I recently participated in a lively debate about how can we help our students learn best?
The debate was centered on the topic of blended learning – what it is and how can we use it to make learning effective and efficient. It was evident to me after following the debate that there are many different opinions and ideas floating around. And while this is a healthy and important debate to have, I want to spend a few minutes discussing how I view blended learning at VRG and make clear why I believe this approach can help our students learn best.
First of all, let’s talk about the “what” and then work backward to the “how”. Adapted from the Clayton Christensen Institute definition, we define blended learning as:
What does that really mean? This means that if we are doing it right, blended learning activities will enable our students and enable our teachers. Our students will experience their classes to be more relevant to their interests and needs and abilities. Our teachers will experience a structured, effective way to utilize all the tools in their toolbox to see and support and teach every student. In reality, one blended classroom will look very different from another. There will be a blend of lecture and discussion and collaborative exercises. There will be a blend of group and individual tasks. There will be a blend of online and face-to-face activities. The blend will be determined by what the teacher deems best for the specific learner. We will know when we have the blend just right when the teacher has more one-on-one time with each student and each student feels seen, supported and challenged.
We use this illustration to think about our vision for Blended Learning.
If this is the “what”, the next question is, of course, the “how”. Early on in our pilot studies, we realized this was the important question. That was when we began to discuss the process of Instructional Design.
The teacher is the leader of the learning. The decisions the teacher makes determine the roadmap for the student. Finding the balance between all of the aspects mentioned above is what makes the roadmap effective. Designing the structure of the course (pace, path and place) and determining which aspects to emphasize makes the roadmap efficient. Many important interactions occur when learning is present: when and how the students should interact with the content; when and how students interact with the teacher and their classmates; when and how students interact with reflection to connect new ideas to their already existing knowledge. By understanding best practices in instructional design, we can draw a roadmap for each student to make the most of every interaction.
Good instructional design requires teachers to get and give continual feedback. In traditional classrooms, the feedback processes were too slow and time-consuming. This forced teachers to make decisions based on “the average” of a class. In a blended learning classroom, teachers are empowered by an understanding of each and every student’s progress thanks to effective edtech tools.
I realize now we should spend more time talking about the “how” and less about the “what”. Teachers are the key to student learning. How they design and teach their courses are key to successful student learning.
To be clear, we are focused on offering blended learning empowered by efficient and effective instructional design.
Want to see what a blended classroom can look like:
Want to read a summary of our work over the past two years?
Want to discuss this more or join our debate? Comment below.