Author: Michael Karlin
This article was published on The Ed Tech Roundup on 4/18/2017.
Blended learning has become a bit of a buzzword over the past decade, but as an instructional approach, blended learning has a lot to offer in the K-12 environment. While no common definition for blended learning exists, the basic idea is to combine online, digital learning materials with traditional face-to-face classroom approaches. In practice, this covers a wide range of implementations, some of which can be more beneficial than others.
This post will focus on some of the specific apps and strategies that can be helpful when implementing blended learning in K-12 classrooms.
In my own experience, I have seen blended learning as being its most beneficial when it has helped increase flexibility and differentiation. Generally speaking, this often looks like providing digital learning materials that allow students to explore content at their own pace, or to learn from content that is specific to their individual needs. Teachers can share videos, articles, websites, and any other digital material that is specific to individual students’ reading levels, interests, and any other factor that teachers want to differentiate for. This also allows for students to learn at their own pace and to re-watch or re-read content if they need to.
Oftentimes in blended learning environments, the content is provided for students to access outside of the classroom, so that students can apply and practice what they’ve learned during class time, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.
There are, of course, ways that blended learning can go wrong. Just giving students videos to watch and assuming that means they’re learning is no better than lecturing and assuming students are learning because you said it once in class. Content has to be paired with formative assessment, and it has to be engaging and relevant so students see the importance in what they’re learning. When you’re teaching a topic face-to-face, you can tell when students are losing interest, you can ask questions, you can promote discussions, and all of these can be harder to do if you’re in a blended learning environment and relying on content delivery to occur through digital means.
Teachers must also be aware of what resources students have outside of the classroom. Within the US, a significant number of students do not have reliable access to technology or the internet outside of the classroom. Asking all students to learn material, or complete work online may not only be difficult, but can lead to increasing the divide between students who have access and those who don’t. Teachers must always be aware of what type of access their students are going home to, and how that access can impact learning. As to the implementation of blended learning, there are some specific apps and strategies that I have found to be particularly helpful when implementing blended learning in the classroom.
Apps like EdPuzzle can be enormously helpful if you’re using videos to provide content. With EdPuzzle, teachers can add in questions, audio narration, and comments to pre-existing videos or videos that they create. This can turn a video into a formative feedback opportunity, and help teachers more easily see if their students are understanding the content being presented.
Quizzing and polling apps like Quizizz can also be beneficial in both providing practice opportunities for students, and conducting formative assessments. The app has a homework mode which allows students to work on quizzes outside of the classroom and at their own pace. Plus, I really love the memes that you can add to Quizizz, as do my students.
Flashcard apps like Quizlet can be helpful for allowing students to create their own learning materials, but also for learning content outside of the classroom. Quizlet also has numerous games built into their app, which can make the learning process more engaging and enjoyable as well.Nearpod can be incredibly beneficial when using the “Student Led” presentation option. Students can work through material at their own pace, and within Nearpod you can include videos, quizzes, polls, links, and collaborative activities. This is a great way to help students get familiar with content before coming to class, or to review content after a class activity.
Finally, utilizing a learning management system (LMS) is a wonderful way to tie everything together and provide all of your resources in the same place. I’m a fan of itslearning, which is one of the few LMSs I’ve seen that was not only designed for students, teachers, and administrators, but also for parents. You can also create individualized learning paths for students depending on their needs, and easily access an enormous library of open source resources.
In the end, blended learning is not a new idea. Teachers have been providing learning resources for students outside of the classroom for generations. However, the digital component of blended learning makes it easier for teachers to provide content and instruction that is differentiated to individual needs, and that students can work through at their own pace.
The tools mentioned throughout this post can be helpful in the implementation of a blended learning approach, but teachers must always be aware that providing digital content may not be accessible to all their students. Alternative learning methods and activities should always be considered, particularly for those students who may not have access outside of the classroom.
If you’re looking for additional resources on blended learning, here are some great places to start:
Editors note: Another useful resource is our “Recipes for Classroom Success” ebook, which includes a recipe for implementing blended learning in your classroom.