Posts Tagged 'Blended Learning'

The challenge of measuring #blendedlearning schools

In my post last week, I shared that I have visited a variety of schools around California and I was going to identify where they fit on the “Continuum from Textbook to Online Teaching and Learning.” I will eventually dedicate a blogpost to each school and their place on the continuum. But, first I wanted to just list the basics of each school so you can get an idea of the variables involved in determining where a school fits on a continuum from an outsider’s perspective. Categorizing where a teacher or school fits in blended learning can be challenging for a variety of reasons. In May 2011, the Christensen Institute profiled 40 schools that fit a general definition of blended learning. Since then, other organizations have written case studies about various programs. The field continues to better define what is meant by the term blended learning. Hopefully, in the weeks to come, applying the continuum to various schools will help to better define blended learning for you and your schools.

As you look through the basic information of the schools below, note the similarities and differences. What do you notice?

In the weeks ahead, I will apply the continuum to each school.

How to measure #BlendedLearning and what does it look like?

There are excellent blended learning teachers in most schools across the U.S. When I say “blended learning” I am talking about teachers who use technology to teach with on a daily basis, use a course management system such as Edmodo or Moodle on a daily basis, use ongoing data to inform their instruction and to customize learning on a daily basis, provide a truly student centered classroom where students have some control of their learning, and they are teachers who now function more as learning coaches rather than the traditional “sage on the stage” who imparts information for students to learn.

The challenge becomes how does a whole school become a blended learning school with all of these attributes of teachers. It is easy to start a new school and only hire teachers who have these qualifications. But, transforming a traditional school into what we would term a blended learning school that has blended learning as part of the culture and belief system of the school is the real challenge.

In order to identify schools that are already blended learning or on their way to become a blended learning school, it is important to have some measure that suggests movement in that direction. Blended teaching, just like traditional teaching is complex and involves multiple variables. However, teaching and learning really comes down to the teacher, the student, and the curriculum. In the broad sense, this encompasses teaching strategies, pedagogy and formative and summative assessments.

In an effort to identify schools that are exemplars of blended learning, I designed this simple continuum that I call, “Continuum from Textbook Enhanced to Online Teaching and Learning.” I have written about it before, but here is the quick graphic. A more detailed continuum can be found here.

Blended Learning Continuum Illustrated

Now, having visited many blended learning schools in the past 6 months, I will apply this continuum to a variety of schools to provide the framework by which schools may assess their progress towards blended learning. Follow this blog in the coming days and weeks to learn about how and where the variety of schools fit on the overall continuum.

#BlendedLearning Implementation: New vs. Transforming Schools and are they Disruptive?

As I have previously written, there are six elements that are needed to implement an effective and efficient blended learning program. These elements are needed whether you are starting up a new school or whether you are transforming an established (traditional) school. Another way to look at this has been described by the Christensen Institute and their recent paper (2013) entitled, “Is K-12 Blended Learning Disruptive? An Introduction of the Theory of Hybrids.” In this paper they point out the differences between disruptive and sustaining innovations; and that, often, industries go through a hybrid stage “when they are in the middle of disruptive transformation.”  When applied to schools, they predict that “hybrid schools which combine existing schools with new classroom models will be the dominant model of schooling in the U.S. in the future.” In addition, Michael Horn in this blogpost about the paper release, suggested that it “all depends” on a number of factors whether a blended learning school is disruptive.

In a recent related example, Clayton Christensen posits that the Harvard Business School moving to online learning is a sustaining innovation, and stated, “There have been a few companies that have survived disruption, but in every case they set up an independent business unit that let people learn how to play ball in the new game…”   And then Michael Porter refuted Christensen’s claim saying, “giving away your most valuable asset for free –the best professors teaching the most desired classes in front of cameras to tens of thousands of people who often drop out of these courses–is no business model for the future…”

What I find interesting is that business academics continue to try and use examples from the business world and then apply them to education. Generally, education is its own entity – whether public or private – and not a business in the same way as a company such as Google or IBM or Ford Motor Company.   As much as academics and business professionals would like to apply all business principles to education, it just does not work because of the multiple variables that exist in educating students. However, it continues to be thought provoking to apply business principles to education, especially when considering if a school is a disruptive or sustaining innovation. The Christensen Institute paper that defines what makes a blended learning initiative disruptive or sustaining is similar to how a traditional school transforms to blended learning and how a new charter schools opens with blended learning already in place.  It is much easier to start a new school and make it blended than it is to transform a traditional public school to blended learning.

