10 questions you must answer before implementing Blended Learning

This is a self reflective exercise with resources that will help you take the plunge and move to Blended Learning for your classroom. Do not know what blended learning is? There are more reasons for you to dive straight to these questions. In the next 10 minutes, you will get familiar with a teaching pedagogy that includes the best of traditional and online learning. With enough resources provided, be assured we have made it really easy for you to answer these questions. If you are already familiar with the know how of blended learning, do compare your own understanding with the points mentioned here. Is there something that is missing? Discuss in the comment section. Revisit these questions along your journey and reflect onto your answers to design your own journey for blended classrooms.

Here is how the article is structured:

  1. How is Blended Learning defined?
  2. What are the different models of blended learning?
  3. Important questions to answer
  • What are the problems that I am facing in my current classroom?
  • How will Blended Learning help me overcome these problems?
  • How are other educators implementing it in their classroom?
  • What will be my role in blended learning?
  • What are the technological requirements and constraints?
  • Will I create my own content or curate?
  • How will I take feedback from my students?
  • How will I take feedback from my colleagues?
  • Am I ready to change the space around me?
  • How do I pitch the idea to my colleagues, administrator, parents and students?

4. Other Resources

5. Conclusion

PS- This is part one of the Blended Learning Series. Do not forget to subscribe to the blog, to stay updated about the next article.

How is Blended Learning Defined?

The Blended Learning is still an evolving concept. More than often it is seen from the lens of online delivery of content only. Though online forms and important part of Blended Learning, there is more to it. Till date, the most widely accepted definitions of Blended Learning came from a research done by Clayton Christensen Institute on over 80 organizations and 100 teachers engaged in blended learning tactics. The results were published in the report “Is K–12 Blended Learning Disruptive? An introduction of the theory of hybrids”, in which authors Christensen, Horn, and Staker defined blended learning as:

A formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online learning with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace and at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home. The modalities along each student’s learning path within a course or subject are connected to provide an integrated learning experience.

This definition describes 3 core elements of Blended learning:

  • The first and foremost, is the importance of a student’s control over time, place, path and/or pace. This definition acknowledges the fact that every student has a different manner in which they learn or understand something. As is generally observed, few students are really quick in understanding a certain subject or a topic but are not able to learn at the same pace some other concept or subject. Is it because they are not academically bright? It is important to challenge how the intelligence is perceived and realize that there may be a problem in the way the subject is taught or evaluated. Blended learning place student at the center of her/his learning and let them decide when they are ready to move ahead. Essentially, Blended Learning is Mastery Based Learning which means a student proceeds to the next topic only when she/he has shown mastery at this level. The CEO of Learning Accelerator, Scott Ellis in one of his interview gave an analogy between Kung Fu and Blended Learning. Like Kung Fu, Blended Learning enables students to learn at their own pace and advance as they master content, rather than moving forward based on time requirements. In order to advance to the next level, there are clear and defined standards. It is clear to students what they must know and be able to do in order to advance.
  • The second part of the definition emphasizes the importance of learning happening inside the school supervised by a teacher. It is essential to understand that including online learning does not mean replacing the face to face interaction altogether. The purpose of Blended Learning is to make those interactions more useful where the student-teacher and student-student interaction is more frequent and fruitful.
  • The last and a very important element of Blended learning is integrated learning experience which means the online and the offline content should be connected to each other. If you are planning to implement blended learning yourself, you need to make sure that there are definite ways in which you are planning to deliver the content, supervising the students’ progress, evaluating them based on their mastery and helping them move ahead. Small-group sessions, individual tutoring, projects, or other classroom work is completed in accordance with data and evidence of students demonstrating mastery — and integrated with evidence of what the student has completed online to create a holistic, personalized learning experience. Planning all these steps in relation to each other ensure success in blended learning.

What are the models of Blended Learning?

It is extremely important to understand the different models of Blended Learning to know which one you could implement. The majority of blended-learning programs resemble one of four models classified by Clayton Christensen Institute (formerly known as Innosight Institute): Station Rotation, Lab Rotation, Flipped Classroom, and Individual Rotation.

1. Rotation model — a course or subject in which students rotate on a fixed schedule or at the teacher’s discretion between learning modalities, at least one of which is online learning. Other modalities might include activities such as small-group or full-class instruction, group projects, individual tutoring, and pencil-and-paper assignments. The students learn mostly on the brick-and-mortar campus, except for any homework assignments.

a. Station Rotation — a course or subject in which students experience the Rotation model within a contained classroom or group of classrooms. The Station Rotation model differs from the Individual Rotation model because students rotate through all of the stations, not only those on their custom schedules.

Example: The KIPP LA Empower Academy equips each kindergarten classroom with 15 computers. Throughout the day the teacher rotates students among online learning, small-group instruction, and individual assignments

b. Lab Rotation — a course or subject in which students rotate to a computer lab for the online-learning station.

