Inspired Ideas
Published in

Inspired Ideas

Redefining Blended Learning

How Blended Learning Can Empower Teachers and Learners

Our Spring into Literacy Symposium, a virtual event featuring literacy experts, educators, and thought leaders discussing the Science of Reading, blended learning, social and emotional learning, and equity, is well underway. Our second session, called “Redefining Blended Learning,” is now available to view on demand.

The panel, featuring Dr. Doug Fisher, Professor of Educational Leadership at San Diego State University, Cassondra Corbin-Thaddies, Director of Transformational Coaching at LINC, and Nicolle Stearns, Curriculum Specialist at McGraw Hill, focused on the future of blended learning and its potential to transform learning experiences in both elementary and upper grades. Watch the full recording here, or read on for an adaptation of the conversation.

What is blended learning?

Cassondra Corbin-Thaddies: I see it as an opportunity to create possibilities. Of course, there are formal definitions that reference leveraging technology to personalize learning so that students have more control over when they learn, where they learn, and at what pace they learn. Blended learning has recently been thrust upon us, which has allowed us to really be creative in determining what blended learning looks like. It’s truly become an opportunity for us to reimagine what’s possible in leveraging technology to support students.

Is blended learning the same as distance or hybrid learning?

Doug Fisher: They’re very different. Blended learning gives students some control over pace, place, and time, which creates shared responsibility between teacher and student. Additionally, by definition, blended learning includes brick-and-mortar and online learning, and online activity could happen at home or in the classroom. There are lots of ways to think about blended learning, but the reality of March 2020 wasn’t reflective of blended learning or distance learning — it was pandemic teaching.

What can, or should, blended learning look like in an elementary classroom?

Nicolle Stearns: The concept of shared responsibility is important here. For the last two years, elementary educators have been placed in an online environment that they don’t normally occupy, so the learning curve was very steep. But when we consider the definition of blended learning — the elements of control over where, how, and when — teachers have some powerful opportunities.

For example, one of the few things we control as elementary teachers is the initial concept introduction in a lesson. With blended learning, teachers can play around with concept introduction, going beyond simply relaying the information to introduce digital media, interactive elements, or dialogue with peers.

How does blended learning evolve in middle and high school?

Doug Fisher: The complexity of tasks increases and the amount of collaborative time increases, but a lot of the instructional moves are very similar.

From John Hattie’s effect size database called Visible Learning, we know that distance learning has a very low effect on learning: .17. So, people often say it doesn’t work. But we must remember, we’re comparing distance learning to in-person learning, and there’s virtually no difference. When we dive into the meta-analyses on technology, the greatest effect for remote learning is interactive video: Having students slow down, pause videos, take notes, and respond to questions is key. When it comes to in-person learning, smartboards have a great effect size.

So, we have some insights on how to structure these environments. Pandemic learning couldn’t be planned and purposeful — but now we can use this knowledge.

Nicolle Stearns: I was the first to volunteer to use a smartboard in my school — and quite frankly, for the first few months it was a failure. I used the smartboard as the center of my instruction rather than as a vehicle for the many tools I would be using during instruction. Instead of thinking of these tools as a treasure, we need to think of them as part of the many experiences students have that fill their schema of understanding around a concept, to move it into automaticity and their current practice.

If you could recommend two or three strategies or tools for blended learning today, what would they be?

Cassondra Corbin-Thaddies: Think about ways you can create agency for students. How and where can you leverage technology to provide students with more meaningful decision-making in your instructional practice? Also consider authenticity. When students ask, “why do I have to do this?” use technology to make connections to classroom activity and what matters to students in their lives. Finally, give students the opportunity to be creative. When we leverage technology to put students in the driver’s seat of their own imagination, they can be true solution finders.

Doug Fisher: My current favorite takeaway from pandemic teaching is the concept of shared slides, used for rich math tasks, responding to texts, and other collaborative tasks. As a teacher, I can see where each group is at, and students can look at what other groups are doing, so it isn’t just a replication of the same task. Some teachers also have students change the color background of their slides to signal to teachers and peers if they need help or feedback.

Nicolle Stearns: Unlike older students who are asking, “why am I doing this,” elementary students are asking, “what am I supposed to do?” They are lost in the directions, and they need more guidance, scaffolding, and modeling in their agency — especially when teachers attempt any kind of differentiation. For online learning, teachers can record their directions and their instruction and post them in a place where students can refer to them often.

How does all of this work to create a more equitable and inclusive classroom?

Cassondra Corbin-Thaddies: I see blended learning as the key to unlocking the equitable learning experiences that we desire for all our students. We need to get to know our students, and blended learning allows teachers to do just that, because they’re no longer isolated to the front of the room delivering instruction. As we learn who our students are, we’re collecting data about their needs, which allows us to personalize their experiences. Through personalization, learning becomes meaningful, purposeful, and equitable.

Doug Fisher: I think there’s potential here, but I also worry about communities that have limited access to internet and less stable devices. We must be vigilant about how we use these tools and ensure that we’re providing access — even though access is a very low level of equity, it’s essential in blended learning.

Will blended learning always require more planning from teachers?

Nicolle Stearns: We’ve always been the designers of our lessons. We’ve always taken whatever tools we have and designed instruction. This is no different: We’re looking at how we deliver the substance of our lesson, how our students collaborate and practice concepts, and how we differentiate and find opportunities for individualization. Those elements have always existed in instruction — we just get to play with them fluidly now, in a way that has us thinking about technology and learning tasks.

Watch the full recording of the session here, and register to view more literacy webinars on-demand with our Spring into Literacy Symposium here.




Resources, ideas, and stories for PreK-12 educators. We focus on educational equity, social and emotional learning, and evidence-based teaching strategies. Be sure to check out The Art of Teaching Project, our guest blogging platform for all educators.

Recommended from Medium

About the academic work/life balance: a discussion and resources

Out of this World: Astronomy Videos for Learners of All Ages


Classroom Ethics Are a Lot More Complicated than They Seem

How to Study for Tech Certifications and Pass Your Exams With Ease

5 New Year’s Resolutions For Students

5 New Year’s Resolutions For Students

The Role of Silence in the Pursuit of Knowledge

7 Tips to Help You Remember New Words in English

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
McGraw Hill

McGraw Hill

Helping educators and students find their path to what’s possible. No matter where the starting point may be.

More from Medium

The Science of Reading, For Everyone

Fishing for Global Health

Fishing boat

Meet the Newest Young Innovators in Biomimicry

Learning How to Leverage Multimedia in Interactive Storytelling