Examples of charter schools opening with blended learning as the expectation include Rocketship, Summit Schools and the KIPP Empower Academy. Each of these schools hired staff and put technology infrastructure in place to implement blended learning. Each of these would fit the “disruptive innovation” definition. In traditional school settings, a few places are beginning to disrupt schooling through blended learning such as the PASE Prep Academy within Southeastern High School in Detroit.

Other schools will remain as a “sustaining innovation” because it just takes too many resources to truly disrupt a traditional school system. As Christensen, Horn and Staker write in the paper,

A common misreading of the theory of disruptive innovation is that disruptive innovations are good and sustaining innovations are bad. This is false. Sustaining innovations are vital to a healthy and robust sector, as organizations strive to make better products or deliver better services to their best customers.

The confusion here is, can we apply this theory to education and consider students and parents our customers and truly make the distinction between disruptive and sustaining innovations? I’m not sure of the answer, but suffice it to say that it is easier for a new school or a new school within a school to create what may become a disruptive innovation than it is to transform a traditional school so that it becomes disruptive. This is what I think the book, Disrupting Class, illustrated so clearly. Traditional schools may reach the level of a sustaining innovation and this may be good enough to impact student achievement and cause more students to graduate and be college and career ready.



#BlendedLearning Implementation: Sustainability and The Big 3

Last week I wrote about the 6 Elements for the Implementation and Sustainability of Blended Learning initiatives that I helped develop for iNACOL. The six elements that are needed to sustain and implement a blended learning program include: leadership, professional development, teaching/instructional practice, operations and policies, content and technology.

Within each of these elements, there are specific tools, strategies and pedagogy that need to be considered. And there are what many of us would consider “The Big 3″ areas that will help to sustain the blended learning program. These three areas are: Cost, Evaluation and Quality. The questions to ask regarding each of these areas are listed after each below.


  • Which ongoing and one-time funds will be used for supporting the blended learning initiative?   One-time funds may be used for implementation of the program. However, identifying ongoing funding for all aspects of the initiative are critical for sustainability. These areas for ongoing funding include professional development for both administrators and teachers, technology, content, support, and devices.


  • What ongoing metrics will provide ongoing information about the progress of the blended learning initiative? What type of ongoing surveys for teachers and students will provide ongoing progress towards the goals? Formative assessments that are both academic and non-cognitive will guide the initiative forward. Simply using end-of-the-year standardized test scores is not enough to provide the ongoing needed information to ensure success of the program. Remember, blended learning initiatives can be messy, so identifying metrics that are not necessarily used in traditional school programs will help to further the goals of the program.


  • How will you determine that the teaching and content in the blended program is of high quality? What should a school administrator be looking for when observing and evaluating blended teachers? Ongoing quality control should be built into the initiative similar to the ways textbooks are selected for courses or the way that specific teaching objectives are identified for teachers to utilize. Overall, look at the established goals and then agree on what quality will look like at each stage of the implementation.

#Blendedlearning Implementation: Technology

This is the continuation in a series about the 6 Elements for the Implementation and Sustainability of Blended Learning initiatives that I helped develop for iNACOL. The six elements that are needed to sustain and implement a blended learning program include:

elementgraphic2* Element 1: Leadership
* Element 2: Professional Development
* Element 3: Teaching / Instructional Practice
* Element 4: Operations, Systems and Policies
* Element 5: Content
* Element 6: Technology

When I talk about the technology, others refer to this as the technology backbone or infrastructure. This includes the network, software and hardware, and devices used to access the content and resources for the blended learning initiative. Most school districts and schools have this infrastructure in place at some level. However, as any educator or student knows, if you can’t access what you’re looking for when you want it, then the infrastructure is not working right. The goal is to make sure there is a reliable and robust network that can be accessed by administrators, teachers and students when they need to use it. Many years ago, I had the good fortune of visiting the main office of eBay in San Jose, California. They showed us their main computer room and shared that their goal is to be up and working 99% of the time. That seems like a reasonable goal for any technology infrastructure in any school district or system.

In addition to ensuring that the technology infrastructure is reliable, there is also the need for ongoing support in operating the technology, the devices utilized and how to access the online resources. In the beginning, this support is critical and is much more time intensive than it will be once the initiative is up and running. The technology support staff should be the type of people who are encouraging and empowering to the end users, whether the end user is an administrator, teacher, parent or student.

