Ohio Appalachian Collaborative Blog

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5 Lessons to Successfully Implement Blended Learning

by Maria Boyarko, Director of Learning and Leading at Battelle for Kids | Dec 15, 2015
This post originally appeared in the Battelle for Kids Learning Hub.

Blended learning is a term that we often hear interchangeably with personalized learning, competency-based learning, hybrid learning, online learning—the list goes on. 

This inconsistency raises the question: Is the quest for a static definition for blended learning necessary, or is it more of an inhibitor to growth and momentum? 

One of the most recognized definitions by Horn and Staker (2013) states, “Blended learning is an educational program where students learn in part through face-to-face instruction (in a supervised location away from home) and in part through online learning and the modalities along each student’s learning path.” This description has been modified and interpreted to mean many different things to different people.

Battelle for Kids views blended learning as the vehicle that will propel school systems toward a learner-centered education that is competency-based, highly personalized, and integrated with technology. Blended learning offers particular promise for helping to close the opportunity gap in rural communities by enabling students to overcome challenges with geography and limited resources. It is important to have a common understanding of the elements needed to implement blended learning and the desired impact of these programs, but the name or definition is not as important as the end result of student success. 

Through our work with school districts across the country, we have found strong similarities between districts who are successfully implementing blended learning. Here are 5 lessons:  

Lesson 1: Make professional learning a priority
Blended learning requires a shift in pedagogy and a shift in the role of the teacher and the learner. To successfully embed a blended learning program, districts must invest time and resources, including a comprehensive implementation plan and support structures, to help teachers understand this change. We have found that asynchronous professional learning communities can help teachers to share, collaborate, and mentor each other. Professional learning should include the shift in teaching and learning and the integration of technology. Formative instructional practices (FIP) provides tools, strategies, and resources to help educators prepare for the move to personalized learning. 

Lesson 2: Foster a culture that embraces a new approach to learning 
If the principal is not aware or on board with the shift in teaching and learning happening at the classroom level, then they cannot support it. It is the role of the leader to set the vision; break down the barriers; and set the expectation that blended learning will yield improved student outcomes.  Groups, such as the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at North Carolina State University, are helping to focus on the principal as the leader of this effort by conducting research, developing educational resources, providing professional development programs for educators, advocating to improve teaching and learning, and helping to inform policy-making.

Lesson 3: Ensure technology supports the learning; not the other way around 
Simply providing teachers and students with the latest technology is not enough to improve student outcomes. These devices should be viewed as important tools to support teaching and learning. Without a thoughtful strategy to integrate technology in the curriculum, these devices end up being used for games that do not necessarily generate meaningful learning.   

Lesson 4: Use data effectively to inform practice
Teachers that are able to understand and interpret data are better equipped to strategically group students and break down necessary competencies for student mastery.

Lesson 5: Prepare for implementation thoughtfully and communicate, communicate, communicate 
As is the case with any successful change in schools, implementing blended learning requires clear, ongoing communication and a thoughtful implementation strategy with students, teachers, parents, and community members about how a blended approach will personalize learning for all students to move education forward.