Blended learning is a relatively new concept to me. I certainly was implementing some online or technology-driven learning in my classroom a few years ago. However, the concept of blended learning was just really a phrase in the back of my mind. Thus, with my district implementing a Learning Management System (LMS) which allows for blended learning for the first time on a widespread basis, I thought it would be important for me to learn more about it.
I just got back from the TCEA Conference in Austin, Texas. At that conference, I decided to change my normal pursuit of gamification strategies to a two prong attack on a different subject line. I followed the track of blended learning, and then also within that subgenre, using an LMS with little children. I hope to share some of those second ideas more in a further post. Today’s post, though, is all about the logistics of blended learning, specifically my top ten tips for those who want to start it off right.
Ten Tips for Blended Learning Done Right
Number one. Use your learning management system as a one-stop-shop. Again, I want to go further into LMS for Littles in a further post, but suffice it to say here that you need your students to believe that everything they need to be successful in your class is found in one place, and that’s the LMS. Now, blended learning means that students have face-to-face and online learning. Thus the blend. However, the learning management system is certainly an integral part of the operation. If you don’t send your students there frequently, they don’t have a habit, and they don’t know how to login. They need to know that you are putting all of your best resources there for them to use. Forming a habit with students and parents will strengthen your ability to blend in one of the four situations I’m about to discuss.
Blended learning involves student control, at least part of the time, in each of the four areas which I will specify as blended learning tips 2 through 5.
Time, Place, Path, and Pace
Number 2. Students need control over their path. Maybe some students need to navigate through video content while other students need an article or a worksheet. The bottom line is that students have different needs and thus, they need different opportunities to learn. We call that paths in blended learning. Some teachers get as detailed as making personalized playlists for students. Maybe you’re not ready there yet, but it’s important that students are at least beginning to exercise choice over the path of their learning.
Tip three. Students also should have some control over their pace. Give me a literature passage, and I can dissect it in no time. I can give you brilliant insights on the metaphors and the symbols and the characterization. But give me a calculus problem, and you will definitely see my pace become different. It should be all right for students to master content when they’re ready, whether that be faster than everybody else or slower. Pace is a huge component of a successful blended learning.
Number 4: students should also have control over time. Now I’m going to go ahead and discuss the big elephant in the room. I don’t mean that your students should be doing all their work at home and then coming to your class and acting like maniacs in their free time. What I do mean, though, is that if they work better in the morning or in the evening, we should account for that preference at least part of the time. I definitely work best in the early morning hours. As a matter of fact, I’ve often thought I would be just as productive if I only worked half the day 🙂 Training students to prioritize their most important tasks at their most productive times is also valuable life skill and one that is perfect for blended learning. If they have a playlist or a hyperdoc or a module in a learning management system that they can attack in their preferred order, that prioritization really will go a long way in their success.
Tip number five. The last area in which students should have control in blended learning is over place. This concept can range from flexible seating in the classroom to being able to do some work in the media center or at home or in a blended learning period. Blended learning makes possible this flexibility and place that is crucial to success.
Three Benefits of Blended Learning
My 6th tip is that blended learning done well should allow you to buy back time. Imagine all the processes that you explain over and over or the concepts that are something that students need to study in review. If you’re able to turn those into your online modules and then work with students who still don’t get them after repeated exposures, you are buying back both students’ time and your own time. The video content is doing the work that you might have had to do in twice as much time.
In the same vein, tip number 7 is it blended learning allows you to clone yourself. You may have students on multiple learning paths, but there may only be one teacher in the room. I know when I taught high school that was usually the case. Even students who were on special ed consultation didn’t necessarily have a caseworker or co-teacher in the room. Blended learning allows you to create content for most of the students most of the time so that you can pull small groups of students that you need to either enrich or remediate to your desk while the others are getting high-quality instruction.
I hope that those of you who are teachers and parents will appreciate tip number 8. It is to make blended learning, in both its explanation and its execution, simple enough that parents can help. We can pretend that parents won’t access the learning management system from home on behalf of their students, but instead, let’s find meaningful ways for them to participate. Let’s create videos that show how to navigate our system. Let’s eliminate options that are unclear in our menus or on our settings. Let’s make sure that parents who want to help their students to be successful can find what they need, and thus that students will truly be more empowered in their quest for time, place, path, and pace.
Number nine is crucial for every type of learning, not just blended. In addition to strong content, engagement has to be a priority. Just slapping some resources up in a module is creating a $1,000 pencil or another boring digital textbook. It’s not going to further the learning like blended learning is meant to do. It’s important to put interactive resources and formative assessments throughout the content.
Finally, tip ten is that blended learning is a perfect opportunity to build in differentiation with high-quality resources. One workshop I went to in Texas suggested that for every standard, the teacher has at least two learning options available. You could create those by learning style or by readability or whatever method you choose, but building in two options is auto-differentiating and also increasing the quality of the content we’re putting out there.