No, blended learning is NOT hype, at least not in my experience. However, I will say that I have seen people say that they are blending learning when it is not blended learning at all. I interviewed a thought leader from the Christensen Institute about the eight types of blended learning, shared my five essential, effective blended learning best practices, gave a webinar on blended learning best practices, and led a panel at the 2016 ISTE with blended learning thought leaders. Through all of this, here are some thoughts on blended learning today.
What is blended learning?
First, there are lots of forms of blended learning. There's station rotation. There is a flipped classroom. There's the flex model.
But every classroom is made up of two spaces:
- the face-to-face space and
- the online space
The effective 21st-century teacher will meld the online space and the face-to-face classroom into a powerful combination of learning. That is blended learning.
The Blended Learning Secret
In my last five years of blending my classroom, I've learned the secret to great blended learning is to let each location do what it does best.
When I make huge mistakes in blended learning,is when I ask for a space to be something that is not intended to do.
An example of face-to-face success
For example, there is no replacement for face-to-face feedback. Sure, I can record my voice, or I could record a quick video for students. Certainly, when you have online classrooms, you have to do this form of feedback because you don't have the ability to talk face-to-face.
But there is no substitute for me patting a student on the shoulder for a job well done or a quick high-five when a student has made a significant accomplishment. There is no app for that. It is human contact and a powerful way to improve learning.
You can't educate until you relate. Even effective online teachers somehow build a relationship with their student's classroom. But, I believe you can have the best of both worlds.
Something that will move out of the physical classroom to the online space
In another example, I have a dry-erase board on one wall of my room. For the last fifteen years, I've written the assignment on the board for the day. However, during the last three years, my students now use PowerSchool Learning as their learning management system (LMS.)
During their end-of-year feedback session, the students said I should no longer use the dry-erase board.
“We don't look at it. Everything is online.” one said.
“Let's use that board for something else,” said another.
In this example, students asked for assignments just to be online and to use the physical space differently.
Dividing something into two spaces
Perhaps the most intriguing conversations happened about the course videos I created and embed in their LMS.
Overwhelmingly they said they like the screencasts to be in video form. So, they want those online when I'm teaching how to point and click or do a task.
However, to my surprise, they said that the bulleted content when I'm talking about a topic or trend — they want that in the face-to-face classroom.
“You have more energy when you share your stories face to face.”
“It is hard to pay attention to bullets and just words on a page when it is in a video.”
Student Feedback As You Blend
Therefore, as I get back from my students, I become the greatest personalization engine that they know.
Yes, tools like Khan Academy can customize learning for them in ways that I cannot do individually.
However, I can adapt the entire classroom and the whole learning experience to create a collaborative, cooperative place where students can create, design, and learn to the best of their ability.
Getting student feedback helps me blend better.
What Works in the Classroom!
So, I don't think blended learning is hype at all. However, I do think that if people think it is the magic bullet to fix everything, as usual, they will be wrong.
What helps kids learn is a lot of hard work from the kids and a lot of hard work from the teachers.
Teachers select the best tools to be able to teach.
Teachers build relationships with students.
And, we bring strategies with a high-effect size into the classroom that also fit with our own abilities as teachers so that we can teach the best of our ability.
Every Classroom is Blended Whether They Know It or Not
So, every single classroom has an online component whether the teachers know it or not.
Students are texting about the class or parents email each other and share information. It's just better to have an online space where you can blend both places and facilitate learning.
I think the only hype that we are guilty of education is the hype that comes from thinking that you can improve learning in the classroom by buying something.
Learning comes at a cost.
Certainly, we have to buy the supplies and access to the tools that we need, but we have to have teachers and students who know how to use those tools for the purpose of learning.
And that, my friends, makes a great blended learning classroom.
When blended learning is done right, it isn't about the technology at all — just learning.
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