Blended learning is transforming roles of teachers and students in many classrooms and has become a trendy buzzword in education in recent years. Yet, for all its trendiness and efficacy, the true meaning of what blended learning means has somehow gotten lost in all the buzz. This has become a term that has many meanings to many different stakeholders. I want to use this blog post to start the conversation around some of the most common misconceptions I encounter regarding blended learning, with hopes that we can demystify this very solid instructional approach.
As the director of Curriculum and Instructional Technology for Meriden Public Schools in Connecticut, I have overseen a successful and ongoing blended environment, and I have encountered and addressed many of the ideas that lead to blended learning confusion. Here are five of the most common misconceptions, with a healthy dose of the truth thrown in for good measure.
1. Blended learning equals distant learning. Students aren’t physically meeting with teachers or other students.
While blended learning initiatives can certainly help bridge the gap in situations where students can’t meet with teachers, that’s not how it works in our school district.
The barriers of classroom walls are broken down with the implementation of blended learning. Students and teachers can access timely information at they follow recent elections, discuss issues happening real-time overseas or reach out to classrooms throughout the world. In the classroom, teachers are directing instruction to small groups of students and addressing their needs, while other groups of students are expanding and extending their learning through the use of online content and resources.
It truly is a blend between learning through technology and more traditional models of instruction.
2. Blended learning keeps teachers from connecting with their students because they’re interacting online.
Again, most of our school days in Meriden are divided between regular class time focused on student needs and time spent online. So teachers still have ample time to develop important personal connections with their students as well as provide support whenever needed. With the delivery of content available online, background information is shared with students and teachers are able to “dig deeper” and make the connections to students’ daily life when working with them in the classroom.
I advise people not to “knock” the power of an online connection until they’ve tried it, especially when our schools are full of digital natives. Online platforms give every student an opportunity to share their thoughts either publicly or privately to the teacher. Many times, a student might even feel more comfortable reaching out to their teacher through our blended learning platform than he would raising his hand or approaching the teacher during class.
It is also very important to implement the right tools to make blending work. Choose a platform that provides your teachers the ability to receive immediate feedback from students, with collaboration tools built into the software. There are many platforms available that have tailored their offerings to the unique challenges that accompany a blended learning implementation.
3. Blended learning is a replacement for teachers. They no longer have a role in our students’ learning.
Sadly, I hear this misconception often, and honestly, it is just a silly notion. The most successful blended learning initiatives absolutely depend on the power of good teachers to select appropriate engaging content, to guide students through the process, monitor their progress and adapt lessons along the way. Technology can never replace a good teacher; blended learning is simply changing their role. Teachers are not only teaching their content, they are providing an environment where students become owners of their learning, and have the experiences they need to become life-long learners.
4. Blended learning is easy. All you have to do is show a video!
Wrong again! Blended learning is about so much more than simply showing videos during class or occasionally incorporating the use of technology. After all, teachers were already doing that for years before blended learning became a widely-accepted practice.
Others may have their own definitions for the term, but I like to think of blended learning as a meaningful use of technology that causes students to ask questions, dig deeper, collaborate with others and form conclusions.
If blended learning were as easy as showing a video, I might be out of a job! Instead, I’m working with teachers every day to fine-tune our blended learning curriculum. We pull content for every class from countless sources, whether it’s our actual platform’s suggested lessons, a lecture from a professor in England on YouTube or a customized quiz written by one of our teachers. Through the use of technology we are able to offer students multiple pathways to engage with the content and learn in an environment that best supports their learning.
5. Blended learning content is not as challenging as a traditional textbook-based curriculum.
I can see where this misconception got started. How could learning something online in a fun, engaging way be as challenging as a traditional, teacher lecture? But I think people are mistaken: Traditional models change! Blended learning takes the best of both worlds and provokes thought and critical thinking in students, can we say the same about a drill and kill model?
In fact, if you sat down and spoke with students in Meriden Public Schools, you would hear that they are being challenged more today than ever before, and they are far more invested in their learning under our blended learning model. One teacher who’s been in education for years told me he finally feels like his students are taking ownership of their learning instead of relying solely on him to provide them information. Beyond the school day, students are continuing classroom discussions well into the evening, after the teacher has gone to sleep, supporting each other as they ask deeper questions.
Of course, I wanted to cheer with excitement when I heard that, but it’s also a big responsibility for our students to take on. Blended learning not only helps students feel more connected to the learning process, it teaches them important life skills like self-motivation, collaboration and being inquisitive.
If you’ve held a few of these common misconceptions about blended learning, I hope I was able to clear them up for you. What other misconceptions have you heard about blended learning? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll do my best to address them!
Barbara Haeffner is the director of Curriculum and Instructional Technology for Meriden Public Schools in Connecticut. Odysseyware is one of the online providers MPS has used for many years to support the district’s blended learning platform.
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