Example: At Rocketship Education, students rotate out of their classrooms to a learning lab for two hours each day to further their instruction in math and reading through online learning.

c. Flipped Classroom — a course or subject in which students participate in online learning off-site in place of traditional homework and then attend the brick-and-mortar school for face-to-face, teacher-guided practice or projects. The primary delivery of content and instruction is online, which differentiates a Flipped Classroom from students who are merely doing homework practice online at night.

Example: At Stillwater Area Public Schools along the St. Croix River in Minnesota, students in grades 4–6 math classes use Internet-connected devices after school at the location of their choice to watch 10- to 15-minute asynchronous instruction videos and complete comprehension questions on Moodle. At school they practice and apply their learning with a face-to-face teacher.

d. Individual Rotation — a course or subject in which each student has an individualized playlist and does not necessarily rotate to each available station or modality. An algorithm or teacher(s) sets individual student schedules.

Example: Carpe Diem Collegiate High School and Middle School assign each student a specific schedule that rotates them between online learning in the learning center and offline learning. Each rotation lasts 35 minutes.

2. Flex model — a course or subject in which online learning is the backbone of student learning, even if it directs students to offline activities at times. Students move on an individually customized, fluid schedule among learning modalities. The teacher of record is on-site, and students learn mostly on the brick-and-mortar campus, except for any homework assignments. The teacher of record or other adults provide face-to-face support on a flexible and adaptive as-needed basis through activities such as small-group instruction, group projects, and individual tutoring. Some implementations have substantial face-to-face support, whereas others have minimal support. For example, some Flex models may have face-to-face certified teachers who supplement the online learning on a daily basis, whereas others may provide little face-to-face enrichment. Still others may have different staffing combinations. These variations are useful modifiers to describe a particular Flex model.

Example: At San Francisco Flex Academy, the online-learning provider K12, Inc. delivers the curriculum and instruction, while face-to-face teachers use a data dashboard to offer targeted interventions and supplementation throughout the day for core courses. The teachers-of-record for the core courses are the face-to-face teachers. (Many of the elective courses have online K12 Inc. Teachers, who serve as the teachers-of-record instead of the face-to-face teachers

3. Self Bland model — a course that a student takes entirely online to accompany other experiences that the student is having at a brick-and-mortar school or learning center. The teacher of record for the A La Carte course is the online teacher. Students may take the A La Carte course either on the brick-and-mortar campus or off-site. This differs from full-time online learning because it is not a whole-school experience. Students take some courses A La Carte and others face-to-face at a brick-and-mortar campus.

Example: Quakertown Community School District (QCSD) in Pennsylvania offers students in grades 6–12 the option of taking one or more online courses. All students complete a cyber orientation course prior to enrollment. Courses are asynchronous and students can work on them any time during the day. QCSD has created “cyber lounges” where students can work on their online courses at school, but they are also free to complete the courses remotely if they prefer. The teachers-of-record for the courses are the online teachers, most of whom also teach face-to-face courses for QCSD

4. Enriched Virtual model — a course or subject in which students have required face-to-face learning sessions with their teacher of record and then are free to complete their remaining coursework remote from the face-to-face teacher. Online learning is the backbone of student learning when the students are located remotely. The same person generally serves as both the online and face-to-face teacher. Many Enriched Virtual programs began as full-time online schools and then developed blended programs to provide students with brick-and-mortar school experiences. The Enriched Virtual model differs from the Flipped Classroom because in Enriched Virtual programs, students seldom meet face-to-face with their teachers every weekday. It differs from a fully online course because face-to-face learning sessions are more than optional office hours or social events; they are required.

Example-At the Albuquerque eCADEMY, students in grades 8–12 meet face-to-face with teachers for their first course meeting at a brick-and mortar location. They can complete the rest of their coursework remotely, if they prefer, as long as they maintain at least a “C” grade point average in the program.

Read the report — Classifying K-12 Blended Learning by Heather Staker and Michael B. Horn to learn more about the different models of Blended Learning

What are the problems that I am facing in my current class?

An exercise that every teacher planning to implement Blended Learning must do. Visualize the scenario of your classroom and answer the following questions:

  • Are all my students participating in the classroom?
  • Are my students comfortable asking their doubts?
  • Am I able to communicate with each of my students on a day-to-day basis?
  • In my experience which are the topics where students show the poor understanding?
  • Do my students look energetic in the class?
  • Are my students motivated?
  • If asked, can I know for sure which students have a better grasp of a topic?
  • Is there a peer-to-peer communication happening in my classroom?
  • When was the last time I tried something completely out of the box or creative in my classroom?
  • What was the most creative thing that I did in my classroom?
  • Am I able to take feedback from each student who is sitting in the classroom?
  • Apart from textbooks, what are the other sources from where my students are learning something?
  • If currently used, what are the ways in which technology is currently used in my class?
  • How am I measuring the performance of my students? Are grades the only criteria as of now?
  • What are the other problems that I am facing in my classroom?

