘tech for tech’s sake’ is not the point of blended learning. Recall our original definition: “The intentional application of technology and digital resources as part of a larger learning experience.” Unless the lesson is specifically tied to technology or digital literacy, technology should not be taking centre stage.
Instead, reflect on some of the benefits teachers routinely see from effective blended learning strategies. Technology can offer multiple pathways to understanding through multiple representations (personalized instruction). It can allow you to collect performance and progress data (formative assessment) and offer students multiple ways of demonstrating learning (differentiated assessment). Digital resources encourage the development of 21st-Century skills such as digital literacy, design-thinking, communication, and adaptability (competency-based learning). If the tech you are bringing in does not offer you some virtuous benefit, you may wish to rethink introducing it to your lesson.
Blended learning can bring a lot of value to your classes and can facilitate some really great learning experiences for your students. The key is to be diligent in selecting your digital resources and being reflective in the way it is being applied.
Written By: Matt Murphy
Matt Murphy is the Educational Designer for Zorbit’s Math Adventure, a K-3 game-based learning platform for the classroom. Matt has a Masters degree in Curriculum Design from the University of New Brunswick and has over five years of experience working in educational technology as an Instructional Designer, and Gamification/Game-Based Learning Consultant.