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The power of “blend” in blended learning

4 min read


I tend to be one of those educational risk takers.

As a K-12 administrator, I loved nothing more than to visit classrooms where there was a buzz of student learning, where you could stand in the doorway for minutes before anyone even knew you were there, where a room was a hive of student activity, where the teacher was lost in the swirl of investigation and collaboration, where classroom management stemmed from an intensity of engagement rather than the enforcement of rules.

Not surprisingly, I am an unreserved proponent of blended learning.

Creating an environment that fosters collaboration, respect and passion — that thinks outside of the educational box — reaps so many rewards for student engagement and embraces the dynamic nature of education. We regularly challenge the teachers we work with to commit to reinventing their approaches with technology and to intellectually rejuvenate their spirit.

For years, we “early adopters” have been advocating the many advantages of blended learning — the predominant one being that it naturally allows for differentiated instruction. Well-designed blended instruction genuinely allows teachers to meet the full gamut of student needs. Because of the critical need to reach a diversity of learning styles, personal interests, individual goals, intrinsic motivation and especially to connect with real-world and practical applications, we have heralded the potential of this student-centered methodology.

And yet, perhaps in our quest to enthusiastically promote the power of a blended approach, in our zest to revolutionize, we sometimes forget that the real power lies in the full range of learning styles met. It must be remembered that the most effective “blend” is likely to involve a comprehensive range of learning options — even those that might be deemed traditional in nature. Great innovators understand that the real potential of transformation lies in the way that change is integrated into the best of traditional practice.

The most effective blended learning environments do this well. Teachers understand that to meet the needs of all students, there must be time and space for direct instruction within the delivery model. Taking the time to offer a “mini lesson” each day, alongside a flipped classroom set of videos and collaborative learning spaces, is a valuable and often overlooked component of blended learning. Designing a room with a space for direct instruction to take place — perhaps a teaching center around an interactive whiteboard — recognizes the necessary role of a teacher-centered instructional model for those that prefer such an approach.

It is equally important for the blend to extend to the pool of authentic assessments used in the classroom. Here again, innovative educators have often moved towards a blended instructional strategy as a direct result of their dissatisfaction with a highly structured, teacher-centered learning model devoid of creativity. It should be remembered, however, that integrating standardized assessment tools into a classroom of authentic learning and real-world application can only help students who will, at some stage, be required to demonstrate their learning in this way. Understandably, for many creative teachers it is counter intuitive to make sure that students are still given the opportunity to demonstrate mastery through standardized tests. And yet, it may well be the preferred mode for some and necessary training for others.

Ironically, some of the most traditional of my colleagues have helped clarify my understanding of how to maximize the differentiation within a blended learning environment. Any commitment to a genuinely blended classroom must come with an understanding that there needs to be an option for students who seek direct instruction and summative testing.

I will always be an educational risk taker. I still love nothing more than to visit classrooms where there is a buzz of student learning, but I have come to believe that in our excitement to welcome innovation we must not forget the effectiveness and benefit of traditional methodologies that have served students well for years.

I also remain an unreserved proponent of blended learning … a comprehensive blend.

Adam Holden has been a school administrator in both the private and public education systems of Europe and the United States for more than 25 years. Adam is a two-time recipient of the National Blue Ribbon of Excellence, is a qualified IBO Head of School, an authorized Google Education Trainer and now heads the, nationally ranked, Department of Teacher Education at Fort Hays State University. Adam is a proponent of innovative, creative, culturally diverse, and blended educational experiences.

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