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Five steps to a successful blended learning program

Follow this advice, and your transition to blended learning will go a lot smoother

Blended learning is an entirely new challenge—and chances are you won’t get everything right from the start.

History tells us that as they forged westward, pioneers often faced unexpected obstacles. It’s a great reminder that trailblazers need to be prepared for potential pitfalls.

As school leaders consider adopting blended learning to provide more opportunities for their students, here are five key considerations gleaned from the thousands of schools we’ve worked with.

1. Define your academic goals.

A blended learning model can be tailored to meet one or more objectives, such as personalizing instruction by infusing technology into the core curriculum; expanding the course offerings available to students; allowing students to take accelerated or specialized courses without leaving the school building; or helping students recover credits and graduate on time.

Your district’s goals should inform every step of the process, from selecting curriculum materials to recruiting the right staff. Once goals are set, it’s important to establish metrics so you can ensure the program is meeting its intended results.

2. Help teachers understand their critical role.

There is a common misconception that implementing technology displaces classroom teachers. In reality, the online component of a blended learning model is a powerful complement to face-to-face instruction—and, as in any classroom, the teacher is the single most important determining factor for student success.

With data generated from online tools and resources, teachers can pinpoint individual student needs and focus on high-value activities: coaching students, providing intervention for those who need extra help, and designing challenges for those who grasp concepts quickly.

School leaders can increase teachers’ comfort with blended learning by building awareness. Consider hosting forums to share your vision for this new model of instruction, and engage teachers in the process. Professional development also will help teachers learn how blended learning can be a classroom ally, freeing them from burdensome tasks so they can personalize the learning experience for students and spend more time mentoring, motivating, and instructing.

3. Support the needs of all students.

Self-directed pacing and ongoing assessment empower students to take greater responsibility for their own learning. As students become more self-aware of their learning styles, they are building essential life skills—such as time management and communication—that will position them well for future academic, career, and life achievements.

To ensure that every student can be successful, look for an online curriculum that offers interactive tools and support to help meet the learning requirements of all students, including English language learners and students with special needs.

4. Anticipate pushback.

Change can be scary. Be prepared to address concerns from the entire school community, especially parents, who might be unfamiliar with the benefits of blended learning. Share your plan early with all stakeholders in a variety of settings, from meetings to websites, and establish an open door policy for questions.

While you might not expect objections from digital natives themselves, the shift to blended learning might prompt some students to ask about going back to the way things were. Be prepared to listen to their concerns, and mentor them on strategies that will help them succeed in this new mode of learning.

5. Innovate and adapt.

For most schools, blended learning is an entirely new challenge—and chances are you won’t get everything right from the start. Challenge your team to constantly evaluate your program so you can identify what’s working and what needs to be improved. Don’t be afraid to seek help from experts, including other schools that have implemented blended learning programs.

But one size does not fit all. Empower your staff to tailor a program that is effective for your students, and when you encounter obstacles, make changes quickly to overcome them.

Sari Factor is CEO of Edgenuity, a leading online learning company based in Scottsdale, Ariz.

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