Tips and Tricks

How to Build a Successful Blended Learning Model

When you make the switch to a blended learning model, you find yourself making instructional choices for students that empower them to utilize technology in a very independent and deliberate manner.

Defined by the nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank Clayton Christensen Institute as any formal education program in which students learn at least in part through online learning with “student control over time, place, path and/or pace,” blended learning needs to be a purposeful and thoughtful endeavor.

That means being able to continually reinforce the following:

  • The pedagogy behind why content is being delivered via technology versus through a teacher.
  • Why sometimes it’s better to utilize face-to-face collaboration versus an online platform, or vice versa.
  • How to make smart, purposeful choices regarding technology usage (rather than just slapping a device into a student’s hands and calling the program “blended”).

Now, you can throw a bunch of technology into a classroom and hope that it sticks — districts do it all the time — but that’s not a purposeful approach. It’s also not meaningful, nor does it advance learning objectives in the classroom or promote independent learning. Put simply, introducing technology for the sake of technology doesn’t work. Instead, schools should take the following four steps for implementing and using a successful blended learning model.

1) Reinforce the pedagogy and then show how blended learning can get you there. This has been our approach since the beginning, and it started with a clear definition of exactly what blended learning meant to us. As we worked to come up with a good definition, we knew at least one thing for certain: blended learning doesn’t look like children sitting in front of a computer all day. If it did, we’d just have a virtual academy, and that’s not what we wanted.

2) Select technology that truly supports the blended environment. One thing we love most about Lexia — and what has been great for our teachers — is how the program fits seamlessly into a blended classroom. Students can learn at their own pace utilizing the technology, while the teacher can monitor their progress in real time and use the data to give the face-to-face lessons (when appropriate). So whether that intervention comes before the students embark on their own learning within Core5, or if it comes based on some of the progress/assessment data that the teacher gets, teachers have the choice of delivering a lesson offline to a small group, an individual or even a whole group. That perfectly supports the idea of blended learning — where the students can experience some independence in their learning and be self-paced and where the teacher gets that real-time feedback right away.  

3) Choose the right model for your existing curriculum. Put your curriculum and learning first and technology second when developing an effective blended learning model. Make sure that your curriculum is in place and it truly lends itself to a blended learning model. There are so many different models out there for blended learning — whether it's a lab rotation model, a station rotation model, a flexible model or a virtual model. This is a key consideration. For example, a lab rotation model won’t work for us because we are a 1:1 school that doesn’t go to the computer lab. Also, be sure to build some flexibility into your chosen model. For instance, you might want students to rotate through stations for science lessons, but then you may want more flexible options for reading lessons.

4) It may sound cliché, but get your ducks in a row first. The plethora of educational technology that’s at our fingertips right now makes jumping in very tempting, but it’s also very risky (and, in many cases, expensive and time consuming). Start the process by looking at what type of digital programs and resources will support your curriculum, instruction, and vision for blended learning. What devices or what type of technology are you going to use? What does the related professional development look like? And, how are we going to support teachers and students through the transition? One of the great things about a blended learning environment — though it’s probably the hardest part — occurs when teachers can let go of the control in their room and let the students thrive.

About the Author

Tara Beams is assistant superintendent, elementary, for the Edison Township Public School District in Edison, NJ.