Educators are always on the hunt for fresh ideas on how keep students engaged and get them excited about learning, and one of these hot new trends is blended learning.
A blended learning classroom means students don’t sit in quiet rows at desks, listening to a teacher lecture – instead, learning elements such as traditional methods and materials (e.g., quizzes and books), new technologies and educational games, classroom lectures, online student-driven lessons, and collaboration groups with other students combine to form an integrated educational experience.
The most important factor is that the elements work together toward the same end goal or lesson without merely repeating each other. This creates reinforcement of the lesson without repetition and keeps students interested and on track; studies have shown blended learning reduces failure rates, improves learning and boosts engagement.
But how does one begin? While blended learning sounds good on paper, educators and administrators may be unsure how it can fit into their own schools.
These 9 tips can help guide the implementation of a blended learning program:
1. Start small.
It may seem overwhelming to overhaul all your methods and curriculum, but you can introduce elements of blended learning gradually, and add more as you become more comfortable. Research is key as you get your materials and strategy in order and figure out what works for you and your students, and what doesn’t.
Often a school may have one educator or administrator who acts as the “champion” for blended learning – whether that’s you or someone else – and that person can help others with content and strategies as blended learning ramps up.
2. Set your goals.
Any learning strategy needs clearly defined objectives and goals before content and methods are determined. Figure out what information needs to be in the syllabus, what learning models should be used to deliver the information, what types of tools or technologies you have at your disposal and so on. This will help create a road map to your blended learning strategy.
3. Understand how to quantify.
As with any lesson plan, you should be able to assess whether or not it’s working. Checking students’ progress might entail quizzes along the way; educational games that are scored based on how well the students understood the concepts; online or classroom discussions; or brief essays. Assessments along the way also will help students see what information is important so they can improve as needed.
4. Ensure access to information.
The best education comes from a mix of content from various sources. Educators need access to a wide variety of information; some sites that support for teachers can be found here. Additionally, other teachers can be great resources for both content as well as blended learning methods. Find another local or regional school that can share content as well as insights on what has worked.
5. Remember it’s not just about adding technology.
A technology-rich classroom isn’t necessarily a blended learning classroom. While technology certainly can and should be a part of a blended learning strategy, a shift to student-driven coursework is a must for blended learning.
6. Focus on collaboration.
Likewise, collaboration methods and technologies are just one part of blended learning, but they help students work through complex concepts together and act as the “yang” to the “yin” of solitary learning, which is another important part of this learning strategy. Collaboration should be both online as well as in person, to give equal opportunities to students who are more comfortable interacting in writing via the web.
7. Relinquish control.
Educators starting out in the blended learning realm can find this difficult, but part of blended learning is giving students more freedom at some points to learn at their own pace. This is generally done during the online learning portions of a lesson or course, as solitary learning lets them take as long as they need without holding up other students. Students who direct their own learning after teachers lay the groundwork often do better because they are personally invested in their success, and know they can take their time figuring things out.
8. Expand students’ options.
Because some portions of a blended learning course will live online, educators don’t need to limit what they provide. Include additional reading links and resources for students that want to delve further into a topic than the lesson will go.
9. Don’t forget paper.
While online learning will be an important part of a blended learning strategy, ensure that students get printed copies of some critical materials. Most people agree that close reading is easier to do on paper – and in fact, we better understand what we read. A 2012 Israeli study of engineering students who read the same text on screen and in print when under time pressure to complete a task found that their comprehension and learning was better on paper, suggesting the really important stuff belongs in print.
Students may not have access to a printer at home, so classrooms and school libraries should offer printers for student use. Enabling mobile print access will encourage students to print the important materials – they can just hit a button from their phone to get their materials on the fly, without having to sit down and log into a desktop.
Blending learning may sound complex – and it certainly can be – but with the right approach and a solid research base, your classroom can make the transition to a strategy that engages students and facilitates their learning and development.