The stages educational organizations move through on the journey to blended learning, and their effect on teachers/instructors

blended-learningAs organizations move through various stages in preparation for blended learning, teachers can choose the degree to which they engage with change.

However, once the final stage is reached, this decision is assumed, and visible changes in pedagogy occur; it becomes obvious whether a teacher is using a blended model.

It is at this point that real “disruption” occurs; it is at this point that teachers either become excited by the new possibilities or withdraw in an attempt to stay with the “tried and true” teaching methods of the past. It is at this stage that organizations must “push through” resistance to change by some or risk the possibility of returning to the ‘one pace fits most’ models that are part of the “traditional” teaching paradigm. They must also actively support teachers who are embracing change.

Disruptive change can be unnerving, and it is at this stage that organizations must provide significant support for teaching staff as they work to assimilate new methodologies. This support should be more than “theoretical” professional development; it should also be practical support and modelling in the classroom.

(Next page: Levels of involvement during the change to blended learning)

The move to blended learning, with all that it entails, is the biggest shift in education in over a hundred years. To expect teachers to “just do it” with minimal support is unrealistic. Yet this change is too important for just a token effort.

The time when an organization reaches the “blended learning stage” is shown as Stage B on the graph below. The red circle indicates the effect on both teachers and pedagogy – disruptive.

(Click to enlarge image)

blended-learning-model

The stages shown on this graph are explained below. The order of some stages may vary, and the duration of a stage may vary from weeks to years.

Leaders of educational organizations need to be aware of these stages and the stresses that they place on various parts of the organization so that strategies can be implemented to allow change to occur effectively.

Stage I (Infrastructure)

In this stage the network (servers, switches, fibre optic and copper cabling, wireless access points, printers and miscellaneous hardware, internet access as well as the software driving the systems) must be analysed for suitability and upgraded if necessary; to get the system to the point where it will cope smoothly with the increased technological load.

IT staff and eLearning staff are heavily involved at this stage, but the impact on teachers and pedagogy is minimal.

Stage O (Online Learning Environment)

In this stage the existing Online Learning Environment (OLE) is evaluated, and a decision is made to remain with it or to investigate an alternative system that will suit the educational and technical needs of the organization for many years.

As this is primarily a decision based on pedagogy, eLearning staff and teachers are involved. IT staff are involved purely to ensure that the chosen system operates effectively. Pedagogy is unaffected.

Stage C (Create and populate the courses within the OLE)

This stage requires teaching and support staff to create and populate the online courses. This usually initially consists of moving existing teaching and learning resources into the OLE. These resources may include documents, presentations, videos, web links, Web 2 resources, interactive resources and podcasts. The courses may also include online quizzes, rubrics, discussions, forums, personalized learning pathways and more.

eLearning staff should be leading this process, and teachers are heavily involved creating content. However, it is possible for the pedagogy to be unaffected; teaching may continue as it has always done with the material in the OLE being viewed as support material for students. Some staff may take advantage of the material and start to “blend” their teaching.

The IT Department is largely uninvolved in this stage.

Stage D (Device)

At some stage, for blended learning to occur across the entire organization, each student must have access to his/her own device. The type of device (laptop, tablet, phone, etc.) and the method of supplying it (BYOD, supplied by the organization, etc.) may vary.

This is a busy time for the IT Department and the eLearning Department. Some teachers may embrace the change and begin to make significant changes to pedagogy, but it is also possible for traditional teaching to largely continue unchanged. The introduction of devices does not ensure that a change in pedagogy will occur.

Stage B (Blended Learning)

Once all of the previous components are in place, the organization wide shift to blended learning can occur. This involves realigning the course materials created in Stage C to fit the appropriate blended learning model.

At this stage organization wide pedagogy should change.

At this stage teachers must change the way they have been teaching.

Even though it may have taken years to build to this stage, “suddenly” disruption occurs; it is obvious and cannot be ignored. This can be liberating for some and unnerving for others.

Stage P (Professional Development)

This stage should stretch across all of the other stages, with the focus of the professional development (PD) shifting with the transition from one stage to another. For example, during Stage C the PD would cover the operation of the OLE, as well as course design considerations. In Stage B (and preferably before), the PD would cover specific models of blended learning.

Stage P is not displayed on the graph.

It is only at Stage B where the impact on teaching staff and pedagogy becomes disruptive. This is indicated by the red circle on the graph. Even though massive change has been occurring up to this point, it has been happening “around” the teaching staff and pedagogy, and it could be almost ignored. In fact, while some teachers may be looking forward to this stage, and may have been early adopters, some could also remain in denial, hoping that this is simply another trend that will come and go.

It is at this stage when the angst of some will surface in a number of ways, and tensions may be heightened. Leaders need to be aware of this before Stage B is reached, and should have strategies in place to cope with the tensions.

Solutions

Belief and commitment ­– It should be obvious to all that the leadership of the organization is committed to the change to blended learning – that it is more than “something we will try and see what happens.” This commitment needs to be visible in practical terms as well, in the form of resources, professional development and time allocated to staff to manage the change.

Professional Development – Teachers need to be aware of a wide range of blended learning models so that those that are most appropriate to their discipline can be implemented.

Support with course design – Courses that use a blended learning model have a different structure to courses delivered in a traditional fashion. eLearning support staff need to be readily available to assist with this design and implementation.

Support in the classroom – Teaching in a blended learning classroom is different in some ways to teaching in a traditional classroom. Teachers need to understand these differences, and may need practical modelling of these techniques by experienced blended learning practitioners.

Personal support for teachers – A change of this magnitude will be personally confronting for some. Thus, personal support and understanding from leaders is vital. Teachers need to know that they are valued, and that support is readily available.

Support for students – Students also need to know the benefits of the changes, and need to have strategies on how to succeed in a blended learning classroom. Quite often this environment requires more self-discipline, time management and organization; life skills vital for all.

Support for parents – Parents also need to be aware of the benefits of the changes, and effective communication of the process is vital.

Peter West is Director of eLearning at Saint Stephen’s College in Australia. He has over 15 years’ experience leading K12 schools in technology enhanced education, particularly blended learning using online learning environments. He can be contacted at pwest@ssc.qld.edu.au.