What is it?
Blended Learning is a more recent term that has started to be used in education. As defined by Clifford Maxwell on BlendedLearning.org:
“...Blended Learning is any formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace. Critical to the definition is ‘online learning, with some element of student control.’ In all blended-learning programs, students do some of their learning via the Internet. This does not mean using any digital tool, such as an online graphing calculator or Google Docs.”
Blended Learning is a shift from just incorporating technology into lesson plans to having digital platforms that help to individualize learning.
Why is it being done?
There are many benefits of Blended Learning. For teachers, it becomes easier to differentiate instruction and independent practice of skills. Often programs have pretests and will start each student working on skills that they need to practice. Some programs also have the option of assigning certain students to work in different parts of the program, so it can be individualized in that way. Blended Learning is generally organized in such a way that data about how the student is doing is collected and organized instantaneously so a teacher can easily see progress being made in addition to skills they still need to work on. These individualized systems can free up a teacher to be able to work more with students face to face in small groups while other students are still getting personalized practice.
For students, the obvious benefit is the individualized instruction. In addition students will feel some autonomy and sense of control over their learning, which should promote intrinsic motivation for learning. Computer skills and use of technology are now integral in society, so adding more elements of technology into the classroom can also help kids with their general computer literacy. Technology can also make learning more engaging, especially in a world where digitally connected kids often expect instant feedback and response.
How can it be done successfully?
The first piece is making sure there is the technology (hardware, software, and internet) to implement it. Then the teacher needs to have a deep understanding of the programs being used so it can be implemented seamlessly. Students must also understand the structure of the classroom when doing blended learning, what is expected of them, what the goals are, and how to use the system correctly. Blended Learning should never replace face to face instruction. It
needs to be paired with face to face learning and offline or real world practice and application to provide results. In a Washington Post article titled “Blended learning: The great new thing or the great new hype?”, Phil McRae warned, “Technologies should be employed to help students become empowered citizens rather than passive consumers. Innovations are needed in education that will help to create a society where people can flourish within culturally rich, informed, democratic, digitally connected and diverse communities. We should not descend into a culture of individualism through technology where our students are fragmented by continuous partial attention.” Blended Learning can be an amazing tool to support teachers and students in the classroom, but we need to ensure that students are still getting the in-person classroom experience with their teachers and peers.