Peter West, who is the Director of eLearning at St. Stephens College, a K-12 independent school in Australia, recently wrote an article in eSchool News entitled “It’s called blended learning (not blended teaching) for a reason.” He brings forth several important considerations about blended learning. However, he misses several important aspects of blended learning – the most important of which is the way the teacher interacts with the student in a blended learning classroom or the pedagogy of blended teaching. He suggests that there is the teacher-centric and the student-centric aspect of blended learning. In both of these aspects, he focuses on the content from the teacher perspective and the student perspective, but does not discuss blended learning instruction or blended teaching.
I would like to respectfully add that the components of an effective blended learning classroom and school include not just the content, but equally important is the role of the teacher and the student. More importantly the pedagogy and strategies the teacher uses to provide the instruction facilitates learning. Simply having accessible and sequencing of the online curriculum is not enough to cause most students to learn. Secondly, in a blended learning classroom, the student has more control of their own learning and is actively engaged in how they learn best and which modes of learning work best, thus causing more customization in the learning environment. Overall, this means the teacher becomes more of a learning coach rather than the traditional “sage on the stage.”
If the teacher is utilizing a blended learning approach, the teacher is providing curriculum in multiple modes, communicating with students in a variety of ways, utilizing a variety of online tools and using various analytics to inform instruction on a weekly basis. With course management systems and content management systems, teachers today can now provide content in multiple modes including text, audio, visual, gaming and demonstrations. This allows for students to utilize the mode that best works for their learning. As one example, in learning double digit multiplication, one student may find the printed textbook provides what is needed to learn the concept while another may need to watch a video showing the steps while another may need to practice the steps repeatedly via an online math game to be successful. Teachers in a blended learning classroom have the ability to communicate with students in a variety of ways including one-to-one, via email and via online discussion boards, which allows all students to participate in a way that just one strategy, such as just face-to-face instruction, does not. Finally, most content management systems today allow the teacher to view how students are doing on a daily basis and can then adjust instruction for students based on their learning needs. Blended learning technologies allow teachers to customize instruction for students on a daily basis today in a way that face-to-face paper based instruction was not possible in the past.
The student role in a blended learning classroom changes as well. Students take a more active role in their learning. This takes the form of choosing learning activities that work best for them, making weekly decisions in collaboration with a teacher regarding their personal learning plan and then sharing content and ideas back to the classroom that can be used by other students as well. Research has shown that peer learning can improve student achievement and blended learning technologies and blended teaching pedagogy provide a way for this to happen on a daily basis.
Yes, how a teacher organizes content in a course management system is important. But, even more important is how the teacher utilizes a variety of strategies that better empower students to become more involved in their learning. Ultimately, the teacher in the blended learning classroom is the one who makes all of the above happen. Although the term that has become universally accepted is “blended learning”, being an effective “blended teacher” is what causes learning to become more individualized for each student. Effective blended learning encompasses the teacher, the student and the content.
Further resources regarding blended teaching and learning:
- Rob Darrow’s Blended Learning Resource List
- Curtis Bonk’s Blended Learning Resources
- Christensen Institute Blended Learning Universe
- Videos that illustrate blended teaching and learning
- Blended Teacher Network (Free to Join)