Blended Learning: What Is It, How Do We Do It, And Why Should We Care
Students arrive in class, and the teacher teaches a short mini lesson that expands on the video students were supposed to watch last night. He answers any questions students may have about the content, then he lets the students start to work on the assignment. While walking around the room, he notices two students who had already started on the assignment last night have questions, but are trying to figure out the problem together. Another student immediately raises her hand for further clarification. A student in the back of the room would like him to check his work on the complicated problem. The flipped classroom teacher moves around the room answering questions and ensuring that all students grasp the concept. This is all part of blended learning or a hybrid classroom.
What is Blended Learning?
Blended learning is a combination of face-to-face and online learning. The face-to-face time happens in class where students have direct access to the teacher. The online learning can be done at school or at home. Blended learning lessons contain three parts: in-person learning, online learning, and independent study time, which can all be combined differently. Obviously in-person learning needs to happen during school hours, but the online learning could be a video to watch for homework, a lesson prepared by the teacher, use of online sources at school, some type of digital curriculum, or assignments and discussions on an LMS.
Blended learning is different from a tech-rich learning environment. A tech-rich classroom uses technology to complete the same tasks as a non-tech integrated classroom. This is where students still complete a worksheet over the topic, but it’s on a personal device instead of paper. Essays would be turned in digitally instead of printed on paper.
In a blended learning setting, or hybrid classroom, students shift away from the traditional classroom and begin to focus on where how the technology can enhance the learning. A project might be a multimedia presentation where students have to research and incorporate multiple sources. It might also include using social media to add to their background knowledge. With blended learning, the imagination is the only major limit to learning within the classroom.
Blended Learning Examples
A flipped classroom is a very common way for a hybrid classroom to function. Teachers create videos of their own or find videos to teach their content. Students then watch those videos at home as homework. When students arrive in class the next day, the teacher reviews and even adds some depth to the material from the previous night. Students then can work on the assignment to practice the skill and work to master it.
Self-paced curriculum also works well with blended learning. This can even be seen through the use of websites like Udemy, Skillshare, and even YouTube. Anyone can learn just about anything at their own pace. Creating lessons or modules within a blended learning setting allows freedom for students to explore and learn at a pace that is comfortable for them.
Another example of blended learning is game-based learning. This is an entirely digital experience where the teacher sets goals and tasks, then students play the game where they use repetition to accomplish the goal. Students also have to deal with failure which helps them learn from mistakes and improve.
Benefits of Blended Learning
The biggest benefit of blended learning is student engagement. Students love those handy devices always attached to their fingertips. Now, teachers can take those devices and transport students around the globe and expand their knowledge.
Blended learning is also valuable for differentiated instruction. A teacher can create a webquest—a list of digital tasks—that students must complete. Teachers can assign different levels of difficulty for tasks and give those out to different students to help them learn the material that they are ready to learn.
Flexibility of access is another huge asset of blended learning. Teachers can create their own content, which helps them filter out unnecessary information in online tools, or find content online. Learning is no longer restricted only to the classroom, which is why blended learning also assists with time. There are only so many hours in a school day. Students can now take their learning home. They could go on scavenger hunts through the digital world for information right from the comfort of their own homes with their families. Parents can then see what their child is learning and even participate.
Lastly, blended learning aids in preparing students for the future with online exams. Most states require a statewide exam to graduate. Students can practice those test-taking skills in a hybrid classroom. These skills will also benefit them in the workforce later as many jobs require more and more digital knowledge.
Blended Learning Advantages
The first advantage to blended learning is differentiation. Teachers can use the technology and resources not normally available to address student needs within their classroom. They can assign various videos, tasks, projects, and links for different groups of students. An LMS like Schoology is a great option for creating digital assignments and assigning them to different students.
The next advantage of blended learning is online exam practice. There are countless options for these types of multi-step questions. Websites like Khan Academy and Edulastic are great options to create a test or use their database of tests to prepare students for standardized test questions.
The last advantage of blended learning is teacher access. Teachers used to only have access to their textbooks and teacher manuals or whatever they could create on their own. Now, with websites like Teachers Pay Teachers, Quizizz, or EdPuzzle there are a ton of lessons available to teachers with the click of a button. These lessons and digital tools not only help teachers get content across to students, it is also engaging for students to learn using these methods.
Blended Learning Disadvantages
One disadvantage for blended learning is the lack of technology. Some schools don’t allow students to take devices home. Even if they do, not every child has internet access at home. This means that more work has to be done at school or that some students are behind on the work. This is probably the largest challenge for schools, especially those without a large technology budget. One option used is to have students use their own devices. While a great option, it doesn’t allow for continuity of the work turned in. Some students may use Microsoft Word while other may use Apple Pages, and yet another uses Notes.
Another disadvantage for blended learning is a waste of resources. This can be on either the teacher or student end of learning. Teachers may not be trained to know what information, apps, and other materials they have access to. Professional development can aid in giving teachers the applicable tools. Students may not always use their time wisely. Maybe the student didn’t watch their flipped classroom video, so they are behind on the learning when they walk in the classroom door. Keeping students accountable for the work is always a challenge.
The last big disadvantage to blended learning is plagiarism. With plenty of websites out there like Wikipedia and Quizlet, many students just look up the answer then copy and paste that answer into the projects and assignments. Using a plagiarism checker, like Turnitin or Grammarly, as well as a strict plagiarism policy, can be a great deterrent for students who might plagiarize.
Blended Learning Resources
Check out these links to explore more about blended learning:
- Why Game-Based Learning? This is an in-depth article about what game-based learning is and its benefits.
- Basics of Blended Learning This is a website dedicated to helping schools understand and implement blended learning classrooms into their school.
- Edutopia has numerous articles about blended learning, ideas, and implementation.
- Teachthought has different ideas of how blended learning can be utilized within the classroom.
- Applied Educational Systems has great real-world applications for blended learning.