My school district has begun the journey into Blended Learning over the past couple of years. As an educator approaching his 30th year in the business, I view Blended Learning as an effort to bridge all of the positive and effective teaching and learning strategies that the educational and research communities have learned over the past few decades.
Like any new initiative, Blended Learning will take some time for teachers and students and parents to learn and understand. We will have to discover new and better ways to implement it in a way that is most beneficial to our students. This effort will be well worth it. Blended Learning--as I see it--addresses the following educational beliefs:
- Learning at your own pace. In a traditional classroom, 30 students learn the same thing at the same time. If you pick up on the topic quickly, you have to wait for your classmates to catch up. If you struggle to understand the topic, you have to move to something else before you fully understand. Blended Learning allows students to move at their pace. Everyone is learning the same topic, but fast learners are given more challenging work and struggling learners are given more assistance.
- Multiple ways to show what you know. In the traditional class, students can only demonstrate their understanding through classwork and homework and tests. While this isn't a terrible method for measuring student knowledge, we certainly know that this method can lead to the appearance of learning when (in reality) little learning occurred. Classwork can be graded on completion instead of quality. Homework completion can come from lots of parental help for some and no parental help for others. And tests can earn high grades due to cramming and memorizing rather than due to actual learning. In the Blended classroom, students work with each other and help each other; teachers can spend more time one-on-one with their students (or in small groups). Students can demonstrate their understanding through informal assessments and assignments in addition to more formal and traditional testing.
- Multiple attempts to learn. We know that learning is a process. Few students can sit in six or seven classes a day and learn six or seven different things strictly from listening and taking notes. Learning requires listening and thinking and doing and sometimes failing the first couple of attempts. Blended Learning recognizes the learning process and students understand that it is OK if they don't get it right away. Blended Learning also provides different modalities for student learning. These include: small group work, individual work, using online resources, using paper and pencil resources, and allowing students to verbalize their understanding.
Blended Learning recognizes that students learn in different ways and at different rates--and this is not only OK, it is expected that all students learn in different ways. The goal is learning. Blended Learning permits students to be students and to learn in a way that works for them. Learning isn't a competition. Learning faster isn't better than learning slower. Everyone that reaches the finish line is a winner. Blended Learning helps students to see the value of learning.