Teaching with Technology

Report: The Real Role of Blended Learning in Instruction

Report: The Real Role of Blended Learning in Instruction 

A new guide on blended learning reminds school district leaders that blended isn't a goal unto itself; nor is it a specific instructional approach. Blended can be integrated into a "variety of educational models" and serves as the "vehicle" for providing innovative instruction.

The report, "Blending Teaching and Technology: Simple Strategies for Improved Student Learning," was produced by Future Ready Schools, an initiative of the Alliance for Excellent Education. Blended learning, as the guide explained, "refers to a variety of practices and strategies" for enabling students to learn online at least some of the time and maintain a level of control over the "time, place, path or pace of their learning."

The report uses a specific California district as the exemplar. Lindsay Unified School District, south of Fresno, has 4,191 students, 86 percent of whom receive free or reduced-priced lunches and 52 percent of whom are learning English. A little over a decade ago the district started on a new exploration to stop its "factory-style" practices that moved students through grades automatically." A 1-to-1 program placed devices into everybody's hands, and teachers adopted a "performance-based" system of progression (also known as "competency-based" or "proficiency-based").

A couple of years ago a blended learning approach was piloted among a "handful" of teachers. This school year districts leaders began expanding that across all grades and in all classrooms.

Each student follows a unique learning path each day, customized to his or her needs. Nobody progresses from grade to grade at the same rate regardless of whether they've learned any or all of the content. Under the performance-based system, students receive "the time and support they need to become proficient in all academic content before moving to new instructional material." Blended learning provides the mechanism for implementing that instructional model.

The district's efforts have been so successful, it now schedules regular tours for people from other schools who want to see how Lindsay Unified operates.

One message the district shares with others is that it started backwards. "Technology was potentially going to be the solution," said Nikolaus Namba, Lindsay's director of 21st Century learning and technology, in the report. "But backfilling the training and access was something we probably should have spent more time considering before we jumped into it.... It's just one of those lessons learned that we try to tout to others at this point."

His advice: "Fully develop your implementation plan about the effective use of technology and the path that needs to be built before you just start passing things out."

Future-Ready Schools has developed a framework and five-step planning process to guide districts in implementing a new instructional approach in their schools. If blended learning is to be part of that, the new report, said, there are seven gears -- "planning areas" or categories of work -- to be moved:

  • Curriculum, instruction and assessment;
  • Personalized professional learning;
  • Budget and resources;
  • Community partnerships;
  • Data and privacy;
  • Robust infrastructure; and
  • Use of space and time.

"Effectively implementing a new instructional approach supported by blended learning requires more than online content and fancy devices," the report concluded. "District leaders must identify the instructional goals and learning outcomes they want to accomplish to ensure that all students, particularly those historically underserved, graduate from high school ready for success in postsecondary education, a career, and life. Once district leaders have a clear vision for how the district wants to transform teaching and learning, they can choose the blended learning strategies and related platforms, content and devices that support those intentions."

The report is openly available on the Future Ready Schools website, along with related resources and links to webinars on the topic.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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