School leaders should should consider the following key questions regarding the technology used for the blended learning initiative:

  • What technology, hardware, software, and networking, will be needed to run a successful blended learning initiative?
  • What technology infrastructure is currently available to support blended learning?
  • What investments need to be made to the school’s technological infrastructure including but not limited to bandwidth, hardware, and software?
  • What support systems are needed to maintain the technological infrastructure?
  • Will the school employ a single-platform hardware approach or utilize multiple platforms (PC, Macs)?
  • Will the school support BYOD (bring your own device) for students?
  • If the school is providing devices for staff and students, what is the ongoing plan and funding for the devices? Will you purchase or lease?
  • If the school is providing devices for staff and students, what is the ongoing plan and funding to refresh the devices? (every 3 years? or 4 years?)
  • Will staff and students access the network via wireless or hard wired?
  • What technology accessibility, if any, will students need to have outside of school?
  • How do you ensure interoperability between systems (content, hardware, learning management system)?

Overall, schools or districts will want to ensure a successful implementation of a blended learning initiative by putting the following technology infrastructure support systems and promising practices in place:

  • A robust network that can be accessed by a variety of student and teacher devices.
  • A course management system/platform has been provided for use by blended teachers, including individualized student logins, discussion board, teacher assignments, and digital grade book.
  • A platform that includes reporting and analytic capabilities that provide information to the teacher about student learning and provide opportunities for teachers to individualize student learning.
  • District technical support is available via phone and email.
  • Ongoing meetings between leadership, teachers and students about technology use and tools that facilitate progress towards the blended learning goals.
  • Ongoing communication loops (e.g. website of FAQs, ongoing blog about issues, use of Twitter, etc.) between the technology support people, school administrators, teachers, students and parents about the overall technology infrastructure and blended learning initiative.
  • Ongoing training and professional development and materials for administrators, teachers and students in the use of technology and the technology tools (this should include face-to-face, online, videos, how-to videos, screenshots, etc.) and never underestimate how students can help with this as well.

Next week, I’ll share how these elements are being instituted in a variety of schools and settings throughout the U.S.

#BlendedLearning Implementation: Content

This is the continuation in a series about the 6 Elements for the Implementation and Sustainability of Blended Learning initiatives that I helped develop for iNACOL.

elementgraphic2The six elements that are needed to sustain and implement a blended learning program include:

* Leadership
* Professional Development
* Teaching / Instructional Practice
* Operations, Systems and Policies
* Content
* Technology

I have written about the importance of leadership, professional development, teachers and operations, systems and policies. Today the focus is on Element #5, which is Content.

When talking about content, there is an initial decision that needs to be made by each system or school district: Will teachers use content from an online provider or vendor, create their own or a combination of both?

Regardless of which content decision is made, it is important to learn from the past. In the past, dating back to when computers were first introduced into schools, many school districts believed that administrative leaders should choose the technology or content first, and then invite teachers to participate. There are so many examples of  technology implementation over the years where administrators or tech coordinators chose a technology and then rolled it out to teachers. In most cases, there were a few teachers who initially adopt and use the technology and then there are those who really are not interested. When considering a blended learning implementation, the involved teachers or a group of teachers should be involved in selecting the content for blended learning. This can be part of the planning process, but should also be part of the ongoing program evaluation process. Throughout most school districts today, there are a variety of vendors being chosen to meet the different teaching and learning needs rather than selecting one vendor who can meet all needs.

The key questions to ask regarding content should be:

  • Will your school purchase vendor content or have teachers build the content?
  • If your school chooses to purchase vendor content, what process will be utilized to select the content that best meets the needs of your school?
  • If your school chooses to build their own content, what professional development will be provided for the content developers?
  • Which content management platform will be used with your purchased or developed content?
  • Which funds will be utilized to purchase or house the content?
  • How will your school ensure content meets the goals of the program (best fit)?
  • How will your school ensure content is aligned to standards?
  • What ongoing professional development will be provided to teachers regarding the use of content, the platform and alignment to standards and quality?
  • What measures will be used to indicate if the content is effective?
  • What ongoing process will be put in place to measure the effectiveness of the content?

Overall, promising practices have emerged in the content element for the implementation and sustainability of a blended learning program. Specifically these include: 1) A common platform; 2) Content Decision Making; 3) Platform Reporting, and 4) Customizable by teachers.

