Thursday, September 1st, 2011...12:36 pm

Blended Learning Vision

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Our world has evolved from the industrial Age for which public schools were developed through the Knowledge age onto an Information Age. Some might say information overload…. Regardless, we are consumers of information and believe we have a right to customize that information in a fashion that is meaningful to us as individuals. Consider RSS feeds, subscribing to news, blogs and twitter posts. We develop our personal learning network around our interests and goals to most effectively utilize the deluge of information flooding our daily existence.

Thus, blended learning provides an opportunity to personalize the educational journey meeting each child where he or she is currently experiencing life.  As educational theories suggest, not all students learn in the same way and not all students thrive in the same environment. Providing a menu of blended learning options creates the ultimate learning cafeteria. Students who flourish when given opportunities to develop their own solutions and come to their own understanding through exploration, trial and error benefit from fully online or hybrid options because they can access multiple versions and examples of a particular concept at a pace that suites them rather than a group. Yet, this very same learner will need to successfully analyze information develop and support their point of view as well as create new products in order to demonstrate mastery learning.  Some students may need additional structure and guidance to achieve at this level. Thus, a classroom structure where students work in learning centers accessing digital content may prove more viable for this type of learner.

Ultimately, organizations must determine what factors are contributing to achievement short falls and craft a model that reduces root causes within our control.  For example, remediation and credit recovery in a standards-based movement can be addressed through modular digital learning units.  High performing schools may overcome budget restraints by providing Advanced Placement or College Ready concurrent enrollment options via online courses creating a hybrid schedule. Middle schools could increase math achievement through targeted computer-based practice routines delivered in a lab supervised by paraprofessionals. The term “short falls” is not intended to be narrow in its scope, but rather represent the belief that all students should have an opportunity to achieve their greatest potential.

I firmly believe American Education will continue to dominate if we can bridge the gap between what students perceive as “school” and “real life.” Learning is no longer confined to four walls, printed text, or skills demonstrated by a journeyman to an apprentice. 21st Century skills abound and are applied regularly in everyday life. People make ethical decisions and collaborate of projects using social networks. Citizens acquire knowledge about our government, economy and climate via digital and electronic media. We make decisions based upon data and references gathered from sources across the nation available at our fingertips. We rely on reviews from Trip Advisor and Expedia to select hotels. Consider this, students can be physically present in today’s classrooms and pose critical, challenging questions to an instructor simply due to the immediate access to information. Teachers must learn to facilitate the acquisition of knowledge and encourage students to exploit their environment in authentic learning experiences and challenges. To do so, educators must embrace the reality that they are no longer the keeper of information, recognizing that true academic achievement is realized when students create and defend a new position or product applying the information they have consumed in new and creative ways.

Certainly, to become “contributing citizens in our society” and compete in a global economy, students must have opportunities to practice leadership, ethical decision-making, problem-solving, communicating, collaborating, critical thinking and creating. Blended learning models of all varieties encompass the application of these 21st century skills while utilizing a delivery system that is flexible and personalized.

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