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Easing into Blended Learning

Posted on Sep 20, 2012

In their article, Forget About Blended Learning Best Practices, Innosight co-founder, Michael Horn and senior education research fellow, Heather Staker argue that it is ineffective to take the best practices, the attributes of what good organizations do, and assume that they are the causal reason for their success.

Rather than looking at blended learning as having only one “correct” format or method, they advise others to look at it as the innovative, morphing thing it is. They reason, “what works well in one circumstance might not work in another.” For lack of not being able to come up with a better example coupled with my jealousy of their metaphor, here’s theirs: centuries ago, would-be aviators observed that most animals that flew well had wings and feathers, but when humans made wings with feathers for themselves, the results were dire.

This is why we need to study the models defined in their May 2012 release, Classifying K-12 Blended Learning.

They suggest that most elementary schools could easily utilize the rotational model because, “a large number [of schools] already employ activity-center classroom models that lend themselves to adding an online-learning station.” It would be as easy as plugging an online instruction portion in to their day of teacher-led instruction and collaborative group activities. Doing so, would transform this hypothetical classroom into a blended station-rotational model.

The station-rotation model in action could look like this: Through teacher-led instruction, a class starts out by reciting King Phillip Came Over From Great Spain – to help remember scientific classification (kingdom, phylum, class, etc…). Next, they hop online and play a matching game where they order classes or match animals as vertebrate or invertebrate, mammal or reptile. They could finish the unit in a collaborative station where they work together making a poster of a kingdom of dogs, pencils, shoes, of anything.

For middle and high school, they suggest the simplest way to employ blended learning is the self-blend model. This is where students take one or more courses entirely online to supplement their traditional brick-and-mortar courses. They can take these at their traditional school, from their bed, up in their childhood tree house, wherever works best for them. All a school would need to do, is find courses that fit their curriculum.

As an easy way to begin using blended learning, they close up their article by encouraging schools to launch credit- and dropout-recovery programs with the flex model. Think of this like a big computer lab where the majority of learning occurs online. With adults present as monitors or facilitators, “students move on an individually customized, fluid schedule.” If a school has a computer lab and a teacher or two with some spare time, they can easily implement this. Not a bad way for students to make up some credits and not a bad way for schools to help keep students on track with graduation.

I think their main goal with this article, is just to inspire schools to be creative. They aren’t asking for some huge and total overhaul of a school and they aren’t telling anyone that blended learning is the only right way to teach. They’re simply urging schools to be as productive as possible; with blended learning and a little creativity, they can be, but then again, I might just be another one of those best practice preachers, so, once again, I’ll leave you with Horn and Staker:

“Perhaps the best advice for educators is to take best practices with a grain of salt. Keep innovating to serve students, and do what works best for your specific circumstance.”

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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