Blended learning is certianly the buzz-word at many levels of our education system at the moment. Seems that students in both the school system and in tertiary insitituions are being offered 'blended' approaches to how they can engage with their learning. Plus there's also the whole area of professional development which is becoming more 'blended'.
So how are these approaches working – and are they really helping take us forward towards the visions for 21st century learning tht we are seeking to acheive?
The study from the The Lexington Institute titled Why Blended Learning Can't Stand Still: A Commitment to Constant Innovation Is Needed to Realize the Potential of Individualized Learning," examines ways blended learning is affecting K-12 education, for better or worse.
While the title sounded appealing – the report really focuses on the role of technology and provides more of an anlysis of a 'technology-rich' approach to education, than on blended learning specificlly.
Despite this, the key finding of the study is something we need to take notice of, and that is, any use of educational technology (and thus blended learning) is ineffective without ways of analyzing its results. No surprises here, but a salient reminder that we must always be reflecting on and adapating our teaching behaviours in response to what we see happening in order to ensure that the goals we are aiming for are being met.
Here's where the link to blended learning is made. The report identifies that the use of educational technologies (ICTs) should be enabling blended approaches – focusing on empowering independent learners and supporting learner-centred programmes.
Schools that use technology to deliver content, collect data, or improve technical literacy are not engaged in blended learning when they are simply marrying technology to traditional methods," the report says.
The report provides case studies from a number of US schools where ICTs are being used to differentiate instruction (and lessons) based on specific students' learning levels and needs. In these schools the common characteristics include:
- Constant, real-time data monitoring being used to streamline the formerly arduous task of analyzing student results.
- Teachers having more time to plan and individualize lessons to accelerate and enhance learning.
- Continuously looking for ways to improve their own models and re-think overall instructional design.
We've read it a thousand times before – using new tools to do old things in old ways won't lead to any change, and in fact, will stifle innovation and likely lead to even more cynicism in the system. So it is with blended learning. We need to be constantly examining our practice to ensure we're meeting the expectations of our learners.