This is just a reflective exercise that will give you an insight into the learning environment inside your classroom. The beauty of blended learning lies in the energy and interaction it brings inside the classroom. These are just the pointers for you. Is there something else that you would like to add to assess the classroom environment? Feel free to add and share in the comment section. Similarly, you can create a list of things that you like in your classroom. This could be the list that talks about the reasons why the traditional classrooms are good. At the end of this exercise, you will be able to draw a comparison between the blended learning and traditional teaching method. This would also help you to figure out what are the ways in which traditional teaching works for you and where the blended learning can help your classroom in a better way. A major misconception surrounding blended learning is that it is aimed at replacing the teachers and Face to Face instruction. The truth is, there is no blended learning without teacher-student interaction. Blended learning makes the face to face interaction more meaningful where teachers and students both know what they want to achieve. With the effective assessment and the exact knowledge of the level of mastery of each student, the teacher is better equipped to help the students. There are endless ways in which you can leverage the Blended Learning for your advantage. The question is are you ready?

How will using Blended Learning help me overcome my problems in the classroom?

This is an important question to ask. What are your expectations for Blended Learning? While it can lead to better classroom interaction, knowledge sharing and mastery, it will not magically transform each student into a quick learner. If anything, it requires mastery. It does not aim to burden students with undue pressure of scoring an A, but at the same time it makes sure that a student moves ahead only when he/she is ready and has attained a certain level. It gives the student ownership of their own learning. Next step, would be to write the problems that you mentioned in the previous question on the one side and on the right, write down the possible ways in which you think blended learning can help you solve these problems. You can choose from the models discussed above, or if you feel there is no way Blended Learning can help, can you think of an alternate approach? Write it down.

How are other educators implementing it in their classrooms?

The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation published a series of case studies of the five schools that have been successful in implementing the Blended Learning. The case studies track their journey into Blended Learning, the factors that shape their choice of particular models of blended learning, key learning and challenges. These case studies on successful implementation of blended learning can be accessed here. Here is the video directory of Blended Learning in Action.

What will be my role in Blended Learning?

The teacher is not a sage on stage in blended learning. Are you ready to give up your role as a sage and become a facilitator and mentor instead? While Blended learning is a dream come true for teachers when it comes to increasing communication with their students and have a better understanding of each individual’s skill, it requires a lot of hard work to change the old methods of teaching. While it means better communication, bear in mind you will face different issues altogether. Like, how do you know if students are actually studying and not playing games on their devices. How do you know they are motivated or not? As someone, who is contemplating Blended Learning, it is essential to put yourself in the shoes of your student too. This article perfectly summarizes what teachers need to do to make sure students are actually learning in a blended classroom.

What are the technological requirements and constraints?

This is a very crucial question. This question needs to be asked from three perspectives.

a) How are you planning to use technology — Are you going to use technology as a medium for content delivery or are you going to use it collect answers, or both? How are you going to use technology for managing your assignments? Will you use Mobile Apps or Web Based Apps? The answer to these questions must align with your lesson and the model you are planning to implement.

b) From the perspective of your own familiarity with technology — What technology would you require for your blended classroom? If it requires the recording on lessons from you and their delivery over you tube channel, do you know the basic requirements for recording an audio or video and how to use YouTube? How good are you with your netiquette? Are you comfortable with the social media? Can you think of ways in which you can use social media for learning? You must know your own skills and constraints. A useful tip for teacher, do not hesitate to ask your students, if you do not know something. In the book, “Moonshots in Education: Launching Blended Learning in the Classroom,” by Esther Wojcicki, Lance Izumi and Alicia Chang, Wojcicki explain how she blended her classrooms with the help of her students using computers. This was the time when the concept Blended Learning, was yet to be coined. But, she collaborated with her students and became a pioneer in the field. You may read the excerpt from chapter titled “Trick in the Blended Classroom,” here

c) From the perspective of technological infrastructure — Do you have enough devices? What is the bandwidth needed for the online delivery of content? If you expect your student to come prepared with the content from their home, do they have internet access in their homes? The apps that you plan to use run on which devices? Can you allow Bring Your Own Technology. Even if there are technological constraints, how can you be more creative? In this article Kristin Weller explains how she implemented Blended Learning with One iPad!

Technology is a very crucial and complex part of the whole blended learning process. I will cover this in my next blog article. But can you think of things that are to be considered? Do share in the comment section below.

Will I create my own content or curate the best content?