Having a common content and technology platform chosen by teachers makes ongoing professional development much easier. No content provider will meet all of the curriculum standards or technology needs of any school, so it is good to select one and then work with it to understands it’s strengths and weaknesses. A good content provider will work with schools and teachers to modify and improve their system to best meet the needs of the customer. Overall, having a common platform facilitates:

  • Professional development, consistency and common reporting across schools and teachers
  • The opportunity to share content between teachers and across several schools
  • Learning about the technical aspects of the platform by teachers to better deliver instruction

Choosing and evaluating the common platform is something that administrative and teacher leaders should be engaged in on an ongoing basis. Content decision making is important to consider so that:

  • Schools choose the vendor content that best meets the needs of the students that attend their school.
  • Teachers are involved in the selection of the content used at each school.
  • Students in older grades can also provide ongoing feedback about the effectiveness of the online content.

The reports that are available from the chosen content management system should be easy to use and in the ideal world, easily integrate into the other technology systems used by teachers and the school. Efficient and effective platform reporting is important so that:

  • Administrators can utilize the platform to view usage and reports to indicate teacher use and student engagement
  • Teachers can utilize platform reports to determine student learning and then customize learning for students as well as reporting information to students and parents

Finally, the platform should be customizable for daily use. The platform should be customizable so that administrators and teachers can:

  • Use the platform customize learning for students
  • Develop their own content in the platform to enhance the vendor content to customize learning for students
  • Provide individualized learning plans for students
  • Students have some choice in how they learn the content (e.g. audio, video, text, etc.)
  • Teachers can archive all lessons for the entire year so that content can be reused
  • Integrate functions of the platform on a daily basis  including lesson content, assessments, student dropbox for turning in work, and the electronic grade book that integrates with the district electronic grading system

Utilize the above content promising practices to identify and develop the ongoing review and evaluation plan for your school or district.



#BlendedLearning Implementation: Operations, Systems and Policies

This is the continuation in a series about the 6 Elements for the Implementation and Sustainability of Blended Learning initiatives that I helped develop for iNACOL.

elementgraphic2The six elements that are needed to sustain and implement a blended learning program include:

* Leadership
* Professional Development
* Teaching / Instructional Practice
* Operations, Systems and Policies
* Content
* Technology

I have talked about the importance of leadership, professional development and teachers. Today the focus is on Operations, Systems and Policies.

Successful implementation of blended learning requires the use of digital learning systems that provide teachers, school administrators, students, and parents with real-time student progress information and the ability to easily adapt content and instruction based on student performance. The systems in a school or system can include the learning management system (LMS), the content (or curriculum) management system (CMS), student information system (SIS), benchmark testing system, and other systems such as the library system. Ideally, data from all of these types of systems can be easily accessed as needed by school administrators and teachers. However, as of this writing, there are few systems in place that truly provide this type of easily accessible “data dashboard.”

In addition, the policies and the culture of the school needs to embrace innovation because implementing blended learning does not always go as smoothly as envisioned. School policies should be in place that reward innovation to impact student learning. A review by a team of teachers and administrators can uncover policies that may inhibit the type of innovation and experimentation needed when implementing a blended learning initiative.

Examples of policies that may need to be examined include but are not limited to: seat-time as a measure student performance and funding, length of time that a student has to complete required courses, scheduling availability of courses, instructional credentials, professional development to support blended and online teachers, access to required technologies, and privacy issues for student information.

Key Questions to Ask Regarding Operations, Administrative Systems, and Policy

  • How does the plan for blended learning potentially change the structure of a traditional school day (scheduling)?
  • Which state, district, and/or local policies foster or inhibit implementation (testing, accountability)?
  • What data should be collected to support individualized student learning? What systems are in place to collect this data?
  • What CMS/LMS will be utilized for the delivery of digital content and instruction?
  • What ongoing professional development will be provided to teachers engaged in blended learning?
  • What support services to students will be provided?
  • How will parents be both informed about what blended learning is, and how they can support the effort?
  • How will this new way of delivering instruction necessitate a change in teacher observations and student evaluation?

Some of the promising practices regarding operations, systems and policies that support the flexibility and innovation needed for the implementation of blended learning include:

  • One course management system selected by staff, teachers and administrators that includes the types of reports and analytics that allow teachers to easily personalize learning for students
  • Operational support for teachers is provided by one identified administrator who interacts often with a lead blended learning teacher or blended learning team
  • A culture of data driven decision-making is developed throughout the school from administrators to teachers to parents and students. Individuals at all levels need to understand how to best access, process and act upon real-time student data.
  • Participating teachers share a common planning time during the work day on at least a bi-weekly basis

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