As we wrote recently, blended learning is one of the hottest trends in education technology right now. In fact, many respected educators believe it will soon become the most common approach to teaching and learning.
Today we’ll dive a little deeper into this booming field of education and provide more insight into how blended learning came to be, the specific tools that are being used to support it, and how you can get in on the party.
What is Blended Learning?
Have you noticed a certain pattern in how people react on social media these days? First there’s outrage. Then there’s outrage about the outrage. And finally, we all forget about it and settle somewhere in the middle.
Blended learning is sort of like that. See, as technology was being rolled out into classrooms, there was a huge rush to bring everything online. No one wanted to be left behind, so tech tools were handed to students en masse - sometimes very little thought. In other words, there was an outrage about how stuck in the stone age education was and an outcry that we need to do something about it right now!
Then came the backlash. Experienced educators said, “Well hold on just a second. There’s a reason why education works the way it does. And there’s a real value to teachers physically connecting with students.”
That’s where blended learning stepped in. In blended learning, students learn by pairing traditional methods with digital ones. Instead of covering all the content face-to-face with a teacher, with blended learning students use online or digital media to learn. This gives students more autonomy over their learning, letting them control the pace, the path, and when they study.
Blended learning “is one of the central features of modern school reform, with proponents proclaiming that it helps personalize education, cuts costs and allows students to be more productive,” writes Phil McRae, an executive staff officer with the Alberta Teachers’ Association and adjunct professor within the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta.
And there’s been evidence to support this hope. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s recent Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies, “Instruction combining online and face-to-face elements had a larger advantage relative to purely face-to-face instruction than did purely online instruction.”
So why does blended learning provide a bigger advantage? Well, it can increase students’ engagement by giving them with an opportunity to change the pace of their learning. It can increase communication between student and teacher by giving teachers an opportunity to digitally ‘check in’ with their students when they reach certain milestones. It makes learning more flexible since materials can be made to be accessible at any time. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Tools to Support Blended Learning
There’s an ongoing debate in K-12 education between iPads and Chromebooks. Arguably the biggest advantage for Chromebooks is their superior ability to facilitate blended learning. Chromebooks allow blended learning programs to incorporate educational videos, games, and other adaptive content into the curriculum much better than iPads, since many of these rich media tools run on Flash, which is not compatible with iPads.
But perhaps more importantly, the sheer wealth of quality educational content online today is the biggest boon to blended learning. As Catlin Tucker, a Google certified teacher, best-selling author, trainer, frequent ed tech speaker, and a high school teacher in Sonoma County, California, says, “Whenever I’m tempted to stand in front of kids and tell them something, I think: Can I create a flipped video so they can self-pace their learning? Can I ask them to research this topic and share what they learn and be experts for each other?”
Her answer, more often than not, is “yes.”
This is the heart of blended learning’s transformative power: it shifts an educator’s role from merely a communicator of knowledge to a designer of engaging, high-quality learning experiences.
Blended learning does not threaten to replace educators, as some feared it would. Instead it has elevated their role in the learning process.
Blend Your Classroom
“Blended learning can look very different from one classroom to the next. But when blended learning is done well, it typically involves some form of student choice or agency in their own learning,” Dennis Pierce of THE Journal explains.
Whether you favor a flipped classroom approach, the station rotation model, or any of the other forms of blended learning, “the challenge in leading blended learning effectively is understanding when — and how — to use technology and when other modalities might be more appropriate,” Pierce writes.
Michael B. Horn, co-founder and distinguished fellow of the Christensen Institute, gives this advice to educators thinking about implementing a blended classroom:
|“Think about what technology is really good at and use it in those ways. Technology is really good at delivering content, for example. It’s great for helping people repeat and practice different skills over and over again.
[On the other hand], technology is not as good at giving robust feedback on a project where you’re moving to much higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. It’s not that great for leading a Socratic discussion among students to reach higher levels of understanding. It’s not as good as a teacher in being able to understand the emotion of a student and try a different approach in the moment to reach that student in a deep, one-on-one way.”
McRae supports this assessment, saying, “we must achieve a more nuanced balance that combines both digital technologies and the physical presence of a caring, knowledgeable and pedagogically thoughtful teacher. This is not an optional ‘nice to have,’ but a ‘must have’ if children and youth are to build resilience for the future.”
Simply put, blended learning aims to combine digital learning with classroom activities to create an overall more enriching experience for learners. While Zorbit's Math Adventure is best known as a curriculum-based online math game, we also provide educators with hundreds of in-class activities to download and use in their blended classrooms.
What are your thoughts on blended learning?