During primary and early middle school years I was a typical, diligent student. I was not the top of my class but I did really well in school. I did well because I was expected to do well by the school, my teachers, my parents, and because of peer competition. However, by late middle school and high school, I began falling behind in most of my subjects, especially Math and Science. I did my best but I could not really “understand” the subjects taught. As the school years progressed, my academic achievement became worse, until by Grade 11 the school gave me a choice: either to continue with the school and repeat my Grade 11 or enroll in another school to promote to Grade 12. Like many other students, I fell into the cracks of a factory-based school system that packages all students in a class by age and treats them as if they have the same learning pace, same learning preferences, and same brain development (cognitive neuroscience now proves that our learning abilities develop at different rates). I was one of those who took his time to digest the lesson slowly, or take some time to ponder on a question asked by the teacher. I was one of those who think really well outside of a 5x4 m. cell with other 29 students. And now, as an educator, I cannot but think of the many “Mes” who have a lot of potentials but fall into the cracks of the institutional schooling. Schools as we know it now were conceived and designed against how students learn. They were designed to produce people with standardized knowledge and skills (if any) to fit in the factory model. In addition, students’ learning abilities were, and still are, labeled based on their age not their cognitive abilities or skill development. I have had many peers during my school years and I have known many students who were not successful in this factory-based (institutional schooling) but then flourished in the real world. This is because in the real world they could take things at their own pace, could pick and choose things that they need to learn “just-in-time” and not “just-in-case”. They could personalize their learning out of the school. This means that schools, although they claim they have a positive impact on students (well they should or else all schools will close) they do hinder student learning because they operate against how students are born to learn.
How Blended Learning Personalizes the Student Learning Experience
If this is the first time you hear of blended learning, or you have heard it before but you are not exactly sure what it is, blended learning first of all is not a technological tool (although it relies on technology). It is an instructional model (not a new one since it was used long ago before institutional school but did not have any name back then). It is not a technology-rich instruction, it is not about high-tech gadgets, and it is not interactive tools (as many vendors promise schools that their tools will deliver:except they do not deliver student achievement),
The latest definition of blended learning (since it is an evolving instructional model) is defined by Christensen Institute as a formal education program in which a student learns :
(1) at least in part through online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace;
(2) at least in part in a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home;
(3) and the modalities along each student’s learning path within a course or subject are connected to provide an integrated learning experience.
It is essential to note no. 3 above that the modalities between online and brick-and-,mortar should “provide an integrated learning experience”. Many schools and teachers miss on this bit of integrating the two modalities in such a way that they combine the best in the two worlds. By giving the students control over time, place, path/pace schools taps into how students are born to learn. Students can learn then not subdued by the class, teacher, and peer pressure but by how their cognitive processes develop. This is done by “mastery-based” learning. Think of it like an engaging game with levels (including badges and shields). Students will progress from one level to the next by mastering each level. They will then be issued credentials or acknowledgements that they have finished one level and are ready for the next one. This is different than the current model of teaching “ocean wide but an inch deep” shallow learning. Blended learning if done right yields deep learning for all students.
Blended Learning Models Currently Used in Schools
There are currently four blended learning models being used in schools. This however does not mean that any school cannot come up with its own blended learning model. The field of blended learning is still evolving and any blended learning model can be added to the four currently used. In fact some schools have blended learning programs that do not fall in the four blended learning models below as identified by Christensen Institute.
The majority of blended-learning programs resemble one of four models: Rotation, Flex, A La Carte, and Enriched Virtual. The Rotation model includes four sub-models: Station Rotation, Lab Rotation, Flipped Classroom, and Individual Rotation.
1. Rotation model — a course or subject in which students rotate on a ﬁxed schedule or at the teacher’s discretion between learning modalities, at least one of which is online learning. Other modalities might include activities such as small-group or full-class instruction, group projects, individual tutoring, and pencil-and-paper assignments. The students learn mostly on the brick-and-mortar campus, except for any homework assignments.
a. Station Rotation — a course or subject in which students experience the Rotation model within a contained classroom or group of classrooms. The Station Rotation model differs from the Individual Rotation model because students rotate through all of the stations, not only those on their custom schedules.
b. Lab Rotation – a course or subject in which students rotate to a computer lab for the online-learning station.
c. Flipped Classroom – a course or subject in which students participate in online learning off-site in place of traditional homework and then attend the brick-and-mortar school for face-to-face, teacher-guided practice or projects. The primary delivery of content and instruction is online, which differentiates a Flipped Classroom from students who are merely doing homework practice online at night.
d. Individual Rotation – a course or subject in which each student has an individualized playlist and does not necessarily rotate to each available station or modality. An algorithm or teacher(s) sets individual student schedules.
2. Flex model — a course or subject in which online learning is the backbone of student learning, even if it directs students to offline activities at times. Students move on an individually customized, ﬂuid schedule among learning modalities. The teacher of record is on-site, and students learn mostly on the brick-and-mortar campus, except for any homework assignments. The teacher of record or other adults provide face-to-face support on a flexible and adaptive as-needed basis through activities such as small-group instruction, group projects, and individual tutoring. Some implementations have substantial face-to-face support, whereas others have minimal support. For example, some Flex models may have face-to-face certified teachers who supplement the online learning on a daily basis, whereas others may provide little face-to-face enrichment. Still others may have different staffing combinations. These variations are useful modifiers to describe a particular Flex model.
3. A La Carte model — a course that a student takes entirely online to accompany other experiences that the student is having at a brick-and-mortar school or learning center. The teacher of record for the A La Carte course is the online teacher. Students may take the A La Carte course either on the brick-and-mortar campus or oﬀ-site. This differs from full-time online learning because it is not a whole-school experience. Students take some courses A La Carte and others face-to-face at a brick-and-mortar campus.
4. Enriched Virtual model — a course or subject in which students have required face-to-face learning sessions with their teacher of record and then are free to complete their remaining coursework remote from the face-to-face teacher. Online learning is the backbone of student learning when the students are located remotely. The same person generally serves as both the online and face-to-face teacher. Many Enriched Virtual programs began as full-time online schools and then developed blended programs to provide students with brick-and-mortar school experiences. The Enriched Virtual model differs from the Flipped Classroom because in Enriched Virtual programs, students seldom meet face-to-face with their teachers every weekday. It differs from a fully online course because face-to-face learning sessions are more than optional office hours or social events; they are required.
Whatever blended learning model you adopt or adapt should be heavily dependent on the school environment: school leadership, vision, faculty, students, parents, country et… Since blended learning is a formal program, faculty and school leadership should collaborate to put policies, allocated resources, set up support systems, professional development etc. so that the whole school moves in the blended learning direction.
It is time that politicians, educational leaders, and parents realize that learning does not only happen within the school geographical location or only in the classroom. Breaking down the classroom walls is an essential factor in student achievement as it will contextualize student learning in real life. In addition, blended learning caters for unique student learning needs in terms of learning styles, pace, preferences, and cognitive development. To blend means to shift from one-size-fits-all to all-sizes-fit-all. It means that all students regardless of their learning needs will personalize their learning in collaboration with their teachers that act as facilitators to “scaffold” their learning.