Blended Learning in K8 Schools: Expert Advice from Michael Horn

Online learning combined with face-to-face instruction can result in a more personalized learning experience
By: | Issue: July, 2014
February 4, 2015

Blended learning is constantly growing and evolving, and transforming education to be more of a student-centered environment. This web seminar, originally broadcast on May 13, 2014, featured blended learning expert Michael Horn, who outlined disruptive innovations and the subsequent impact on education. Also, an administrator discussed how her district made the transition to a blended environment, keys for a successful implementation and results so far.

Michael B. Horn
Co-Founder and Executive Director, Education
Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation

There are three parts to blended learning. The first component is a formal education program in which a student learns at least partly online, where that student has some element of control over the time, the place, the path and the pace of learning. The second component has to occur at least partly in a supervised bricks-and-mortar location away from home. Generally, we’re talking about schools with teachers. Third, the modalities along each student’s learning path have to be connected in some way to provide an integrated experience. The things that you do online have to connect to what you’re doing offline.

Blended learning is not just technology-rich education, though it’s often confused as such. Simply having an interactive whiteboard and beaming an online curriculum at students is not blended learning, because you haven’t changed that environment to give students control over the time, the place, the path or the pace of the learning. You haven’t really wrestled with the learning model itself. What we’ve seen too often in districts across the country is that they lead with the technology. Instead,they should be asking: What’s the problem we’re trying to solve? How do we create a learning model that actually solves it? And then how do we use technology to enable that model to work?

Start with a rallying cry. Figure out the goal you’re trying to achieve. Make it really concrete so that you have a measurable way of knowing if you are successful. For example, you might say, “We want to boost the percentage of students who are proficient in reading by third grade from our current 45 percent to 75 percent in three years.” Then you would know if you were successful, by whether or not you’ve achieved that goal. Another critical thing to think about is the experience you want to create for each child. Do you want students to have access to projects? Do you want them to own their path and pacing through the online material, but not offline? Then you can start to think about their ideal teacher experience. We’re seeing a lot of schools redefining the role of teachers away from “the sage on the stage” to more of a designer of learning experiences, or the mentor, the facilitator. Some schools are getting really creative and thinking about how to restructure team teaching. Can we collapse different classrooms into one big giant learning lab and change what teachers do?

For example, one teacher can focus on the data because that’s what he or she likes to do, while another can focus on small group instruction, while another can focus on projects. Only then, once you’ve thought about these experiences that you want to create, would you start to focus on the content, the technology to support it, the facilities and what the culture should look like.

Julie Everly
Assistant Superintendent
Monroe Public Schools (Mich.)

In addition to classroom Tier 1 instruction, we wanted to offer daily enrichment and intervention opportunities. It was important to have time carved out that could be very flexible, when teachers in a grade level or in a particular department could flexibly group their kids. So we developed what we call “intervention and enrichment time.” It’s a 35- to 40-minute period in which students are grouped according to data on their progress. DreamBox Learning is included in that time. We knew that there would also be students who needed more, who needed continuous access to that just-right content. Those students also use DreamBox during what we call “intense intervention,” which takes place at a different time of day based on each student’s learning profile.

We also have extended-day opportunities, and DreamBox and our other blended learning programs are a very big part of that as well. We are also extending our learning experience into a summer academy that will include DreamBox as a key piece of the math curriculum. We quickly learned that access to technology devices was going to be key to our implementation. We knew we had a great problem when teachers were saying, “I need more lab time! I want to have my kids on DreamBox more, but there’s never an open spot!” Those were wonderful problems to have to solve. The parent engagement piece is one of the trickiest, because some parents say, “This isn’t the way it was when I went to school. I don’t know if this will work.” So we host parent nights and parent engagement workshops where they come in at night or on the weekends and experience what the students are doing during the school day.

That has grown the public advocacy for blended learning. It has also helped us support technology purchases, and has nurtured that home-school connection that every school is trying to strengthen.

Tim Hudson
Senior Director of Curriculum Design
DreamBox Learning

Our reporting for parents, teachers and administrators shows highly individualized progress. You can see how students can spend different amounts of time using DreamBox to progress to comparable levels of proficiency. Plus, we enable strategic student work groups with a one-click report so teachers can know whether next week’s lesson is appropriate for none, some or all of the students in the class.

At DreamBox, we know blended learning doesn’t mean just digitizing age-old educational practices or putting students on a computer for ten minutes after the classroom lesson is over. And personalized learning doesn’t mean every student just moves through the same sequence of lessons and problems at a different speed. Rather, personalized learning means each individual student’s ideas are honored both in classrooms and when using technology. That’s why DreamBox fully adapts and differentiates for all students, no matter where they are in their learning, to complement the work of classroom teachers and to support personalization and blended learning models.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please go to

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