3 Characteristics of Effective Blended Learning

January 26, 2017

This article was written by Dennis Pierce, the former editor-in-chief of eSchool News, and current freelance writer covering education and technology. He has been following the ed-tech space for more than 17 years. To contact him, email: denniswpierce@gmail.com. 

Blended learning, which combines the best of face-to-face and online instruction in ways that can help personalize education for students, often looks very different from one classroom to the next. But when it’s done well, blended learning typically involves some common elements, says Michael B. Horn, co-founder of the Christensen Institute.

According to Horn, here are three key characteristics of effective blended learning:

There is a clear strategy behind the use of different modalities.

Rather than moving students ad-hoc between face-to-face and online instruction, “there should be some thoughtfulness and intentionality behind the use of each modality,” Horn says. In other words, teachers should identify the goals they have for each activity, then choose the specific learning mode that will help them best achieve that goal.

“I think many districts still continue to lead with the device, as opposed to the problem they’re trying to solve,” he observes. “Those things tend to result in failure. Make sure you have a contextual understanding of what you are trying to achieve.”

One of the challenges in designing blended learning experiences for students is understanding when (and how) to use technology—and when other modalities might be more appropriate.

Educators should carefully consider what technology is really good at, Horn suggests, and use it in those ways. For instance, technology works well in delivering content and helping students practice their skills. But “it’s not as good at giving robust feedback on a project where you’re moving to much higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy,” he says. “It’s not as good as a teacher in being able to understand the emotion of a student and try a different approach in the moment to reach that student in a deep, one-on-one way.”

There is a strong classroom culture in place that is widely shared and practiced.

Every blended learning routine—from asking the teacher for help to transitioning from one activity to another—“is very crisp and well understood by students,” Horn says. When students clearly understand the culture of the classroom, they are in a better position to take ownership of their learning and work independently at their own pace.

The teacher has an engaged role and is using the technology to get to know students better.

Even when students are working online independently, the teacher should be acting as a guide and facilitator, circulating throughout the classroom and helping students in small groups or one-on-one as appropriate.

Also, Horn says, the most effective blended learning environments are ones in which the teacher is using technology to understand each child’s strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement—and having an assessment and data management platform helps with this task.

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[Jim Thorpe]
[Jim Thorpe]