Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Working to Define Blended Learning

In the world of education, many people have heard the term “blended learning.” If you Google the term, you will find over 9.3 million results. Within those results are many definitions but most agree that blended learning is a hybrid educational model where students are learning through traditional classrooms along with an online component. There are many recommendations for how to implement this type of program along with many different models. As an instructional coach, it’s difficult to paint a clear picture of a blended learning classroom due to the many interpretations of the term. In Los Altos, we have been working to more clearly define our blended learning model in order to help teachers with successful implementation.

Our blended learning journey began four years ago with our Khan Academy pilot. The four of us who began working with Khan Academy in our math classrooms began discussing those emerging best practices and sharing our experiences. We were often labeled in the media as “flipping” the classroom, and at that time, flipping had somewhat of a negative reaction from educators. As we explored and developed our practice, we knew that we were not flipping the classroom but creating a more blended learning environment. Blended Learning was a new term and the Christensen Institute was taking lead on defining this hybrid learning model. As we began to roll out Khan Academy across our fifth and sixth grades, we started looking to define our own unique definition of blended learning.

Fast forward three years, and we are still looking for that allusive definition. It isn’t that we disagree with the basic idea that blended learning is the combination of an online learning platform mixed into a traditional instructional model, we just believe that it’s so much more.
While Khan Academy has gone through its own growing pains and iterations, we too have struggled with clearly defining and painting a clear picture of what blended learning looks like in the classroom. It’s difficult for teachers to step out of textbook routines and try something new that seems to be continually shifting and changing, and that is a part of how blended learning works. It’s not a procedural approach but rather a dynamic and multi-faceted teaching strategy.

As we build our model, we are focusing on the math classroom. This year we pulled a small focus group of fifth through eighth grade teachers together and really examined the tools we are using and our approach. We started with the “why.”  Our top three reasons:
  • To meet students where they are
  • Textbooks alone will not meet both teachers and students needs
  • Allows students ownership of their learning

We then built a working definition of blended learning:

Blended learning is a data, driven instructional approach, that offers personalized learning in a flexible, adaptive model that draws from multiple resources and an integration of technology.
Our definition is still a bit lengthy and needs some iteration but we have a starting point. One of the key pieces to remember is that the core of blended learning is technology and teaching informing each other and that using dynamic material helps reach students of varying learning styles. While Khan Academy is a valuable component of our model, it is simply one online tool that teachers can access from their blended learning toolbox. While the online component is important, the question we are most focused on is "How might we increase the value of our face to face time?" Less worksheets and more collaborative work with an authentic purpose is the real benefit of blended learning.

As we look at how to share this vision with all teachers, we discussed the value of “seeing is believing.”  Our focus group teachers have volunteered to create learning videos that can be shared with all teachers where they record and then annotate a blended learning math lesson.

We will also spend some time re-introducing Khan Academy and the many new features added in the last year. Our approach may be a somewhat modified blended learning model, but in the world of one size does not fit all, it seems to be a starting place.

Contributed by Kami Thordarson, Innovative Strategies Coach

1 comment:

  1. As you continue to wrestle with your definition, it might be worth checking out this post by Stacey Childress: