Blended Learning | Viewpoint

5 Skills for Blended-Learning Teachers

In the seventh installment of their monthly column, blended learning experts Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker outline the five skills that will increasingly be important for many teachers in the future.

As more schools adopt blended-learning models, the role of the teacher is shifting. As a result, teachers need different skills to be successful.

Although it is hard to generalize across the landscape of blended learning because of the rapid pace of innovation in the models, the differences between the models, and the continued changes in technology, there are five common skills that teachers will likely need to be successful in a blended-learning environment.

1) Comfort with 'Chaos'
One of the biggest shifts in a blended-learning environment is often that students will be engaged in different activities and working on different concepts and skills. Teachers must learn to be comfortable facilitating learning in this environment and creating a culture that sets high academic expectations and encourages students to own their learning.

A teacher shouldn't be alarmed at seeing students conferring with peers while she is working in small groups or one-on-one with other students. If teachers invest in creating a strong culture up front with clear norms and expectations, blended learning will amplify that culture. If there is a negative culture in place, however, blended learning is likely to amplify that as well.

2) Student-Learning Data Analysis and Decision Making
Many groups make a big deal out of teachers using more data to drive better instruction for students, but it's tough to do in the traditional classroom. Teachers only receive real data on how students are doing every few weeks, and they don't have a lot of time to do anything with it. As the Charter School Growth Fund's Alex Hernandez writes, the shift to online learning will produce a "fire hose of real-time student data."

Responding to individual student data in real time--or even on a daily basis, as happens in many blended-learning models today--is a significant and important shift for teachers to master. Not every teacher will become a data automaton of course, but what will help teachers is that increasingly they won't have to be the ones actively collecting every piece of data; instead they will be able to spend more time analyzing and figuring out what to do about it, coupled of course with their own "data" that they collect on students from their intuition and observations.

3) Targeted Learning Opportunities
Historically, teachers have been forced to deliver a relatively unified, monolithic educational experience. Teachers will now need new skills to learn how to support students who are learning different things, at different paces, through different approaches. They will need to be able to facilitate different learning opportunities for students--such as one-on-one tutoring, small-group instruction, project-based learning,  and lectures. Given that leading small-group interventions will be a major part of this, becoming masterful at that skill rather than lesson planning for an entire class is a good starting point.

4) Specialization
Teachers increasingly won't have to be all things to all people and will have opportunities to specialize. As blended-learning models mature, there will be opportunities for team teaching and differentiated roles for teachers. Some may be content experts, others learning coaches or facilitators, and still others might be non-academic teachers who look much more like caseworkers. Not every teacher may have to be a pro at data analysis, for example. As Public Impact has written, increasingly many elementary school teachers, for example, may need to learn to be specialists in particular subjects. For example, one teacher may be an expert in math and science, another in language arts and social studies, and paraprofessionals can support students with social and behavioral skills and watch students during lunch and recess.

5) Technological prowess
Because technology is becoming simpler to use and more ubiquitous in our daily lives, teachers won't actually need as much as people may think in the way of technology skills to teach in a blended-learning environment. Still, they will likely need a few basic skills. As the International Association for K-12 Online Learning's (iNACOL) National Standards for Quality Online Teaching documents, teachers will need to be able to communicate via a variety of mediums, explore, identify, and use a variety of online tools to meet student needs, and be able to do basic troubleshooting--such as helping students reset passwords, download plug-ins, and so forth. For many teachers, being able to teach effectively offline as well as online will be critical.

About the Authors

Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation and co-author of Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns and Choosing College: How to Make Better Learning Decisions throughout Your Life.

Heather Staker is a senior education research fellow at Innosight Institute.