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Aurora Institute

Education Transformation: From One-Size-Fits-All to Student-Centered Learning – Part Two

Education Domain Blog

Author(s): Susan Patrick

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Evaluate Quality

Susan Patrick

This is the second post in a series on education transformation. See the first post here.

Blended Learning

It is difficult to imagine being able to implement personalized learning without technology. The tools in blended and online learning can support flexible pacing, differentiated instruction, immediate interventions and anywhere, anytime learning.

What is most important is to understand the nuanced differences between blended learning models and the instructional designs that can enable personalized learning and how personalized learning itself can be a driving concept for new learning models. Blended learning is a combination of face-to-face learning experiences and online learning platforms, content and tools for personalizing instruction. True blended learning is a modality for realizing a fundamental shift in the instructional model toward personalized learning.

It is important to examine blended learning models to evaluate the extent to which high-quality implementations create major shifts in the instructional design—from the differences in educator roles in traditional, one-size-fits-all classrooms (one teacher, one textbook, one pathway to learning objectives)—and transform learning experiences to result in personalized learning opportunities to optimize teaching and learning. Thus, blended learning is about the transformation of the instructional design toward personalized learning with teachers and students harnessing advanced technological tools to accomplish the shift toward personalization by design.

Blended learning instructional designs leverage the strengths of both the classroom and online modalities. The blended learning instructional model shifts have the potential to result in “learning optimization” to create more personalized learning opportunities.

Additionally, these blended learning designs should allow for greater interactions throughout the learning process between students and teachers, students and other students, students and increased content resources and pathways, and students and outside resources (experts, courses, community resources, etc.), which occur at any time and place and provide greater access to data about real-time proficiency levels for students, teachers, parents and administrators.

Blended learning should focus across students’ personalized learning maps (in K–12 education) on what they have demonstrated they know, what they can do and where they are going, in a student profile—and work to fill in gaps and accelerate learning opportunities to keep every student on pace toward an on-time graduation. This student profile is an important cornerstone for blended learning environments to be able to examine how students are moving along in their progress toward achieving standards and also where the gaps are in their knowledge that must be addressed. Blended learning instructional designs should require every student’s progress to be closely monitored and any gaps to be filled upon their identification.

Understanding exactly where a student enters the program through a benchmark or entry assessment to determine progress on mastery is a key design element for student-centered blended programs. As students move through the learning progressions and standards, their student profiles will indicate their mastery levels and provide evidence of how they demonstrated competence based on a performance or project. Thus, student profiles also include evidence of the work, usually captured within an electronic portfolio (e-portfolio) system that showcases examples of the student’s projects, writing and demonstrations. When students have gaps in proficiency across the learning progressions, it is important to address these so that they have the foundations for moving ahead and staying on track for future learning.

Building on competency-based instructional designs, blended learning should ensure that failure is not an option and offer immediate interventions when a student is not demonstrating mastery.

There are operational implications of blended learning instructional models, including structural changes that can explore more effective use of human capital/talent, facilities, time, resources and technology to support personalized learning. When implemented effectively, a blended learning program can make better use of instructional resources and facilities and increase content and course availability, thus speeding up students’ pathways to graduation (EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research, 2004).

Horn and Staker’s definition expresses that “blended learning is any time a student learns, at least in part, at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home and, at least in part, through online delivery with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace. The modalities along each student’s learning path within a course or subject are connected to provide an integrated learning experience” (Clayton Christensen Institute, 2013, p. 9).

The most important component of the definition is the element of student control, which highlights that blended learning designs need to shift instructional models to enable increased student-centered learning so that students have increased control over the time, place, path and/or pace of their learning pathways.

The key to ensuring that blended learning is beneficial to students is to focus on how it enables personalized learning and instruction. Blended learning is not teachers simply putting lesson plans or content resources online. It is not just having teachers recording lessons so that all students do the exact same lesson in the same format with the same pacing each day. One-to-one laptop or tablet initiatives or students using the latest technological devices, software or digital content alone does not equal a blended learning model. While there may be certain educational benefits to these examples of integrating technology into education, such as increased learner engagement (Taylor & Parsons, 2011), the concept and definition of blended learning is more focused on transforming instructional models toward student-centered learning.

Blended learning involves an explicit shift of the classroom-level instructional design to optimize and personalize student learning.

