Blended learning is a huge investment for administrators and teachers as they work to restructure schedules, buildings, and even curriculums to accommodate this change. As such, many schools and districts start small with a select group of teachers and students who test the program to make sure it is effectively helping students succeed. Once that program has proven to be successful with higher test scores, graduation rates, or other measurements, many administrators may begin looking to expand. The question is, how? We break that question down into five considerations to explain how to grow your blended learning program.
1. What are your blended learning goals?
If you’re ready to grow your blended learning program, now is a great time to reevaluate your goals. Oftentimes, a school or district starts with one idea of blended learning and finds that after implementation, their goals have changed. Or the metric that proved your program was successful for a small group of students may not be sufficient when expanding to your entire school or district. Many districts set their goals based on initiatives from their local school board or their state requirements. For example, if your state is one of many focusing on 3rd-grade reading competency and high school graduation rates, it might make sense to align your goals and key performance indicators to those metrics in addition to others. Remember that metrics measure your goals, so it’s important to clearly define your goals before digging into the data.
One district emphasizes that they do not hope to gain the most enrollments, but to give students the most opportunities. To them, this means using a blended learning program with an emphasis on early college preparedness and creating an alternative school with 100% virtual classes. Whatever your district’s goals are, it’s important to identify how blended learning can help. This will assist in defining your program and may also help fund it through grants that align with your specific goals.
2. What operational considerations do I need to think through? How will blended learning potentially change the structure of a traditional school day?
To grow your blended learning program, you will need to review existing operational practices and policies and potentially create new protocols to fill in gaps created by the new teaching methodology. It is essential that school and district leadership support operation and policy changes in a variety of ways, all in the effort to support students and teachers with resources and flexibility to succeed. According to iNACOL, professional development and a robust training program will help teachers understand their role transition from a lone deliverer of instruction to a team approach that combines “adaptive digital content, the teacher, and teaching aids.” This will, however, require some shifts in paradigms and standard operating procedures, which are directed by the administration.
The structure of the school day may need to be changed to accommodate time in a computer lab or with a mobile kiosk of devices. Administrators will also be tasked with incorporating data and systems to measure real-time student performance in ways they never have before. Even policies regarding attendance and seat time may need to be redefined to maintain adherence to state and federal guidelines.
3. After you grow your blended learning program, how will you measure success?
Any change should be followed with a healthy review process filled with measurable data. You can’t plant seeds and expect them to thrive without any attention, and in the same way you can’t expect to grow your blended learning program without review and action (see question 4).
- Review the data from your curriculum provider. Progress, grades, and time in the product can all be used to identify the implementation’s success. If students are significantly behind, have poor grades, or are not spending sufficient time in the program, there may be a larger problem that an administrator needs to address.
- Enrollment numbers can also help to indicate a program’s success. Throughout the semester or year, are more families asking to enroll in the program or are they asking to go back to the way things were? While enrollment numbers don’t tell the whole story, they help identify larger trends about the popularity of your program.
- Listen to your students and teachers. These are the people who are working in the system every day and their successes and struggles can be very telling when evaluating a program. Incorporate this anecdotal data with the hard numbers and you will have a good picture of your program’s success.
4. I’ve collected the data. What actions should I now be taking?
Data is a powerful tool, but only if it’s actionable and used to inform change. Consider setting up a single point of contact in your school or district to oversee the blended learning program, and task him or her with resolving feedback in a timely manner. If a teacher reports that their students do not have enough time in school to finish their coursework, consider offering them the option to work from home, adding time on-site in a computer lab, or reducing the number of activities or units within your curriculum. You should review your curriculum customizations on a regular basis; most educators find once a year to be sufficient, but you can adjust your reviews on an ad-hoc basis if necessary.
The administration should also be analyzing the metrics identified above and evaluating your progress toward identified program goals. For example, lower enrollment numbers semester over semester can indicate a general feeling of unhappiness with the program from students and families. Talk to your students and identify what they don’t like about the program and get their suggestions on things to change. Perhaps a student doesn’t feel they are getting enough support from the teacher, or they don’t have easy access to a computer outside of school. The first is a fairly simple issue that can be addressed with coaching or by adding an aide or additional teacher to the lab hours. The second could indicate a need for a hardware program in your school. Either way, enrollments numbers could lead to a more robust understanding of issues through analysis. Whether the problem is easy or difficult to solve, it’s important that students and educators know that their feedback is appreciated, and that you clearly communicate any strategies you will implement to resolve these issues.
5. How do I communicate the expansion to parents, students, teachers, and staff?
Communication is key when expanding your program. Use the teachers and students who have already gone through your blended learning program as advocates to the entire school or district. They can speak about their personal experiences, and what they liked and didn’t like. Be sure to have real solutions to the things they didn’t like. For example, if they complain that the internet connection was slow at school, administrators can respond by increasing the speed (if possible) or by offering students the ability to work from home. Be honest about the challenges you faced and how you have addressed them before taking it to the next level. Also consider holding an open house before the school year begins to explain to parents and students what your blended learning program will look like. The unknown is scary, and by answering as many questions up-front as possible, your program will be off to a good start.
Blended learning continues to grow in the education community because it produces results, and if you grow your blended learning program, you can reap these results for a larger population of students. In a 2015 study, 12 districts saw an 18% average increase on reading test scores and 7% average increase on math test scores compared to classrooms that weren’t using blended learning. Strong school or district leadership was identified as one unifying factor across all 12 districts, contributing to their blended learning successes. So, grow your blended learning program with strong leadership and the suggestions listed here, and realize the benefits on a larger scale.
If you’re interested in starting a blended learning program, see our previous posts in this series for more information about initial concerns when starting to think about blended learning, questions to consider when shopping for providers, and ways to get parents to contribute to the success of the program.
Darrow, R., Friend, B., & Powell, A. (2013). A roadmap for implementation of blended learning at the school level. Retrieved from: https://www.inacol.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/a-roadmap-for-implementation.pdf
Deruy, E. (2015). New data backs blended learning. The Atlantic. Retrieved from: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/09/new-data-backs-blended-learning/432894/
Guest Author. (2017). 6 best practices for expanding a blended learning initiative. Getting Smart. Retrieved from: http://www.gettingsmart.com/2017/04/6-best-practices-for-expanding-a-blended-learning-initiative/