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Understand the core elements and most common models of blended learning.
COVID-19 has required districts, schools, and teachers to be very creative in meeting the needs of their students. While it hasn’t been easy, educators have risen to the challenge, remaking an entire educational system almost overnight. In the process, much of this innovation has drawn from the best practices of blended learning.
What Is Blended Learning?
At its core, blended learning is learning that takes place partially in a face-to-face, brick-and-mortar setting and partially in a virtual, online setting. Blended learning leans on the idea that both face-to-face and online learning offer significant benefits and advantages, and that the blended-learning teacher will draw upon the best practices and advantages of each option.
Some teachers have facilitated blended learning entirely within their face-to-face classroom environment. Schools and districts have used forms of blended learning to supplement face-to-face classes with online classes as a way to offer students additional course options. Teachers in remote-learning classrooms have taken the key elements of blended learning and applied them to their remote-learning environment. Entire schools have embraced a hybrid system of learning, where some days are face-to-face and others are online. In each of these examples, educators have applied the four key elements of blended learning to their own, unique situations.
The 4 Key Elements of Blended Learning
The teacher and student need to be in the same place for some of the learning. Traditionally, this is either a face-to-face lesson in the classroom or an in-class activity that follows up a virtual lesson. During distance learning, teachers have needed to modify this approach and use live videoconferencing software to meet the requirements of the face-to-face component. While the teacher and students are not in the same physical room, they are meeting in a common virtual classroom at the same time (synchronously).
Part of a blended-learning experience must be through an online or digital channel. This could be facilitated through a video, digital text, or an interactive website. Teachers have “flipped” lessons, requiring students to learn content at home virtually and then following that up with a face-to-face lesson the next day. Other times, teachers have integrated the online-learning component into a station in the classroom. In this case, students complete the online components in the face-to-face classroom. During remote learning, the online portion of blended learning has increased. Students work through self-paced lessons, and then meet with the entire class during the video meeting.
An important aspect of blended learning is that some control of learning is transferred from the teacher to the student. Specifically, students need to control one or more of the following elements of learning.
- Pace: Students move through content at the pace that is best for them. Again, this doesn’t mean that there is no due date, but it does mean that students have flexibility for how long they spend on certain content. Students who are advanced don’t need to wait for others, and students who need a little more time can take it since they are not confined to bells or class periods. Varied pace can be a great way to differentiate in a blended classroom.
- Place: Students decide where they will complete their lessons. When students are not in their physical classrooms, they can complete their work anywhere they have access to the internet. Even in a traditional classroom, teachers often allow students to choose the place in the classroom where they learn best. This use of flexible seating can be empowering.
- Path: This might be the most empowering component of the four. Students choose “how” they will learn the content. This may take a bit more planning on the teacher’s part, but it can allow students to truly learn in the way that works best for them. Sometimes, this means working alone or with a partner. Other times, it means choosing the medium for the content (text, video, audio, etc.). Still other times, it may allow students to develop their own path via the inquiry process. One popular method for differentiating this path is to offer a choice board where students need to choose one learning activity from each column. This ensures that they complete the necessary components of the lesson while also giving them choice.
- Time: Students can decide when they will complete their lessons. That does not mean that there are no deadlines, but it does mean that students can choose when to do their work in the time frame outlined, as long as it’s finished by the due date. While this flexibility is empowering, many students benefit by establishing a routine for doing their work, completing it at a self-scheduled time each day. Student time management skills will be essential. If students are completing their work in a traditional classroom, they may still be given flexible time within a class period during which to complete their work.
While sometimes overlooked, this is a very important part of the equation. For blended learning to really work, the face-to-face and online parts of the lesson need to work together. One should build on the other, and thus strengthen the overall learning. For instance, a student might participate in a flipped lesson, where they watch a video to learn content. Then, in class, the students might apply the skills learned in the video lesson. Sometimes, it works the other way around, and the teacher needs to guide students more personally through a learning experience that sets up the online work. In either case, if the two parts are not tied together, then learning isn’t really “blended.” Even when the face-to-face component is done via remote videoconferencing software, rather than in a physical classroom, that experience should connect with the other remote work students are completing.
Five Blended-Learning Models: A Brief Preview
While there are more than five blended-learning models, over the coming weeks, this collection will explore the five most common. These are also the five that are most flexible and can be applied to traditional or remote learning spaces. Here is a brief introduction to the models that will be highlighted in upcoming AVID Open Access articles.
1. Whole-Group Rotation:
In whole-group rotation, the entire class rotates between face-to-face and online learning at the same time. For instance, the students might all participate in a full-class, face-to-face activity together, and when the class is finished, be directed to simultaneously take out their digital devices and log in to an eLearning website.
2. Station Rotation:
In this model, students rotate in small groups through a series of stations. This is commonly facilitated within a physical classroom by having some stations feature online learning and some offline learning. Oftentimes, one station is a meeting with the teacher.
3. Flipped Learning:
Flipped learning comes from the idea of flipping the instructional process upside down. Instead of the teacher lecturing content and the students doing homework later, students learn through a digital medium (video, article, website, etc.), and then come back together for a face-to-face activity that stretches students to the upper level of Costa’s and Bloom’s Levels of Thinking.
Think of a playlist as an individualized checklist of tasks or activities to complete. Within this checklist, students can make choices to personalize the learning in some way. Sometimes, the teacher customizes the playlist for individual students, and students may sometimes choose from options that are offered. One type of playlist is a choice board.
5. Hybrid Courses:
Hybrid courses usually happen at the school level, rather than the individual-classroom level. In this model, students attend school in the physical classroom on some days, and then learn remotely on other days. For instance, students may be required to meet in person on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday each week, with Tuesday and Thursday being remote-learning days.
Extend Your Learning
We will continue to explore specific blended-learning models in subsequent AVID Open Access articles. You may also want to explore the websites listed below. Rather than specific articles, these are links to more expansive websites that offer a broad range of blended-learning resources from some leaders in the field.
- What Is Blended Learning? (The Blended Learning Universe)
- Personalized and Blended Learning (The Clayton Christensen Institute)
- Ready to Blend Podcast (Heather Clayton Staker)
- @catlin_tucker blog [relevant blog post: A Flipped Learning Flow for Blended or Online Classes] (Catlin Tucker)