It is extremely crucial to decide which part of the lesson you are going to deliver face to face and which part online? Based on that, it is a good idea to first try to find the content that is already present. You can find educators who are already using Blended Learning in their classrooms. Interact with them and ask for their guidance. Most of these educators are more than willing to exchange the lesson plans and ideas. If there is something specific that you think is not covered anywhere else, do it yourself. Whatever you plan on doing, it is important that the content and assessment both online and offline should not have missing pieces.

How will I take feedback from my students?

The whole exercise of implementing something as big as Blended Learning is rendered useless if students are not able to give their feedback. It is extremely important to understand that grades are not the only feedback criteria for the success of the blended learning in the classroom. Focus group and regular interaction with students to ask them how comfortable they feel with the whole idea of technology in the classroom could go a long way in the successful implementation of blended learning. In this article, Maths teacher from Summit School, shares how the students are at the heart of school innovation. Their endeavors are directed towards

  • How are students progressing in their self-directed learning?
  • What impacts the students’ learning of content and cognitive skills?
  • What is our overall user satisfaction?

How will I take feedback from my colleagues?

Admit it, you will not always know what are you doing right or wrong. In the initial stages, try to have an observer in your classroom. This observer could be your principal or fellow colleague. You can offer to be an observer to your peers in their blended classrooms. In the absence of an observer, a video recording of the classroom could be another option. Can you think of some other method of collecting feedback? Do share

Am I ready to change the space around me?

Are you mentally prepared to change the way your classroom looks? Remember this may or may not cost your school. In Blended Learning Model like Station Rotation, different group of students work on different stations at a time. How do you perceive your classroom depending upon the model?

How do I pitch the idea to my colleagues, administrator, parents and students?

If you are convinced that this is something you have to do, it is crucial to share the idea with your administrator, colleagues, students and parents. Is anyone in your school already implementing it? If so, approach them and request them to share their own experiences. Ask them what is the support provided by the school administration? If you are the first teacher to propose Blended Learning, are you willing to project your classroom as a pilot. What is the support you expect? If you feel that you have the liberty of implementing blended learning independently in your classroom, would you like to pitch it after you have made a successful run? In either case, you need to have a clear idea of which lessons you would like to start with. It is always advisable to start with one classroom and a single lesson. This would mean less risk and ease of iterating based on the feedback. There is an interesting article that talks about preparing your elevator pitch for Blended Learning. Another good resource is this message bank by Learning Accelerator which has sample messages based on your target audience. These resources are just to give you an idea. In the end, it is your intention that must go out in the form of the message. If you do find a way to communicate or if you had in the past done this, do not forget to share it in the comment box.

I am also sharing with you the links to 3 MOOCS on Blended Learning for teachers

2 out of these courses are currently running and there is a huge scope for you to learn and communicate. Here are the links:

Blended Learning: Personalizing Education for Students offered on Coursera in partnership with New Teacher Center, Silicon Schools Fund and Clayton Christensen Institute

Current Status- Self paced and always available.

Highlights- Designed by the pioneers of Blended Learning themselves. This course is a must for anyone who plans to start blending their classroom. This course covers all aspects of Blended Learning in a brief and concise manner. You will also get access to the founders of the schools who have successfully used Blended Learning in their curriculum. The process and the struggles they faced in their journey are valuable lessons for anyone who wants to get started with Blended Learning. It is also a perfect platform to connect with your peers in education.

PS- Based on this course, our experience and research, we are preparing a checklist to help you choose the perfect software for your classroom. Subscribe to stay updated.

Blended Learning Essentials: Getting Started offered on Future Learn by University of LEEDS

Current Status — Running currently. Started on 2nd Nov, 2015

Highlights- This course will introduce you to a large number of technological resources, most of which are free or very affordable to use. As the course is still running, you can connect with educators across the globe.

K-12 Blended and Online Learning offered on Coursera in partnership by Kennesaw State University (KSU) and the Online Learning Consortium (OLC)

Current Status — Ended

Highlights- The course content was developed based on standards written by the International Association for K12 Online Learning (iNACOL). Participants will design a blended or online unit and develop one module to use with K12 students. Which means you can design your own syllabus by the end of this course.

To conclude, I would say — Go for it! But start small. Learn from the first attempt and iterate. It is extremely crucial to take feedback from your students and colleagues. With so many case studies around Blended Learning, it is a good time to learn from the mistakes of others and make new ones. I cannot stress enough, collaboration is the heart of education. So, do share your own experiences and give your feedback. If you are a practitioner of Blended Learning, there is so much your friends can learn from you. Mail your stories to me at [email protected] or comment. You may also tweet @ClickEinstein. Share it with your friends and help them start their blended journey.

This is just Part 1 of the Blended Learning Series. You can read the part 2, Guide to find the “almost perfect” tool for your classroom here.

Happy teaching!

Originally published at blog.clickeinstein.com on November 6, 2015.

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