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Day 1: Blended Learning and Exploratory Education


Posted on Oct 30, 2012

I grew up in an elementary school that had an annex for Montessori instruction. We ate lunch with those students, sat with them at school assemblies, and, most importantly, played with them at recess. We were more focused on playing four square and kick ball together than comparing and contrasting our educational environments. Until quite recently, I didn’t know much about Montessori learning. To me, it appears extremely similar to blended learning; kind of like blended learning is an online Montessori school, but I’ll let you be the judge of that.

So, what is a Montessori school? According to the Montessori Schools of Massachusetts’ (MSM) website: The basic tenet of Montessori education is that a child learns best in an enriched, supportive environment through exploration, discovery and creativity with the guidance and encouragement of a trained and caring staff. It came about as a way to escape the rigidity of tradition education – to let the child learn through action, not lecture.

To reiterate the blended learning definition, yes, I know, again: A formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online delivery of content and instruction with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace and at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home.

Over the next three posts, we’ll look at specific connections between these two schools. By the end of it, I hope you see blended learning as an evolution of both Montessori and traditional education; a program that embodies the most valuable parts of traditional learning, the most effective parts of Montessori, and combines them online to create the strongest, most individualized learning environment possible.  Here is the first comparison:

Montessori: Uninterrupted blocks of work time.

Blended Learning: Students have a freedom of pacing.

Montessori calls for uninterrupted block of time, blended learning calls for student control of pace. The Montessori School’s website notes that Montessori curriculum follows the child rather than the child fitting into a set curriculum where all children are doing the same work at the same time. The children are encouraged to study and learn whatever they’re interested in. The Montessori method gives students time for different pursuits, the freedom to choose them, and the opportunity to be self-motivated when studying their areas of interest.

Blended learning accomplishes this by allowing students to complete their assigned work at a speed that fits them. In a traditional school, a numerically skilled student might fly through their math lesson and have nothing to do the rest of the hour. This same student’s German might need some extra helfen outside the classroom, but their extra-curricular activities don’t permit them the time. With blended learning, this student could get a head start on their next online German lesson without even having to get up from the computer. That is one of the best features of blended learning – time is never wasted.

Like with any venture, the more efficient the environment, the more productive it will be. What sets blended learning apart from Montessori, it that is still has structure. In Montessori, if a student doesn’t enjoy learning German, they probably won’t spend their time on it. Blended learning challenges students; it makes them explore subjects outside of their comfort zone. Still though, a student can focus on any subject, not just what is most enjoyable or most convenient. They have the ability to access their entire course load from the seat of their chair, not just what’s available in their classroom. In a way, it sounds like blended learning is a response to the rigidity of both traditional and Montessori education.

Kyle Vineyard is a senior majoring in English at the University of Kansas. He has a passion for the written word and a soft spot for rural America.

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    1. Nancy Berger     February 8, 2013  7:15 pm Reply

      I found your article fascinating. As a public school Montessori teacher for the past 24 years I concur with your assertions likening a Mont. Classroom to the experience of a blended learning environment. The natural progression of the materials as well as the self-correcting nature of them does indeed replicate the advantages seen when students learn through blended means. Funny how those of us blessed enough to work in these settings just sit back and watch as others rediscover the genius of a Montessori education. Thanks for shining the light once again on the benefits of this philosophy.