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Blended Learning: 8 Essentials for Success
Combining technology and classroom instruction wasn’t a new concept when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In fact, the strategy of using technology as a tool to enhance in-person instruction, otherwise known as blended learning, had already been rising in popularity since the early 2000s. Then, suddenly, schools were forced to fully rely on technology in March of 2020, fast tracking what should have been a slower, more planned-out process of intentionally integrating technology into instruction.
Now that schools are back to in-person or hybrid learning, Nathan Lang-Raad, Ph.D., vice president of strategy for Savvas Learning Company believes that rather than trying to get back to pre-shutdown instruction, schools can continue to use the technology they acquired and blended learning strategies to their advantage.
“Blended learning offers practical ideas that can be used in conjunction with our existing curriculum and resources,” said Nathan. “It’s about embracing the evolution of education with technology, rather than fighting it.”
In this blog post, Nathan offers eight essential strategies for educators to consider for their blended learning classrooms or if they’re thinking about inserting more technology into their teaching. With these ideas, educators can ensure that educational technology is being used in the most effective way to give students more control over the time, place, pace, and path of their learning.
1. Open with Optimism
Engage students with welcoming rituals and daily routines, such as morning meetings, by creating a daily, mock “social media post” for the class Learning Management System (LMS). Rituals and routines play a crucial role in fostering optimism. They allow students to focus on goals, manage time effectively, and maintain a sense of control.
2. Communicate Learning Outcomes
Communicate performance-based learning outcomes to students so they understand the “why” behind the lesson. Offer them options in how they demonstrate what they’ve learned, such as an interactive presentation, blog post, or podcast. In a blended learning environment, we can post videos on the LMS or the classroom board, and students are able to view those at their leisure to use class time more meaningfully.
3. Activate Prior Knowledge
Help students use what they already know to fuel new understanding. This can be accomplished in three ways:
- Provide multiple access points
- Incorporate real-world/cross-curricular connections
- Differentiate prior knowledge strategies
Anchor student instruction asynchronously or synchronously to link prior knowledge to new concepts. Cognitive scaffolding is important as an anchor so students can assimilate new concepts more effectively.
4. Build Academic Vocabulary
Academic vocabulary is the gateway to critical thought, the key to unlocking articulate discourse, and the essence of a curious, empowered mind. To build vocabulary in an engaging way, especially when using a traditional instructional strategy such as the Frayer model, which is a graphic organizer for building student vocabulary, have students use videos or Google Slides to complete the lesson.
Draw parallels between texting language and academic vocabulary. We should embrace texting language. Encourage students to appreciate the value of both forms of language, and help them understand when it's appropriate to use one or the other.
5. Deliver Engaging Instruction
Leverage technology to create engaging educational content that fosters the critical-thinking skills students need in today’s world. For example, develop a short video that students watch prior to class, then discuss and ask questions during in-person class time.
When creating this kind of content, follow four guidelines:
- Keep it concise – videos should be less than seven minutes long
- Focus on knowledge and skills
- Make it personal – include students’ names in the presentation
- Keep it fun
6. Facilitate Student Discourse
Student discourse is where minds collide, ideas spark, and the vibration dance of knowledge unfolds, shaping the critical thinkers of tomorrow. Make sure discussions go beyond the “think/pair/share” model by offering prompts online or in the classroom:
- Do you agree or disagree with what was just stated?
- Who can add on to what we just said?
- What is another way to say that?
- What evidence supports your viewpoints?
- In what ways does this concept connect to or diverge from the topic?
7. Close with Optimism
Encourage students to reflect on their understanding of new concepts in ways that are important to them. Offer opportunities to bridge what students just learned to what’s going to happen in future teachings. This can include asking them to create an interactive video or presentation that “sells” the lesson, asking them to reflect on how they will use this lesson through short videos, or challenging students to predict the focus of the next lesson.
8. Extend Learning Through Feedback And Reflection
Finally, ask students to reflect on three questions:
- What am I trying to achieve?
- How much progress have I made so far?
- What should I do next?
In blended learning, students can do this in person, during a video call in breakout rooms, or by creating an ongoing Google Slides journal. Just having an experience is not sufficient for acquiring deep understanding. It's through reflection and introspective analysis of our experiences where we extract meaning, identify patterns, and draw connections that ultimately lead to more profound learning.
Next Steps for Success
Nathan has three tips for making blended learning work in any classroom:
- Start with a clear purpose. Know what you want to accomplish before you begin.
- Less is more. Use the tech tools you already know.
- Use data to inform your instruction. In addition to objective data points, listen to your students – they will tell you what’s working and what’s not.
“Everyone can use these methods in face-to-face learning, but it’s proven that students learn more effectively if they do it in a blended way,” said Nathan.