Illustrations showing the concept of blended learning

5 blended-learning myths to bust in 2019

The Christensen Institute debunks some of the folklore around this style of learning

For an example of personalized, blended learning in action, check out Freedom Elementary, where students—with tailored support from teachers as well as digital tools—personalize their education in accordance to their needs and preferences through mastery-based, blended learning.

Myth 3. Blended learning looks like kids in headphones in front of screens all day.

Fact: Blended learning complements a range of teaching and learning approaches, including highly collaborative project-based and experiential learning.

Blended learning offers flexibilities that allow students to make choices about how they learn best. Sometimes that means working individually with a computer, but often not. Many schools are using blended learning to free up time and space so that students can learn in more collaborative and hands-on ways. The “kids in headphones” visualization results from the design choices a school makes in its blended-learning implementation, rather than the blended-learning models themselves.

We recently visited Gibson Ek High School in Issaquah, WA. We knew about Gibson Ek’s Flex model—which lets students move on fluid schedules among learning activities according to their needs—from its BLU_ profile, and we were excited to see in action this model. We also got to visit during students’ exhibitions, and the message that came through most strongly from exhibitions was how learning happened in all kinds of contexts, including through design labs, student-driven interdisciplinary research projects, and internships. Sometimes students work individually on a computer, like when they move through math topics in ALEKS, but Gibson Ek underlined for us how blended-learning environments can be vibrant and collaborative, complemented by a range of innovative approaches to teaching and learning.

Myth 4. If I’m using technology in my school, I’m doing blended learning and disrupting the old system!

Fact: Blended learning isn’t the same as tech-rich learning—and it’s not always disruptive.

In tech-rich learning environments, technology upholds traditional systems and structures, many of which center around whole-class instruction. Blended learning, by contrast, unlocks flexibility in time and space, enabling greater customization to suit individual student needs. (Read more about what blended learning is—and isn’t.)

Furthermore, not all blended-learning models are disruptive—some are what we call “hybrids” that combine both the new technology (online learning) and the old design (traditional classroom) to improve along the traditional definition of a good classroom. Station

Rotation, Flipped Classroom, and Lab Rotation are all hybrid models, and they are important drivers that can enable more student-centered learning without overhauling the whole system. However, these hybrid models are what we call sustaining innovations—they improve the existing system along the original measures of performance—rather than disruptive ones that are positioned to transform the classroom model and become engines of change over the longer term.

For examples of disruptive innovation in schools, see how the Enriched Virtual blended model— an alternative to full-time online school that allows students to complete the majority of coursework online at home or outside of school, but attend school for required face-to-face learning sessions with a teacher—works at a school in New York City and at a high school in Los Angeles County.

Myth 5. Flex is the pinnacle of blended.

Fact: The Flex model has many virtues…but the unique circumstances of your classroom and students’ needs will drive which blended model is the right fit.

Flex may or may not be the classroom of tomorrow, but addressing students’ needs now will help determine the best learning process for them today. By definition, the Flex model lets students move on fluid schedules among learning activities according to their needs. Teachers provide support and instruction on a flexible, as-needed basis while students work through course curriculum and content, giving students a high degree of control over their learning. Who wouldn’t want that for their students?

The caveat is that Flex is a disruptive model, meaning that teachers and students make a clean break from the traditional system. Of course, this isn’t feasible for every school or classroom, and without some stepping stones, disruptive models can be a tricky leap for many students to make—perhaps especially at the elementary school level. On the other hand, sustaining models like rotations can provide supportive, differentiated structures for students—and still leave room to provide some flexible learning options.

How to be a mythbuster

Getting familiar with what blended learning is and isn’t, and what it supports and enables, will make you a more convincing advocate and change agent for blended learning. To learn more about blended learning, visit the Blended Learning Universe (BLU_). Join the blended-learning educator community by creating a BLU_ profile to share your current practice.

[Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on The Christensen Institute’s blog.]

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