Most students in school today were born into an environment where personal computers and the internet are readily available, and information is just a keystroke or finger swipe away. Mobile phones, used to call, text, and browse the internet, have been carried in students’ pockets for years. Applications have allowed easier communication, more immersive entertainment, and even more effective education.
Recognizing this, educators have incorporated technology to transform their classrooms. Approaches to teaching and methodology have changed to fit the expectations placed upon the students, as well as allowing teachers to serve the various learning styles and interests of their students.
The need for incorporating blended learning approaches can involve those in each tier of the educational system. Schools may have staffing issues or budget limitations that require them to think beyond traditional brick-and-mortar classrooms. Environmental circumstances, such as pandemics and natural disasters, may cause a shift in instructional and learning approaches. Student socio-economic hurdles, medical issues or learning disabilities may create a need for instruction to be presented in alternative ways or at alternative times, so that exposure to content is available when the child is ready to learn.
Furthermore, blended courses have proven to be among the most popular choices for students at institutions where they are offered. At first glance, this popularity seems intuitive because blended courses allow students and faculty to take advantage of much of the flexibility and convenience of an online course while retaining the benefits of the face-to-face classroom experience. Yet, where blended courses have succeeded, they have most often done so when strategically aligned with the missions and goals of your school, region or district.
The U.S. Department of Education’s recent 'Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning' noted that:
'Students in online conditions performed modestly better, on average than those learning the same material through traditional face-to-face instruction” (p. xiv) and, notably, instruction combining online and face-to-face elements had a larger advantage relative to purely face-to-face instruction than did purely online instruction.'
For example, student performance analytics can be used to study and better understand student learning. Data analytics can also identify students who need early intervention, thus increasing retention. The online tools available in blended courses can also significantly enhance student engagement, ensuring that all students participate in course discussions and benefit from collaborative learning.
Traditional lectures and online course delivery tend to flow in one direction only. The instructor delivers the content to the students and they consume it. A blended approach allows a bidirectional flow of information that fosters greater interaction and communication between teacher and student, as well as between the students themselves.
Jennifer Rogers, in her study for the American Physiological Society (APS) stated that,
Greater than 95 percent of students enrolled in the blended course section earned course grades of C- or higher, compared with 82 percent of the large lecture sections and 81 percent in the online sections.
Furthermore, students who chose the blended format reported less end-of-semester anxiety than those who studied solely online, suggesting that there might be additional value in face-to-face engagement with faculty.
Kathleen Fulton, in her article 'Upside Down and Inside Out', listed the following advantages of the flipped classroom:
Students move at their own pace.
Doing “homework” in class gives teachers better insight into student difficulties and learning styles.
Teachers can more easily customize and update the curriculum and provide it to the students 24/7.
Classroom time can be used more effectively and creatively.
Teachers using the method report seeing increased levels of student achievement, interest, and engagement.
Learning theory supports the new approaches.
The use of technology is flexible and appropriate for '21st-century learning'.
Greeley-Evans School District is located in Northern Colorado, just outside of the Denver metropolitan area. After looking at state and district testing data, school leaders recognized a need to address student performance, especially with their lowest-performing schools within the district. The decision was made to incorporate blended learning approaches in 2016 and assess the level of success of their students in the following year and study their effectiveness.
District officials conducted the study with the University of Northern Colorado’s Education Innovation Institute. The study targeted kindergarten through fifth-grade math classes at six schools that have implemented blended learning – Scott, Monfort, McAuliffe, Shawsheen, Madison, and Jackson elementary schools.
The study showed 79 percent of teachers surveyed were enthusiastic about blended learning, 73 percent think it significantly impacts student performance and 63 percent think it makes them more effective teachers. Deagan Andrews, the district’s director of instructional technology, who presented the results, said that surprised the initially skeptical UNC researchers, who didn’t believe there would be a significant difference between blended and non-blended classrooms.
The study also showed the impact blended learning had on Franklin Middle School, historically one of the district’s worst-performing schools. Franklin students improved on statewide tests by 14 points in the median growth percentile – a measure of growth compared to other students with the same previous test score – in math and by 11.5 points in English language arts. That was key in Franklin climbing to the Colorado Department of Education’s highest rating after six years at the bottom.
In 2013, Franklinton Preparatory Academy (FPA), a public charter high school, opened its doors to give students a school they could call their own. PFA’s mission 'is to give Franklinton youth who otherwise would probably be following a trajectory that would lead to places where they weren’t being contributed members of society the opportunity to become valued, contributing leaders.
FPA implemented a blended learning environment that has allowed using in-person and online instruction to offer personalized learning because the content is so deep. For example, in their Algebra I course 'teachers can find a particular lesson on a particular topic that six students in their class are having a hard time with.' Then they 'can decide the best ways to provide access to the material, including differentiating access to meet individual needs.' Students can look at the lesson online, the teachers can print it and use it as a handout, or students can work on it in groups. Teachers can manipulate the lesson digitally, customizing it to meet students’ needs. The teachers appreciated and embraced the flexibility that this approach offers in instructional delivery.
For this school, this flexibility has helped the school address one of its biggest challenges, which involves finding a way to have students keep moving forward in their learning despite various obstacles to making gains. Mobility rates, inconsistent attendance, and other life situations that prevent constant exposure to instruction and content were hurdles that a blended approach has helped address.
The principal of this particular school sums up their employment of the blended learning approach to meet FPA’s goals in the following way: 'We provide opportunities for young people to be successful, and we give them hope. If we weren’t doing that, then we wouldn’t have any reason to be here.'
