While many school districts are implementing 1:1 and BYOD initiatives, in most circumstances the focus is on the technology and not the learning. Student centered learning is something that many schools are striving to provide for students. Incorporating a true blended learning model can increase student ownership and engagement in the learning process. “Blended learning is the engine that can make student-centered learning possible” (Horn and Staker, 2015). This review will explore the literature surrounding blended learning and it role in student ownership and engagement in learning as well as the teacher’s role in the process.
Student Centered Learning
Blended learning provides a way for educators to focus on students as the center of the learning. Student control is a large part of the process, in this model. “The technology used for online learning must shift content and instruction to the control of the student in at least some way for it to qualify as blended learning” (Horn and Staker, 2015). According to the INACOL report, Blending Learning: The Evolution of Online and Face-to-Face Education from 2008–2015, teachers are guides in the process to put the students in the center of their learning and will use technology to help create this environment. The report goes on to say, “The advent of learning that combines online and face-to-face delivery is not merely a theory or construct—it is an instructional model shift being implemented by schools throughout the country and the world” (Watson, et al., 2015). Blended learning is the next step in education in a world filled with technology. It is a path to gaining truly student centered learning.
Teacher’s Role in Blended Learning
One may believe that in a blended learning model the teacher’s role is more limited. However, the literature supports that the model increases face-to-face time with students. In 2014, the Western Wayne Schools in Pershing, Indiana created a new blended learning program to help struggling high school students (Horn and Fisher 2017). According to the article, New Faces of Blended Learning,
Districts like Wayne are seeing promising results with a disruptive blended learning model that upends, by shifting some instruction online, teachers could devote more of their limited time to face-to-face coaching and small-group instruction rather than reinforces, seat time. Such a model also tends to disrupt the traditional role of teachers as deliverers of content. (Horn and Fisher 2017)
Using this blended learning model will change the role of teachers in the same way that student’s roles are changing in education. Educators will help guide and mentor students and help provide ways to guide lifelong learning in their students (NMC/CoSN, 2017).
Student engagement and Success
Student engagement and success in learning is also a key component in the blended learning model. In the research report, Blended language learning: An effective solution but not without its challenge, Johnson and Marsh discuss that first “the online content must become an integral part of the overall course in order to more readily achieve the learning aims of instruction.” This reinstates the fact that the online piece is an important component to the success of blended learning. They go on to say that, “getting students to engage proactively in the learning dynamic can increase both their learning outcomes and their satisfaction” (Johnson and Marsh 2014). Though research is still in the early stages as to the effectiveness of blended learning in student performance there are many examples of success in districts around the world with the blending model. One example highlighted by the Christensen Institute is Spokane Public Schools. Spokane has developed a number of blended programs district wide since 2008. According to the Christensen Institute report, “Blended programs have been a key part of the overall district strategy to improve graduation rates and have helped Spokane Public Schools improve its graduation rate by 23 percentage points since 2008.” The demographics of the district indicate that they are in the top 3rd of students living in poverty in the state of Washington (Christensen Institute, 2015). The end goal of increasing student success and engagement is to create a bright future for students. In his article, Beyond Technology: The End of the Job and the Beginning of Digital Work, Alan November quotes Dr. Beverly Edwards, Curriculum Specialist/Teacher Trainer, Tulsa Public Schools,
Education in the United States has to prepare students to be more responsible for managing their own learning and to work collaboratively. It is critical that we support these children with a learning environment that will lead to self-managed, self-directed learning and a heightened responsibility for others. We have no choice. The changes in our culture are demanding these skills. Creating programs like blended learning for students is a must to help them be prepared for the future they will face.
Challenges to Blended Learning
As with any school initiative, blended learning implementation is not without its challenges. Using technology for technologies sake is not an example of blended learning. In his article, What Effective Blended Learning Looks Like, Pierce explains that, “part of the challenge in leading blended learning effectively is understanding when — and how — to use technology and when other modalities might be more appropriate” (Pierce, 2017). This exemplifies the blend in blended learning. It is not technology driven but technology is an integral part. In the article, The Rise of Blended Learning, the author states, “One approach most agree is bound to fail, however: focusing on the hardware or software” (Quillen, 2013).
Districts and educators must evaluate the blended learning programs to make sure the blended learning criteria is being met. In the INACOL report the authors state, “besides the technological barriers listed above, schools reported that communicating effectively on the mere notion of blended learning was a challenge” (Watson, et al., 2015). This illustrates the importance of communication between administrators, teacher, students and stakeholders in the educational setting in defining the blended learning programs.
Everyday life and schools revolve around technology therefore schools and educators should harness that technology in the most useful way possible. In his article, Recognizing and understanding the effective blended learning in secondary classrooms, Plough discusses the need to understand the pedagogy surrounding blended learning.
Clearly, technology is more than the latest instructional bells and whistles in a classroom, but it will be relegated as such if school leaders don’t recognize or understand that effective blended learning and other types of online instruction require sound pedagogy today, and in the future (Plough, 2017).
Blended learning can help improve student engagement and academic improvement. It can be an important tool for educators to use technology to disrupt learning and make an impact on learning.
Christensen Institute, Evergreen Education Group. (2015) Proof Points: Blended Learning Success in School Districts Spokane Public Schools. Retrieved from: https://www.christenseninstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Spokane-Public-Schools.pdf
Horn, M. B., & Staker, H. (2015). Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Horn, M. B., & Fisher, J. F. (2017). New Faces of Blended Learning. Educational Leadership, 74(6), 59.
Johnson, C. P., & Marsh, D. (2014). Blended language learning: An effective solution but not without its challenges. Higher Learning Research Communications, 4(3), 23-41. http://dx.doi.org/10.18870/hlrc.v4i3.213
New Media Consortium and Consortium for School Networking. (2017). HorizonReport Preview 2017. Retrieved from: https://cdn.nmc.org/media/2017-nmc-cosn-horizon-report-k12-preview.pdf
November, A. (2012, Feb. 12). Beyond Technology: The End of the Job and the Beginning of Digital Work. Retrieved from: http://novemberlearning.com/educational-resources-for-educators/teaching-and-learning-articles/beyond-technology-the-end-of-the-job-and-the-beginning-of-digital-work/
Pierce, D. (2017). What Effective Blended Learning Looks Like. T H E Journal, 44(1), 18.
Plough, B. (2017). Recognizing and understanding effective blended learning in secondary classrooms. Leadership, 46(4), 28.
Quillen, I. (2013, July). The Rise of Blended Learning. Smithsonian. Retrieved from: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/the-rise-of-blended-learning-7719337/
Watson, J., Powell, A., Staley, P., Patrick, S., Horn, M., Fetzer, L., Hibbard, L., Oglesby, J. & Verna, S. (2015, July). Blended Learning: The Evolution of Online and Face-to-Face Education from 2008-2015. Retrieved from: http://www.inacol.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/iNACOL_Blended-Learning-The-Evolution-of-Online-And-Face-to-Face-Education-from-2008-2015.pdf