As one of today’s most promising models for instruction, blended learning is growing rapidly across the country. But what really is blended learning, and how can educators use it to improve student outcomes?
In a blended learning environment, students learn through a combination of online instruction—with some element of student control over time, place, path and pace—and instruction in a classroom. There are several different blended models that schools and districts can use or combine, including:
- In “rotation,” the most common blended learning model, the studentswill often switch between online learning, full-class or small-group instruction, and individual tutoring.
- In “face-to-face driver,” online learning is for supplemental instruction and occurs in a traditional classroom.
- In “flex,” the curriculum is primarily online but is delivered in a school setting where teachers provide onsite support.
- In “online labs,” students take their online courses in a computer lab.
- In “self-blend” or “a la carte,” students choose their online courses to supplement their schools’ curriculum.
- In “online driver,” students work remotely on online courses and school facilities are used only for extracurricular activities and other routine procedures.
Paving dynamic pathways
Blended learning makes it possible to adapt the classroom model to better support both the teachers’ ability to differentiate instruction and the more frequent use of data to inform lessons.
By connecting individual modalities along each student’s learning path in a course or subject, educators can then provide students with an integrated learning experience. This blended learning model engages students in ways that they are accustomed to, thanks to today’s technology-driven world and the increasing focus on personalized experiences.
One of the reasons blended learning holds great promise is that it magnifies the impact of a single teacher who is responsible for many students at different stages of readiness for learning. Educators have been trying to personalize learning and focus on competency for all students for decades. Today’s technology tools help make that possible.
Empowerment through assessment
With blended learning models, rich data on student competency can be provided to educators in ways never before possible—saving time and effort while simultaneously permitting real-time feedback. This wealth of data serves as an embedded formative assessment: an essential, ongoing and highly integrated component of the learning process.
Given the competing demands on teachers, leveraging this new influx of data to better meet the needs of students is essential. Using the data as assessment “for learning” rather than “of learning,” teachers can tailor their instruction toward specific skill or concept deficits.
At the same time, students are empowered to assess their own progress, which in turn fosters a greater sense of ownership and responsibility—important habits of mind needed for college and career readiness.
Fundamental shift toward the future
The teaching profession is undergoing a dramatic transformation. Policy shifts, new assessments and increased scrutiny have led to the need for a close inspection of current practices.
Blended learning helps maximize classroom time by creating additional opportunities for teachers to deliver small-group or individualized instruction. It also lets students self-direct their learning through digital content.
Blended learning represents a transformative change in the traditional school model to meet the more rigorous challenges of today’s world. It is changing the face of pre-K through12 education because it is more than a technology fad; it is a fundamental shift in instructional practice that will improve student outcomes for future generations.
Cindy Elsberry is the former superintendent of Horry County Schools in South Carolina. The diverse, high-poverty district won national acclaim for its digital transformation under her leadership and was rated as one of the state’s highest-performing districts.