Monday, April 4, 2011

Blended Learning Environments-A Welcomed "Disruption"

The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning, by Michael B. Horn & Heather Staker

I came to this article with baggage. As someone who has taken online courses, mentored students through them, and overseen the implementation of blended learning environments, I have witnessed the experience from all perspectives. I should say, almost all perspectives.

As a student, I realized that not all online environments are the same. Some are much more interactive and communication reliant than others. I learned that if you write too much (as I always do), fewer people in your class will comment on your posts! I also learned that online courses sometimes mean reading, writing, writing, writing, and multiple choice testing...BORING! One common thread with all the online courses I took was more work, period.

As a mentor, I gained insight regarding the type of learner who can succeed in an online environment. I "mentored" some students who asked maybe one question through the process, say, where to find a certain link or how to cite something properly. They were empowered by their own control over pacing and the checklist style of objectives. These students gained a high sense of independence and accomplishment; they were the perfect match. Others, however, clearly missed talking. They are the auditory and social learners who make contact with the idea when they make eye contact with someone in a discussion or who associate knowledge with interpersonal exchanges. These students were not the perfect match, but if they had a face-to-face mentor, or if the virtual discussion forum was robust, they too could succeed. Finally, there were those who just got lost in the intangibles. They had a hard time with the open structured pacing and an even more difficult time with the multiple layers of the experience. Turning in things meant more than bringing something to class. It required a process, and sometimes the process was difficult for them to start.

As an administrator, I have learned to carefully guard the school's mission in integrating a blended environment. It has proven nearly impossible to have unified understanding of a blended structure. Some students embrace it while some "hate" it; some constituents are excited while others are skeptical and believe a blended environment is a bridge to "replacing the real teachers". There is always an implementation dip, so weathering the change and listening to what works and does not work about the blend of virtual/traditional environment is essential.

The one perspective I have not gained through all this is that of the teacher as I have never had this type of change impact my own classroom. I can imagine it must be uncomfortable, and that trust in the administrative team would be a prerequisite to success. The article states that blended learning "disrupts" the flow of the traditional classroom by transforming "the factory-like, monolithic structure that has dominated America's schools into a new model that is student-centric, highly personalized for each learner, and more productive" and I could not agree more. What "teaching" looks like from this point of view will be defined by those who can similarly transform to the role of coach, experience designer, and facilitator.

Chances are we can all think back to the great teacher who changed the way we learned or influenced our interests. As educators, we firmly believe in the power of this. The teacher who can still connect with students without being the "sage on the stage" will become the new Teacher of the Year. If blended environments help us on our way to this end, then I am sure we will continue to see the increasing impact of this "disruption".

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