Blended learning implementations should provide greater student control and flexibility in pathways for how students learn, where and when students learn and how they demonstrate mastery.

In this way, blended learning optimizes teaching and student-centered learning. It is learning beyond a single textbook. Think about how difficult it is for a teacher to try to personalize learning without the underpinning technologies to support the data-driven instruction required for differentiated strategies. It is very difficult for a teacher to personalize instruction for each individual student in a class of 25 students in a brick-and-mortar classroom using only a single textbook. It can be done, but it is incredibly demanding and challenging. The technology itself is not a silver bullet.

In blended learning environments, the educator optimizes learning for students by assessing progress and providing supports. In these new models, students are supported and interventions are wrapped around the student-centered instructional models at every point along the learning trajectories. All of these things can be done in a traditional brick-and-mortar classroom, but one of the great benefits of blended learning is that the technology helps to provide teachers with data, expand student choices for educational resources and learning materials, and provide opportunities for students to practice and to demonstrate high levels of performance. However, blended learning isn’t about the technology; rather, it is about empowering educators to better understand how to support and differentiate instruction for kids and make their learning experiences engaging and meaningful.

In blended learning, it is the magic of optimizing the face-to-face classroom with instructional models for personalized learning for teachers who use online learning modalities and advanced technologies to accelerate and improve individualized learning experiences for each and every student, with real-time data on exactly how well each student is progressing.

A year-long study of blended learning in New York City identified the following six elements as necessary for effective planning and implementation of a blended learning program:

1. Leadership

Systematic, committed and supportive leadership is the first component needed for the successful implementation of a blended learning initiative in a school. Leadership is the foundation from which develop all of the other components that lead to the successful implementation and adoption of blended learning by a school’s teachers and staff.

Successful leaders collaboratively identify common goals and objectives regarding blended learning and then clearly articulate and communicate those goals and objectives with involved staff. Once the goals are written, formal and informal processes are established that track and monitor progress towards the goals both weekly and monthly.

2. Professional Development

A coordinated, intentional and systematic professional development plan based on stated goals should be in place for each lab school, which includes both formal and informal as well as initial and ongoing professional development.

After a definition of blended learning is agreed upon, goals are set and a blended learning model is chosen, a professional development plan for both school leaders and participating teachers should be developed. Professional development, both formal and informal and for both leaders and teachers, is a key component for ongoing goal implementation.

3. Teaching/Instructional Practice

The classroom teacher is essential to blended learning implementation. Teachers will need to understand and believe in the pedagogical shift in their teaching to successfully transform their classrooms and teaching to a blended model.

The blended model(s) chosen for implementation will determine how teachers organize their classrooms, schedule their days, design curricula, use digital content and data and transform their teaching. Teaching pedagogy and strategies will also change. Types of strategies may include student grouping, peer-to-peer interaction and personalizing and customizing student learning.

Each blended learning model will require all teachers to make a shift in their teaching and instructional practices. The adopted pedagogical approaches and the classroom teacher’s practices will be the most important pieces to the successful implementation of blended learning.

4. Operations, Administrative Systems and Policies

Successful implementation of blended learning requires the use of digital learning systems that provide teachers, school administrators, students and parents with real-time student progress information and the ability to easily adapt content and instruction based on student performance. Administrative systems include learning management, content management and student information systems.

Additionally, new educational models such as blended and online learning options require the review of existing teaching and learning policies and, potentially, revising existing policies or creating new ones, to foster innovation, teacher empowerment and successful implementations. Examples of policies that may need to be addressed include but are not limited to: seat-time as a measure of student performance and funding; length of time that a student has to complete required courses; scheduling availability of courses; instructional credentials; professional development to support blended and online teachers; and access to required technologies.

5. Content

The decision to buy or build digital content is essential in the implementation of online and blended learning programs. Teachers may use content from an online provider, create their own, or use a combination of both.

6. Technology

Reliable technology infrastructure is required for the successful implementation of blended learning. This includes a dependable telecommunications network and both software and hardware that can be accessed and utilized by students and teachers. In addition to the technology infrastructure, educators and students need effective technology support to maintain positive momentum in teaching and learning in a digital environment.


Note: This blog originally excerpted from The Philadelphia Social Innovations Journal article, Education Transformation: from one-size-fits-all to Student-Centered Learning, written by Susan Patrick.