Dec. 14, 2020 - In the new era of learning brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, blended learning has come and is, at least for the time being, likely here to stay. Even as schools navigate the waters of safety and determine what form of learning they will adhere to in the present, this year has proven that blended learning is not only achievable, but—with additional planning and a different perspective—it can be highly effective, as well.
But how does one go about creating a successful blended learning experience? We’ll explore strategies that promote success, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of mobile learning.
What is Blended Learning?
Blended learning is an educational process that mixes a virtual program with traditional face-to-face time in a classroom. In most cases, blended learning includes virtual learning as well, in which some parts of a traditional classroom is physically inaccessible—be that the teacher or instructor, the students, or even the classroom itself.
Advantages of Blended Learning
While the early days of blended learning were difficult for many, much of that difficulty can be attributed to the short response time that so many instructors had to make the shift from physical to blended or virtual learning styles. When removed from that perspective, we can see that there are many advantages to a blended learning experience.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but the reality of blended learning is that it offers a myriad of opportunities for student personalization and individualization. From finding options that can aid kinesthetic, auditory, and visual learners alike, to creating check-ins along the way to ensure that the information is being absorbed, instructors can create any type of experience they imagine for their own students and classrooms.
This can be both an advantage and a disadvantage. For instance, for kids with limited wifi availability, the ability to complete lessons can be challenging. However, educators are noticing a trend of mobile accessibility allowing some students to travel with their family on road trips. This can expand a child’s horizon while allowing them to not miss classes. In addition, some students who wanted to attend other schools further away may now find it easier without the commute or long bus ride.
In a classroom, it can be time-consuming to repeat lessons or points with a full classroom. In a virtual world, revisiting that last point is as easy as "rewind" and "play", allowing students to have the opportunity to really grasp the issue at hand.
Because students (and their parents) are consistently "plugged in" in their daily lives, making a shift to blended learning is a more natural fit than it might have been 15 years ago. With widespread access to smartphones and tablets, and an innate understanding of software and app usage, students have an opportunity to engage in an environment they are comfortable with.
Disadvantages of Blended Learning
Just as there are advantages to blended learning options, there are disadvantages, as well. In general, however, awareness of these issues at their most fundamental level can help ensure that they are less disadvantages, and simply considerations we should closer examine.
While a virtual environment can make everything more accessible to students no matter where they are, the reality is that there are still challenges, if infrastructure is not what it should be. Not only must students have internet access and some type of mobile device (which many do not have), but the instructor must also have sufficient access points and tools at their disposal.
As a dual-edged sword, one of the most significant challenges (as well as advantages) is engagement. While students are familiar with blended learning as a whole, they can also be less engaged because of their constant and consistent use of electronic devices. Also, it is worth considering that if students who learn a specific type of way are not taught in a way that engages them personally, the engagement gap is widened, not lessened. It becomes another responsibility of the instructor to ensure that students are not only "present", but are paying attention to and absorbing the material in front of them.
While it’s easy for students who are consistently online to get overloaded, the threat is even worse for teachers, many of whom are juggling hybrid schedules, twice as many classes, repetitive lessons, technological challenges, and more. For instructors who are going through any—or all—of these challenges, it is necessary to create systems and processes that streamline the work effort without losing student or parent involvement.
4. Lack of Support
Although remote learning can increase general accessibility, it’s important to remember that not all students learn well virtually. For those who have specialized learning programs or need additional support due to disabilities, or for those without parents at home to keep them on task, remote learning can be one more obstacle to getting a quality education. For this reason, it’s important that teachers know how their students learn and are able to make concessions or "check-in" with those students, to ensure they are staying on track.
Strategies for Blended Learning Success
Regardless of whether or not you see blended learning as a positive or negative, it is a method that, now it has been widely implemented and moderately successful, is like to stick around—even if only for snow days or makeup days. In any case, there are some strategies that instructors can put into place in order to increase their chances of success.
1. Clearly Communicate Expectations
One of the best things you can do to create an atmosphere of success is to clearly communicate expectations—with both your students and their parents. Even if it is a little additional work, and even if it must be repeated, this will ensure that everyone is aware of the measures you have put in place for a successful learning experience. That way, when engagement seems to be lagging or lessons aren’t being completed, you have a measure that was agreed upon by all parties to get everyone back on track.
2. Create Shared Lesson Plans
As part of this culture of communication, create lesson plans, calendars, and syllabi that are shared across your classroom—yes, even with parents—so there is no confusion about what the current focus is, or what is due when. Keep in mind that many parents who are juggling multiple students in multiple classes across grade levels may find it hard to keep up. The more you can help them stay organized, the more they can help you keep your class moving forward.