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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

There are methods and models for implementing blended learning -- from the flipped classroom, to the flex model. All of them are on the continuum of just how much time is spent online and in the online classroom. Blended Learning can provide a unique way of not only engaging students in collaborative work and projects, but also personalizing and individualizing instruction for students.

However, there is still one piece that is missing from a great blended learning environment: engagement! As an experienced online teacher of both K-12 and higher education students, I am familiar with the challenges of engaging students in virtual work. Luckily, the blended learning model still demands some in-person, brick-and-mortar learning, so there is a unique opportunity to use this structure to engage students.

#1 Leverage Virtual Class Meetings with Collaborative Work

One of the most prominent features of blended learning is the virtual meeting or synchronous class meeting. Sometimes teachers spend the entire class meeting in a virtual meeting room lecturing and presenting content. The irony is that this meeting is often recorded, and available for students to watch later (so students can watch the meeting on their own time). Instead, use the time that you have with the entire class to problem solve together, collaborate on projects, and use virtual break-out rooms for guided practice. If you want students to be engaged in the class meetings, it must be meaningful. Collaborative work can be meaningful when students problem-solve together, plan, and apply their learning in new contexts.

#2 Create the Need to Know

The key here is an engaging model of learning. Teachers can use project learning to create authentic projects where students see the relevance and need to do the work -- whether that work is online in the physical classroom. The same is true for game-based learning. If students are engaged playing a serious game about viruses and bacteria, then teachers can use the game as a hook to learn content online or offline. Through metacognition, and the "need to know" activity, students "buy-in" to the learning -- no matter when and where that learning occurs.

#3 Reflect and Set Goals

Related to the comment on metacognition above, students need to be aware of what they are learning as well as their progress towards meeting standards. Teachers need to build in frequent moments, both as a class and individual, to reflect on the learning, and set S.M.A.R.T. goals. Through these measurable and student-centered goals, students can become agents of learning, rather than passive recipients. Use reflecting and goal-setting both online and offline to create personal connection to the learning and personalized goals.

#4 Differentiate Instruction Through Online Work

In a blended learning classroom, there is often online work that needs to occur. This might be a module on specific content, formative assessments, and the like. However, students may or may not need to do all the work that is in a specific module. In an effort to individualize instruction, use the online work to meet individual students needs. Whether an extension of learning, or work to clarify a misconception, the work that occurs online can be more valuable to students when it is targeted. Students are no longer engaged in uninteresting busy work, but focused, individualized learning.

#5 Use Tools for Mobile Learning

Edutopia recently published the guide, Mobile Devices for Learning. The guide provides a variety of apps and tips, proposing teachers use mobile learning as part of the learning environment. The great thing is that blended learning can partner well with many strategies and apps. If you use the flipped classroom model, for example, apps like the Khan Academy, BrainPop, and YouTube are incredibly useful. Leverage the flexibility of where students can learn, having them learn outside the four classroom walls. Use scavenger hunts, Twitter, and back-channel chats to engage students in a variety of mobile-learning activities to support your blended-learning model.

Successful blended learning educators and schools are focusing on engagement as they work towards student achievement. We have the unique opportunity to not replicate a system that has not served all students. Instead, we need to look at flexible time and place to innovate through blended learning.

This blog is part of a series sponsored by Herff Jones Nystrom.
Getting Started with Blended Learning

Comments (14)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Tara's picture
first grade teacher from Louisville, KY

I am looking for new and creative ways to manage and engage my very enthusiastic group of first graders. does anyone have any useful tips/strategies?

Nina Smith's picture
Nina Smith
Mentor, Teaching Consultant

Thank you for this informative and well written article. Blended learning is indeed a great way to make learning more meaningful for students, and mobile learning is definitely the way of future learning. I also appreciate your examples of pulling students into the nexus of their own learning, instead of keeping them at outskirts of it, as usually happens when educators get excited about online learning - and then it turns out they are actually talking about online teaching.
Learning is still viewed as a product, not as a process, even though we already have the tools for creating truly learner centered schools and classrooms. http://notesfromnina.wordpress.com/2012/09/30/is-learning-a-product-or-a... I also mentor teachers pursuing their masters degree in Learning and Technology, and am sometimes surprised how much more technology is still understood to be a teaching tool instead of means for individual learning. We must change this.
We must shift the focus from teaching to learning to improve the education. Students are the ones doing the real work of learning, teachers are there to facilitate that learning. This is also one reason for education in Finland being so much more effective.

Rhonda Lowderback's picture

Great article on blended learning! I have often wondered what a successful blended learning classroom would look like. I am surprised by the group lecture in an online conference room. I wonder if it is more beneficial to have content lectures being presented online. I suppose if the lecture is using other technologies, such as videos and websites, it makes sense. Otherwise, is it using technology just to use it? Are students more engaged in lectures that occur online?

Ellen Z.'s picture
Ellen Z.
Reading Specialist from Hellertown, PA

Thanks for the very upbeat advice as to how to make blended learning work in the classroom setting. I have a website to share that I explored with my kids this summer. It is called Cubert's Writing Cube. It is an excellent online platform for creative writing in the elementary grades. It is Wiki based, which allows the students to do collaborative story writing. There are some very cool features such as a "gallery" section where the students can draw illustrations or upload graphic files, and there are some terrific interactive story-starters. Your students will not have a chance to suffer from writer's block. Here are some other positive notes about the website:
* Kids become more engaged to write their book reports and stories.
* Getting feedback from you and peers within the cube makes it easier to edit, and and they resist it less.
* Students can access it at home to do their homework or add more detail to their illustrations.
* When they publish their writing, students can choose how to share it with friends and parents.
* Teachers find the lessons on the "Lesson Shelf" resource very helpful to get started and inspired.
* You can access the entire writing process (and papers) accessible from a single place.

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