“For the times they are a-changin’.” – Bob Dylan
When I was in elementary school, I marveled at the computers in the classrooms and labs. I took every opportunity to use and learn about them, including spending entire recess sessions in the computer lab.
This proved to be especially helpful on lessons that required using a computer. I was hooked, and my classroom performance improved as soon as I logged on.
Nowadays, not only do students have access to desktop computers in the classroom, they have smartphones, iPads, SMARTboards, web cameras, and virtual reality—far beyond anything I could’ve imagined as a child. With technology evolving at an exponential rate, it’s important for our education systems to keep pace with these changes in order to fully reap the benefits.
So, what’s one way to leverage all of this technology? “Blended learning” is one key use for educational technology. But what is it? We’ll go over that—and more—below!
What is blended learning?
Blended learning is using a combination of classroom instruction and online education made possible through the use of a learning management system (LMS).
A decade or two ago, blended learning wasn’t a viable option, because not every student had a computer in their home. Now that almost everyone in the U.S. carries a phone in their pocket with 1,300 times the processing power of the computers used to land men on the moon, this type of learning is more in reach.
Technology has created an opportunity for a flexible learning environment that is no longer tied to brick-and-mortar schools.
Blended learning takes different forms
Blended learning is not as simple as sending students home with technology and expecting them to absorb assigned lessons. There are different ways to use blended learning in the classroom and at home. These different models of blended learning are dependent on they types of course(s) your school will teach and the availability of the teachers to facilitate those courses.
According to Lexia Learning and the Christensen Institute, there are four common models for implementing and using blending learning that are now used in schools today:
1. Rotation model. Gives students the ability to experience assignments and activities in rotating settings. This model includes group instruction, peer-to-peer activities, pencil and paper assignments, and individual work on computers and tablets organized into separate stations.
This model is perfect for large classes and classrooms with a shortage of tech devices.
2. Flex model. Students use online instructional tools on-site with teachers providing support when needed. The technology allows for customized lessons and tools that vary based on the needs and skills of the students.
This model is good for lessons which require more support, such as complicated topics or in-depth projects.
3. A la carte model. Students receive the entirety of some courses online. Any support needed by students is provided by online instructors who are not located on-site.
This model is perfect for simple lessons that are considered routine.
4. Enriched virtual model. Students are given face-to-face lessons with their teacher, but the rest of their assignments are completed remotely, outside of the classroom.
This model is best suited for assessments which require little-to-no support from teachers.
How to implement blended learning
Start with one course and build upon that, adjusting and applying any lessons you learn along the way.
So, how do you get started building your first blended learning course?
Map out the course
The Blended Learning Toolkit has already created a guide to building a blended learning course. According to the guide, your plan must cover the following points:
- Course description. What does the course cover?
- General course goals. What should the course demonstrate to students? Which blended learning model do you intend to follow? If the first model you test is unsuccessful, which model will you attempt as a backup?
- Learning objectives. What knowledge should your students be able to demonstrate upon completion of the course?
- Learning outcomes. How will you measure the success of your students upon completion of the course?
The Blended Learning Toolkit includes an example course blueprint:
Blueprint for creating a blended learning course (Source: Blended Learning Toolkit)
Figure out what software and hardware you need
Once you’ve defined the description, goals, and outcomes of your blended learning class, you’ll need the technological infrastructure to support your blended learning initiative.
A learning management system (LMS) will help you track all assignment content delivery and management.
The following options appear on Capterra’s list of Top 20 Most User-Friendly LMSs, and also offer functionality that is suited for an academic setting:
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Price: Contact for quote
You may also need new hardware to carry out a blended learning approach, and budget limitations can often become a barrier to implementing a new process. If your course requires new computers, tablets, or software, you may need to secure additional funding. Be sure to check out my post: “The Comprehensive Guide to Acquiring Education Technology Grants.”
Also, before you purchase any new tech, research all types of support that are included, especially for the software. Test your software support, including response time, support cost, and the limits of your own school’s IT team. Knowing what you are getting yourself into ahead of time will save you headaches down the road.
For additional information on blended learning lesson planning, check out Wowzers’ “Educator’s Guide to the Blended Learning Lesson Plan.”
3 ideas for blended learning assignments
1. Integrative video assignments
Assign your students a video to watch outside the classroom and include an assessment to test their knowledge of the material. This leaves more time in the classroom to discuss the video and facilitate student collaboration.
Interactive video learning tools:
2. Game-based lessons
Who doesn’t love games? Blended learning opens the door for gamification by assigning games to students in and out of the classroom. There are plenty of websites that offer educational games and other options, such as Minecraft Education Edition.
3. Discussions and collaborative activities outside the classroom
Systems such as virtual discussion walls or other collaboration tools allows instructors to get a discussion going on a topic before students enter the classroom, leaving time for other lesson activities while on-site.
Other ways to use technology in the classroom
Technology has opened other doors in education and has made learning far more convenient for students and teaching easier for educators.
The Capterra School Administration Blog covers administrative software options as well as education trends, news, and technological improvements. Here are a few other pieces on new technologies in the classroom that may interest you: