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Four criteria for evaluating blended learning tools

By Eileen Shihadeh
October 28th, 2014

Eileen Shihadeh, vice president at Compass Learning, shares four tips for a successful blended learning model

blended-learning-toolsBlended learning has arrived. While schools and districts across the nation are in various stages of transition, there is little doubt that the appetite for interactive tools that cultivate blended learning environments is on the rise. In fact, recent case studies published by the nonprofit organization FSG indicate that technology is so prevalent that it has some level of influence over nearly every aspect of the U.S. education system.

Now that the discussion is shifting from defining blended learning to implementing the approach effectively, it is becoming increasingly clear there is no easy answer—whether the chosen instructional model is flex, rotation, online lab, or some other variation.

Each district, school, and teacher has a list of criteria to consider when evaluating the tools available for implementing a blended learning approach in the classroom. Three common points, however, are frequently cited by educators as the most critical: proof of efficacy, alignment to standards, and cost. Each of these factors is important, but before asking the questions Does it work? Does it align? and What does it cost?, teachers and administrators first must explore What is the need? and What are we trying to achieve?

For many schools, the answers to the last two questions are to get students more engaged, to gather and use assessment data to inform instruction, to improve learning productivity by ensuring that the right resources reach the right student at the right time, and to accelerate learning toward college and career readiness. Certainly these are aggressive goals, but they are not impossible. New, innovative solutions for leveraging blended learning to improve nearly every aspect of the teaching and learning experience are available every day. When evaluating the options, consider these four keys to success.

Student-centered engagement

We know that students must be actively engaged before they can learn, so selecting digital content that is appealing and accessible is key. According to Richard Mayer’s Principle of Personalization, students perform up to 40 percent better when content is delivered in a first-person, conversational style rather than with a formal tone. Various representations of information (such as graphics, text, and video) also improve student-friendliness—encouraging a more active role in the learning process and assisting in the retention of learning. To increase student engagement, ensure that any digital tools provide these characteristics.

(Next page: Three more elements that all blended learning tools should offer)