Bend-La Pine (BLP) is the fifth-largest school district in Oregon, with 28 schools and over 18,000 students in grades K-12. The district also has a comprehensive online program that serves about 3,500 students per year. BLP Online serves a wide variety of students who have an assortment of needs. The following is an example of how success was achieved using blended learning delivery.
Luciana enrolled in Bend’s blended program in September of 2016. She is from a Spanish-speaking family where she and her brother primarily speak English and their parents speak Spanish. Luciana’s English language skills are improving, and she is conversational in English, but some of her traditional high school classes present challenges to her being taught in her second language. These challenges left her credit deficient in her core classes at the end of her freshman year (the school year 2015–2016).
Initially, Luciana was put into the English language deficiency program to help her with the language. But she felt that she would be better off in a slightly different version of her core academic classes. If she could move just a bit more slowly, and learn in English and at her own pace, she felt she would be able to master the courses and improve her English proficiency in those content areas. She does both by taking online courses in the blended environment at Summit High School.
Luciana works on her blended classes every morning and takes classes in the traditional school in the afternoon, including some electives and her English deficiency program. This combination seems to work especially well for her. The morning self-pacing, and the lack of outside distractions and pressure to speak with the other students, allows her to focus on her classes while slowing down when necessary to study the English words and phrases she is learning. This gives her additional confidence as she moves into traditional elective classes in the afternoon.
Midway through the 2016–2017 school year, Luciana has experienced great success. She is more comfortable in the blended learning environment, has made up her English credits from freshman year, and is on track for passing sophomore English as well.
Before online learning existed, the traditional approach to instruction involved the lecture format. Students that missed class were not able to obtain the information delivered in the classroom. Having the ability to record and post lessons online has made course content available to all students at any time. This allows students to access the material without the concerns of trying to 'make up' the time with the teacher to gain the needed information to complete the task or to simply learn the concept(s) covered in the lesson.
In addition, the methods of communication between teachers and students have increased. This is not limited to emails, but tools like chat or video conferencing have allowed teachers and students to communicate more effectively and with more clarity so that all stakeholders are clear regarding the needs of the student and the expectations placed upon him or her.
While video tools have proven to be one of the more effective tools for sharing information, ebooks, blogs, journaling, games, and apps have all been employed to bring newer forms of learning to larger and more diverse populations.
Watch this video to see students define blended learning and notice how their descriptions directly relate to their ability to take ownership of their own academic growth.
In the video, you see student definitions of blended learning such as:
independent—giving me control
no restrictions—learning how I want to learn
me — learning my way and at the pace I want
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that 25% of children between 13 and 18 years old experience anxiety disorders. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention notes that diagnosable mental, emotional, or behavioral disorders impact children as young as three and that recent research indicates a rise in serious depression and suicide amongst teens. It seems we are finally moving past the denial of the trend by attempting to identify the cause and solution. Educators are playing their role too by increasing professional learning in social-emotional support and empathy-based learning.
An increasing number of scholars emphasize the importance of blended learning and its influence on social-emotional learning. Blended learning can help build and strengthen relationships between teachers and students. Here are a few ways blended learning can improve the social-emotional landscape in the classroom.
In a blended classroom, creating small groups that focus on social-emotional skills can occur in the morning or afternoon before students go home. With younger students, this could include playing games or role-play social situations in small groups to help students learn how to build social skills. With older students, teachers can foster guided discussions or place students in small collaborative groups to discuss social issues and develop coping skills.
One of the major benefits of blended learning is the freedom that one has within their educational journey. Students can work independently or collaboratively while others may work individually with the teacher. With an expanded and well-developed blended learning environment a teacher can give students independent tasks. At times, students can experience crises that range from tantrums to withdrawal. When this happens, the child needs emotional support from an adult. When that responsibility is placed upon the teacher, the ability to direct other students to complete an independent task or work quietly in small groups is needed so that the student in need can receive calming support. In addition, due to the blended learning model fostering and encouraging strong interpersonal relationships, an extension of social and emotional support can be provided by the student’s classmates while also supporting the teacher when needed. This creates a safe and inviting classroom because students know they will be supported and needs will be addressed.
In addition to these suggestions as to how a blended learning environment can help teachers support their students, here are some other ways one can address the increasing need for social-emotional support:
Teachers as mentors
Teachers can listen more. They ask questions and are in a better position to understand what social-emotional issue the student may be experiencing.
Because of the power and effectiveness of technology, teachers can spend more time mentoring students and providing social-emotional support throughout the learning journey .
Teachers can create projects that are tailored specifically to student interests and connect them with peers in and out of the classroom.
Due to technology, students can connect with more teachers and experts around the world, which is not possible in a traditional classroom. The teacher can play a major role in making those connections work for all involved.
Due to the flexibility and personalized approach to blended learning, the teacher and technology can adapt to a student’s path making it unique. When this is recognized, students can progress beyond an often-intimidating competitive mindset to one focused on personal growth and achievement.
Technology opens multiple pathways of communication between teacher and student, as well as between peers. When tools such as chat, emails and video conferencing can be used, students have more avenues to express what they are having trouble with, what is holding them back, or what they have seen in others that may need help.
Students as advocates
When given a purpose, technology can help students be their own advocates by encouraging self-exploration and growth. Students are in control of the pace and path of their learning journey.
In a blended learning environment, students have authenticity in both their relationships and their connections to the subject matter. An audience, of peers and educators, hears them and they earn respect because they are self-influencing their learning path and the environment in which they are learning.