Blended learning models are a great way to improve engagement and learning outcomes for students and teachers alike. But often, teachers haven’t experienced the models themselves, leaving them unsure where to begin.
By modeling blended learning during professional development (PD) sessions, you can provide educators with a hands-on experience that will highlight the benefits of the approach and address any misconceptions, giving them the confidence to use blended learning in their own classrooms.
According to Catlin Tucker, blended learning combines active, engaged learning on- and offline to give students more control over the time, place, pace, and path of their learning.
When I design PD sessions, I incorporate five important components of effective blended learning environments: a mix of online and offline activities, choice, physical movement, collaboration, and small group/one-on-one support.
Let’s take a look at what each of these components looks like in a PD session that I led for a group of teachers about active learning in the classroom.
Include a mix of online and offline activities
Many teachers struggle with designing a lesson that includes both online and offline activities, especially when it comes to maintaining an appropriate balance of the two. As professional learning facilitators, we can demonstrate how to accomplish this ratio by using a blended learning model such as Whole Group Rotation or Station Rotation.
In my PD session, I used the Whole Group Rotation model, which means I rotated the entire group of learners between online and offline learning activities. For example, we opened with an activity to get participants thinking about their current understanding of the term “active learning.” Each teacher inserted an image (or GIF) that reflected their perspective on a collaborative slide deck. We then transitioned to an offline activity in which educators brainstormed a list of things that they would “look for/listen for” to determine if active learning was happening in their classroom.
Provide opportunities for choice
One important goal of blended learning is to design lessons that give students more control over their academic experiences. To do this, we must allow students to make choices about their learning. In our PD sessions with teachers, we can model strategies that offer choice during facilitation and that are replicable with students.
To help teachers build background knowledge on how to increase active learning in the classroom, for example, I created an explore board using a Google Doc. I curated a collection of resources (articles, videos, lesson ideas, etc.) on the topic of active learning, and then I designed the board with links to those resources. I gave participants 15 minutes to choose the resources that they wanted to explore based on their personal interests and familiarity with the topic, instituting an element of choice.
Plan for physical movement
Physical movement has many benefits for learning, including the potential to increase engagement and focus. This can be especially helpful if students have been working on a digital task for a period of time.
After interacting with the explore board, I asked teachers to grab a sticky note and write down one new thing they had learned and how it could be applied to their classroom. I used the online tool Flippity Randomizer to generate small groups. Then I instructed teachers to close their laptops, take their sticky notes, and meet up with their groups to share their reflections.
I typically make it a requirement for all learners to leave their seats and stand up the whole time they are sharing unless there are accessibility concerns in the group. This is because I want the focus to be on face-to-face conversations, without the distraction of devices.
Make space for meaningful collaboration
Blended learning environments promote active, engaged learning, and that means our students should be talking and working together. Ideally, we want them working collaboratively to complete a task.
For this reason, I divided teachers into small teams. Each team received a paper containing a fictional classroom scenario that comprised lessons lacking the elements of active learning.
I tasked the teams with brainstorming creative solutions for enhancing the lessons and making them more engaging. By working together to analyze and improve the scenarios, teachers had the opportunity to share ideas and draw from their collective experiences.
Work one-on-one with learners
An important benefit of blended learning is that it frees teachers to spend more time with small groups or individual students. And this increased interactivity allows teachers to then differentiate instruction more effectively and provide personalized support to students.
In the final PD activity, I asked teachers to apply their new learning by designing a lesson for their classrooms. They each completed a digital template that helped them reflect on how their lesson demonstrated active learning principles. As they worked, I pulled a small group of first-year teachers to provide some extra support around lesson planning. In this way, all learners were able to get the support they needed.
It can be challenging for teachers to get started with blended learning in their classroom. But by modeling blended learning in professional development sessions, we can provide teachers with the resources and experiences necessary to feel confident implementing these strategies in their own classrooms, with a deepened understanding of how the strategies feel from a learner’s perspective.