What is Blended Learning?
Today's educators know that technology has had a profound impact on how teaching and learning work. One of the phenomena that has come to play an increasingly important role in education is blended learning. However, what is blended learning, actually?
The idea of blended learning is that some students can benefit from doing part of their learning in a digital environment, and part of it face to face. The benefits of blended learning include the fact that many students can learn best independently, on their own time frame, and via interface with digital technology. At the same time, learning done in this virtual way is often best consolidated by in-person interactions. In many ways, blended learning combines the best of both worlds.
Blended learning has seen growth over time, largely because of the increasing accessibility of technology and ongoing interest in making use of digital learning technologies. Many educational advocates have spoken to the advantages of blended learning in the classroom , such as student-centered instruction, easy data collection, and increased engagement. As with any educational model, of course, blended learning should be used sensibly and thoughtfully, with an eye toward enriching student learning.
Blended Learning Models
There are six basic models of blended learning that describe how it can be used in the classroom. One model of blended learning is the face-to-face driver model. In the face-to-face driver model of blended learning, students predominantly follow a traditional, in-person educational approach but then use online learning to proceed at their own pace for particular assignments and experiences. This enables educators to more effectively pace and differentiate teaching.
In the rotation model of blended learning, students can rotate through various stations to learn about different facets of a topic. Some stations are virtual, while others rely on in-person direct instruction.
The flex model of blended learning is one in which most teaching happens online, with teachers acting as facilitators in the classroom. Instruction is mostly self-guided in this model, so students are in charge of their pace and performance.
The online lab model of blended learning involves students traveling to a school where all education is delivered through online modules. This approach is a viable option for schools or districts experiencing limited resources or budget cuts because it can free up teacher time to focus on the students most in need.
In the self-blend model of blended learning students participate in a traditional, face-to-face educational program but supplement it via online instruction that they have chosen to pursue. Motivated high school students benefit the most from this model, as they can complete advanced classes on their own time.
Finally, in the online driver model of blended learning, students work from home or other remote locations and check in with a teacher in person or virtually about how their online modules are working. The set-up works perfectly for students who live abroad, travel often, participate in competitive sports, and so on.
One of the overall advantages to blended learning is its flexibility, which is amplified by the number of variations teachers and schools can consider. Because there are so many different models for blended learning, it is important to think about the exact needs and goals of each learner and instructor in selecting a particular model. Different models are better suited to different students, circumstances, and resources. Identifying the best model for the situation requires taking all important factors into account.
Blended Learning in the Classroom
If you are thinking about participating in blended learning, either as a student or as an instructor, you may want a better sense of the blended learning classroom environment. Of course, blended learning examples can vary tremendously depending on the model that is being used. However, a blended learning environment is usually abuzz with technology, activity, and differentiation.
For example, you might think about a classroom with computers, tablets, and even cell phones available at different stations. One small group of learners might be working on a science activity with a teacher, while others might be reading about the same topic online. Another group might be conducting a virtual experiment, while others might be writing lab reports using digital technologies. For example, you might think about a classroom with computers, tablets, and even cell phones available at different stations. One small group of learners might be working on a science activity with a teacher, while others might be reading about the same topic online. Another group might be conducting a virtual experiment, while others might be writing lab reports using digital technologies.
All students are thinking about similar concepts and skills, but they can work at their own pace and level, completing activities and exercises suited to precisely where they are in their learning. Some advanced students may read and answer questions at a higher level, while students who struggle might work with assistive technologies that aid with their remedial skill acquisition, all in one classroom.
Some blended learning environments are more separated in space and time, so that the actual learning environment occurs virtually. Students may read, watch online talks, and complete experiments or problem sets in their homes, then come together online to discuss and debate what they have learned. If you are new to blended learning, you can start by thinking about the overall goals of your instruction, the differences between and among your students, and what everyone hopes to get out of both the technological and the face-to-face aspects of the instruction.
Implementing Blended Learning
Now that you understand what blended learning is and how it looks, you are probably interested in strategies for implementing blended learning in your classroom. It is important to start by making sure you can meet all of the requirements for blended learning. For example, think about the school's technological infrastructure and capacity to integrate information systems into instruction.
The next thing you will want to do is think about which of the six basic blended learning models best meets your instructional goals and needs. This will depend on precisely what your goals are, the age of your learners, and the kinds of technology you can access.
Next, you will think about content selection for blended learning. Not all content can be delivered virtually, but some content is actually more effective delivered virtually. Think about your overall teaching goals and which aspects of your curriculum lend themselves to the different formats available in the blended learning equation.
Everyone has an important role to play in an effective blended learning experience. When thinking about the role of learners in blended learning, consider students' capacity to stay on task, their attention, executive function and motivation, their overall familiarity and facility with technology, and their ability to shift tasks as they move toward understanding. These variables will help decide how much instruction should be self-guided and occur outside of the classroom, as opposed to direct instruction led by the teacher in the classroom.
It is also important to think about the role of staff in blended learning, since having the appropriate instructional staff as well as technology support staff can make a big difference in the effectiveness of planned modules or activities. Blended learning may require training for existing staff or additional team members with specializations.