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blended learning

How one district built a better blended learning program

An increasingly common learning model results in dramatic improvements in a Tennessee district

Blended learning is rapidly becoming a core part of schools’ educational approach, partly because the model suits so many educational needs–credit recovery, dual enrollment, and access to advanced courses not always offered in brick-and-mortar schools.

To help connect educators with blended learning schools and districts, the Clayton Christensen Institute (CCI) curates the Blended Learning Universe, an online hub and directory offering resources about blended learning basics, research, and examples of different implementations.

CCI previously only awarded a Blended Learning Universe distinction to individual schools, but expanded it to districts that model how a school’s blended learning pilot can be brought to scale.

Within CCI’s Blended Learning Universe hub, district administrators also can connect and collaborate with others to learn more about bringing a blended learning pilot to scale.

Tennessee’s rural Putnam County School System was among the first to receive a district-level Blended Learning Universe designation.

What is now a district-wide blended learning initiative began as an online credit-recovery program in 2008, said Sam Brooks, the district’s personal learning coordinator.

Next page: How the district implemented a model for online instruction

Putnam County’s Virtual Instruction to Accentuate Learning (VITAL) program serves as the district’s core online instruction and personalized learning program. VITAL is used for dual enrollment, credit recovery, blended learning and distance learning for students in grades 6-12.

District leaders implemented the program to model personalized learning throughout schools. A personalized learning task force of 32 people gathers regularly to evaluate the district’s personalized learning goals and ensure its structure mirrors the state-level personalized learning structure.

As a result, Brooks said Putnam County has seen a 50 percent decrease in disciplinary problems, as well as a 50 percent decrease in the need for credit recovery as a result of using online coursework and early intervention strategies. Between 2008 and 2014, the district’s graduation rate increased from 86 percent to 92.6 percent.

VITAL supports students as young as sixth grade if they want to take high school courses, and many dual enrollment students graduate high school with a diploma and an associate degree.

Blended learning is able to expand across districts in part because the technology to support it has improved, and also because educators see opportunities for different student populations to truly benefit from a blended model.

As technology prices dropped in the years after the VITAL program was established, district leaders took the opportunity to purchase more classroom devices and expand the district’s personalized learning offerings.

In just the last three years, 59 school districts have arranged visits to Putnam to learn more about the VITAL program.

“[Those visits] spawned partnership with other districts,” Brooks said. “Anytime we bring someone in to visit, we end up learning something, too.”

Brooks said the district works hard to help students who may not be headed to a four-year college or university after graduation.

“We were doing some great things to help kids who were going to college, but I didn’t feel like we were doing a lot for the skills-based kids,” he said. “In the last couple of years we’ve tried to promote CTE options for students.”

That includes connecting students with opportunities for industry education and training and the chance to earn industry certifications.

“We’re promoting students who are college- and career-ready. That’s our goal,” Brooks said.

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