Saturday, November 8, 2014

What is blended learning?

Since I work in a blended learning environment, I thought it might be good to share some information on theories and models of blended learning.

What is blended learning?

Blended learning is essentially a blend of a traditional school and online learning.  Usually, online learning courses are used at a physical school location and blended with face-to-face instruction and small-group student interaction to personalize learning for students. HERE is a post from Blackboard with some overviews of different definitions.

What does blended learning look like?

Blended learning is considered by many to be the future direction of education. As technology leads to an ever-increasing globalized world, we want students to be prepared for the 21st century.  One of my first introductions to the ideas behind blended learning was Sir Ken Robinson's ted talk on "Changing Education Paradigms."

Now to better understand blended learning, it is good to understand some of the different approaches to this new form of educating students.   You can find a good article to summarize them here HERE.

Clayton Christensen in his book Disrupting Class explains the need for disrupting innovation.

Sustaining innovations are meant to improve existing models of doing things, where disruptive innovations offer something new or a completely new way of doing things.  You can read HERE for more information about Christensen's ideas on these two types of innovation.  It is not that one type of innovation is necessarily better than the other.  Many times in industries both are needed for different purposes and in different situations.

In the world of blended learning, some models are considered sustaining innovation and some are disruptive innovations.

Sustaining Innovation Models of Blended Learning

The Rotation Model

  • Station Rotation
    • This model works really well in a workshop (reading, writing, or math) approach to teaching.  Students rotate through different dedicated stations, with online-learning being one of those stations in the classroom. 
    • Other stations would be small-group instruction, games, projects, centers for practice, etc. Stations are usually all completed within the self-contained classroom.
    • Stations require a lot of modeling, scaffolding, organization, and routine. 
  • Lab Rotation
    • Students rotate through stations, but one of the stations is a computer lab for the online learning. 
    • In the lab, students work at a more individualized pace through usually reading or math content/practice. 
    • Labs are supervised by an assistant, not necessarily a certified teacher. 
    • This frees up the teacher to spend time doing small-group instruction without having to focus as much energy on classroom management because not all students are in the room at the same time. 
  • Flipped Learning
    • This approach is one of the most common "buzz words" in teaching right now.  
    • Many schools and districts are transitioning to flipped learning.In this model, usually students watch videos of a a teacher lecture at home and then come to class to practice and apply the concepts from the lecture.  Thus, the normal process of lecture in class and homework done at home is "flipped."  The "homework" is done in class.
    • Be careful not to over-use this approach because watching too many videos at home for too many subjects could quickly get to boring.
    • Difficult in schools where students have limited access to internet at home.
  • Individual Rotation
    • In this approach to rotations or stations, not all students may have the same rotations or online courses.  
    • Teacher can assign and use as needed.

Disruptive Innovation Models of Blended Learning

The Flex Model

The private school I work at would be considered a flex model.  We use online-learning content created by vendors to deliver the instruction in some courses.  We pair this with small-group projects, some face-to-face teaching, and a lot of individual tutoring. Students in the same classroom may work at different paces and levels, providing a lot of opportunity for acceleration.  We also have other courses where more of the instruction may be directly from the teacher, and we use technology for enrichment, practice, application, student engagement and choice, and demonstration of learning.

The A-La-Carte Model

In this model, students may take just certain courses completely online to supplement other face-to-face classes they take at a physical school.  This can be a good option when a school does not provide the particular course that a student wants or needs in person.

The Enriched Virtual Model

This version of blended learning is used in often in graduate school programs (like Executive MBA programs) for their online courses.  Much of the content is taught and discussed online, but the class will have required face-to-face classes periodically to enrich the online content and provide opportunity for face-to-face discussion or a project. At the collegiate level, this option provides flexibility for individuals who are pursuing further higher-education while working.

Have you used any version of blended learning in your classroom?  How do you use technology to help differentiate in your classroom?

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