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blended learning

The 3 major dos and don’ts of blended learning

Administrator discusses how to think about blended learning implementation in stages, refinement and honing.

With the goal of making the learning experience more personalized and individual, a growing number of schools have embraced the concept of blended learning. The transition from more traditional pedagogies to one that’s centered on blended learning isn’t easy, but the rewards are certainly many.

Here are a few dos and don’ts that we’ve discovered on our own journey down the blended learning path:

1. Do make sure your staff and teachers understand blended learning before implementation

Blended learning isn’t a “one size fits all” initiative. Teachers are incorporating blended learning in different ways and have varying ranges of knowledge or expertise when it comes to using technology in a blended classroom.

Before any implementation begins, make sure all of your teachers are on the same page. Skip this step and you’ll either wind up with an unsuccessful program, or one that takes much longer than anticipated to incorporate into the classroom.

Don’t forget to create a blueprint for your blended learning classrooms

Too many districts skip this step and wind up putting the technology first, instead of the people. This is a mistake. You need to have a really solid plan and the understanding of your programming, instructional outcomes, and learning goals before you can implement technology effectively. Otherwise, you wind up trying to do both at the same time—and that’s difficult.

A lot of times the teachers will ask me, “Well, what is it supposed to look like?” And my response is, “I don’t know, because I don’t know what your kids are like.” The profile may change from one classroom to the next, and that’s okay as long as teachers can talk to us about the instructional choices that they’re making.

We all have to remember that teachers are the heads of their classrooms, and blending means that they’ve got to meet these kids where they are.

(Next page: 2 more blended learning dos and don’t’s)

2. Do understand when it’s appropriate to use technology

Instead of paying attention to the opportunities and capabilities that the technology presents, people get bogged down by the devices and applications themselves. I’ve often told teachers, “There may be some lessons that you never want to touch with technology. It’s not that kind of lesson.” And this is okay because teachers can reasonably make this choice on their own; it’s just like choosing between a pencil and a pen.

The biggest questions in the blended learning environment are:  Now that you have all of these other tools and resources at your disposal, when are you going to add them and when are you going to take them away? And, when is it not appropriate for teachers and students to be utilizing technology?

Don’t ignore the role that good data plays in evaluating student progress

Data is extremely important in blended learning. In fact, one of the greatest things about technology lies in the real-time feedback and data that you can collect.

For example, one thing we love most about Lexia—and what has been great for our teachers—is the built-in way that it supports a blended learning model. Students can do some of their own self-paced learning utilizing the technology while at the same time, the teacher can analyze the student’s data and provide feedback should a face-to-face lesson be required. So whether that intervention takes place before the students embark on their own learning within Core5, or if it takes place based on some of the progress/assessment data that the teacher receives, teachers have the choice of using offline instructional materials and delivering a lesson to a small group, an individual, or even a whole group.

3. Do give students choices about their learning in the blended environment

Does a child want to flip through a book? Does he want to read an online text? Does she want to get some of that content from a video? Is it paper and pencil? Is it in a presentation? Is it in a movie? Is it in a song? Whatever the answer may be, the key is to give students choices and then guide them to where their interests lie.

Everyone wants to have a choice, even if that choice is to move along to another opportunity. Using Lexia Reading Core5, for example, students can monitor their progress, and teachers can oversee which modes are (and aren’t) working for them—from working independently online to pen-and-paper activities to targeted, small group instruction.

Don’t get overly strict with your implementation approach and long-range plan  

Build some flexibility into the program and have fun with it. When we set up our program, we looked at what professional development programs we had available, what our human resources looked like in terms of their developmental needs, and then worked to come up with a definition of our current state.

From there, we developed an implementation approach—knowing that it needed to be flexible, and that it might change down the road.

I think that a lot of districts just assume that they’re going to put technology in the students’ hands and that’s going to be blended learning. A better approach is to think about the implementation in stages, and then work to refine it and hone it along the way.

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