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Pros & Cons of the Different Instructional Environments

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Students in K-12 have access to a variety of instructional environments, including traditional, online and a hybrid of both. In this post, we'll discuss the pros and cons of all three.

Traditional Classrooms

Many if not all of your educational experiences probably took place in a traditional classroom environment. These types of classrooms are based on teacher-centered instruction and the lecture method.

Advantages

One advantage of the lecture method is that material can be consistently and thoroughly covered in class. Since lectures consist of extended explanations, they help ensure that all students are on equal footing when it comes to grasping general material presented in class.

In a traditional classroom, you can still offer group work or even projects. However, unlike other models of instruction, these activities are highly structured. They're also less open-ended when it comes to allowing for student choices in learning. But contrary to what we as educators might think, some research on teacher-centered and learner-centered instruction shows that there are students who prefer a lecture-based classroom and not to engage in group work at all.

student doing paper work

Disadvantages

There are some definite disadvantages to traditional instructional environments. For one, students don't get frequent opportunities to develop the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century. For example, students may not be able to develop the important communication and collaboration skills they'll need to work in team-based environments. Additionally, traditional classrooms don't always provide teachers with the opportunity to differentiate between students who are working below or above average levels of understanding. For teachers, this presents challenges when trying to reach all of the students in a classroom.

Online Instruction

In the online instructional environment or in virtual charter schools, the computer and the Internet take the place of the traditional classroom. However, video-based lectures are delivered through direct instruction, just like in a traditional classroom.

Advantages

The advantages of online instructional environments include easy access to material anytime students choose. Unlike in a traditional classroom, your direct instruction can take a lot of different forms. In some classes, you may build the course around an assigned textbook and supplement the readings with recorded audio or video lectures. You may also use self-assessment questions at the end of each activity.

In other cases, you may use technology-based interactive components, such as simulations, that provide students with experiences and immediate feedback. These components are usually designed by a company, which can leave you at a disadvantage when it comes to finding ways to differentiate instruction.

student typing

Disadvantages

There are other intrinsic disadvantages to online learning and virtual charter schools environments. First, students must work primarily on their own. As a result, online environments lack social interaction for your students. In most cases, especially in K-12, there aren't any group projects or opportunities for cooperative learning. Most interactions occur between the individual student and teacher. So students don't have the opportunity to develop the teamwork skills they need to be successful beyond the virtual environment.

Research also shows that certain types of courses have an inherent disadvantage in online environments. For example, science courses taught online severely limit student opportunities to engage in inquiry activities or labs, which are fundamental to learning the concepts and skills needed to pursue advanced science courses or careers.

Blended or Hybrid Learning

A blended or hybrid learning classroom can provide you with a lot of options as a teacher. Blended learning environments come in a lot of different flavors to suit individual teaching styles. In some cases, students only attend class on certain days of the week, where they can work on collaborative activities with their peers, or receive instruction face to face. In other models, your students work in a blended learning environment in the context of a traditional school. In your school, you may have whole teams using blended instruction, or only individual classes.

Advantages

Within your normal classroom time, your students can work online independently or in small groups with you as the facilitator. Small group work is a definite advantage of blended learning in that students have more opportunities to collaborate than in purely traditional classrooms. Therefore, they develop stronger communication and teamwork skills than they would in other environments.

students cheering

Additionally, blended learning allows you as an educator to meet all of your students where they are in their learning levels. If you have students who are working below level, you can group them together and modify instruction or projects to meet their needs. You can do the same if you have students who are working beyond the course materials.

Disadvantages

There are some profound disadvantages of blended learning as well. We all have students who, regardless of the level you teach, struggle with time management and motivation. Blended learning environments can be challenging for these types of students because, frankly, they don't work well given autonomy. Just like students in online learning environments, they may struggle with the notion of 'self-paced', which may require additional support.

By Rachel Tustin
January 2017
opinion instructional environments

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