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Maximizing results with self-paced blended learning customization

Self-paced blended learning shows that a timetabled lesson/period in a traditional classroom is an arbitrary artificial construct of the teacher’s mind

blended-learningAt best, it is a well-intentioned educated guess of the amount of learning a student can undertake in a predetermined period of a timetable. At worst, it is a waste of students’ time.

In a traditional classroom a teacher usually draws on past experience and other resources to estimate the amount of learning that a student can undertake, and delivers that amount of teaching/learning.

Thus, a teacher will deliver 40 minutes (or whatever the timetable dictates) of teaching/learning. However, “40 minutes of learning” is a meaningless concept. This rate of teaching/learning is really an artificial construct; it may have nothing to do with reality.

(Next page: Assisting students with different learning needs)

Some students have prior knowledge that is difficult to quantify, and may learn much more quickly than the teacher can anticipate; perhaps completing the learning in 20 minutes. Others may have difficulties and may learn more slowly than anticipated; perhaps requiring 60 minutes for the learning to occur.

The teacher may attempt to differentiate by assisting students with difficulties, while providing extra material for students who complete the learning quickly. However, this approach, though well intended, is a remnant of the industrial model of teaching groups of students at the same pace and at the same time. It is management centered rather than learning centered.

It produces rates of teaching similar to that shown in Graph 2.

Technology allows this model to be disbanded, and allows the student to determine what “40 minutes of learning” is. Groups of periods/ “40 minutes of learning” eventually form a “semester of learning,” which is an equally artificial concept.

The author has been teaching a self-paced blended learning course to middle school students for several years and regularly has students who complete a “semester of learning” in half a semester.

graph 1
Graph 1 – The pace of learning in a self-paced blended learning classroom


Graph 1 shows the pace of learning in a self-paced blended learning class during a five week period. Imagine Students M, P and W being constrained to work at a pace determined and controlled by the teacher.

They would probably be bored, and would be wasting a significant percentage of class time as they would complete the learning more quickly than anticipated. Imagine Student K attempting to keep up with the teacher controlled pace of teaching/learning. It would be difficult.

(Next page: Comparing self-paced blended learning in a traditional classroom)

Now compare this to a similar graph if the pace of teaching had occurred in a traditional classroom. (Graph 2)

Graph 2 – The pace of learning in a traditional classroom
Graph 2 – The pace of learning in a traditional classroom

Do we really believe that the rate of learning in a classroom occurs like this?

Teachers and students have been trapped in a system of delivery of learning that is a product of a previous era. It was very difficult to allow students to learn at an individual pace twenty or thirty years ago.

However, effective technology based systems now allow this to occur, and everyone can benefit. Students benefit by learning at a pace that suits their needs. Teachers benefit as they can focus on helping individuals rather than guessing what a group needs.

We need to move confidently and quickly to facilitate this shift to personalized education. Our students deserve nothing less.

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

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