If you are considering starting or expanding a blended learning program, there are some real obstacles you will need to overcome. Convincing stakeholders to commit to the program, finding funding, and setting up your infrastructure are all major steps before you even design your implementation. Here we’ve identified the top five blended learning questions and provided some suggestions to consider when planning for and implementing your program.
Buy-in: How do I get teachers on board?
According to a recent Front Row Education survey, more than 93% of instructors say they have students below grade level and 70% have students at least one grade level ahead. Technology is perfectly suited to help teachers bridge this gap, but it is imperative that they understand a software program cannot replace them. Educators must be trained on how to properly integrate digital content with instruction. Data is powerful, and once they realize the transformative nature of the reports and dashboards, they can see how to easily identify students who need help. It may take a significant portion of your PD budget, but the payoff is a blended learning program that teachers incorporate into their classrooms rather than rally against.
Educators are also more likely to get on board with major changes if they are involved in the decision-making process. Consider looping in key teachers as you evaluate and select curriculum providers; they may identify needs or concerns administrators hadn’t considered. In your evaluation process, get the technology provider to answer questions and provide real examples of how to make the change to blended learning. It’s important to emphasize that the software can grade, provide lesson plans, and offer resources for students above or below grade level, allowing teachers to focus on what they do best, teach!
What about parents?
Some schools have a very active parent community, so it can be daunting to make significant changes. Your parents will have lots of blended learning questions, and communication is key. There is a common misconception that online programs are easy, therefore, it’s important to emphasize the rigor of your chosen program. Try using some of these techniques:
Hold an open house to explain the program.
Successful blended learning programs will all look different, so it’s important for students, parents, and teachers to understand the requirements of your implementation.
Be upfront and honest about the time commitment required for students to be successful.
In many ways blended learning is more rigorous than traditional programs because it requires motivation, perseverance, and organization from the students to stay on track.
Consider asking parents and students to sign a contract detailing attendance policies and how students will be graded.
Plan to notify the parents if the student falls behind significantly.
» Check out some other ideas on communicating to parents and families here.
Funding: How do we pay for this?
To plan for and implement a successful program, funding is key. There are upfront costs to consider (internet access, hardware, and product training), as well as periodic and ongoing costs. Occasionally you will need to update hardware, and you must maintain your content and curriculum licenses. While this may sound more daunting than other programs within your district, an online program can often be funded in the same way. Funding for blended learning can get more traction if it is aligned to your school or district’s goals. Is your school board looking for ways to increase the graduation rate, trying to keep students in the district, or implementing Common Core? Blended learning can help with these and many other goals, often aligning with formula funds, grants, or local and national education foundations. Here are some places to look:
- Career and Technical Education Grants
- School Improvement Grants (SIG)
- Special Education (IDEA)
- Title I, Part A, Improving Basic Programs Operated by Local Educational Agencies
- Title II, Improving Teacher Quality
- Title III, Part A, English Language Acquisition
- Title IV, 21st Century Community Learning Centers
- Advanced Placement Incentive Program
- High School Graduation Initiative
- Investing in Innovation (i3)
- Race to the Top (RTTT)
Feasibility: What will our classroom look like?
One of the major benefits of incorporating technology in the classroom is that the program can personalize learning to free-up teachers’ time to work one-on-one with students. But, one of the most common blended learning questions is: what exactly does that look like? The four most common implementations of blended learning are explained below; however, expect to experiment a bit to find the method or combination of methods that works best for your students and teachers.
In a flipped classroom, students use the online platform at home to get initial instruction on a topic. In class the next day, the teacher can oversee projects, assign practice, or conduct small group instruction to cement the instruction presented at home. This is often the easiest way to introduce a new blended learning implementation to a classroom. The three following methods are more creative, and allow students more control over their learning.
Station rotation model
Small groups of students rotate between stations within a single classroom with one teacher. A group of students could start with teacher-led instruction, then move to a collaborative activity where they work together on projects, and finally move to online instruction. This model facilitates small group instruction.
Lab rotation model
The lab rotation is similar to the station rotation model, but instead of rotating within a classroom, students rotate from the classroom to a computer lab. The teacher will direct the rotation based on their schedule.
The most creative and flexible model of blended learning, the flex model combines the idea of station rotation and takes it one step further by allowing students to control the amount of time they spend in any given station. In the most basic form of flex model, a student has a computer station surrounded by breakout rooms or areas where they can go to work in small groups, complete lab work, and collaborate with other students and teachers. The student moves flexibly through the stations based on his or her learning needs. This method is especially helpful with proficiency and mastery-based learning.
Infrastructure: Do I have enough computers to make blended learning work?
Once you determine the type of implementation model to use, the next blended learning question is around computers. There are a number of ways to get kids access to computers, and we have highlighted a few options here.
Set up a small number of computers and have your students rotate through them. This allows the teacher to create small groups and easily step in with reteaching and extra practice as needed.
Establish a full-fledged computer lab with enough devices for an entire class. Create a schedule so your teachers have access to the lab on a daily or weekly basis.
Bring your own device
Encourage students to bring laptops or tablets into school. Institute guidelines to ensure students are using the devices properly while on school grounds. If you have a high number of low-income families in your school or district, the 1Million project* can help with equitable access.
Efficacy: How do we ensure success?
Since blended learning simply means integrating technology into a traditional classroom, it can look very different from one implementation to the next. How, then, can schools ensure success when they take the leap to blended learning? We have identified a few keys to incorporate into your program to increase chances of success.
Set realistic expectations
Ensure you allow students enough time to complete the course. The average online course takes 40-60 hours per semester, not including time spent studying, researching, reading, or writing. Calculate how much class time they will have at school, and how much time at home they will realistically need to commit to the course.
A good online program will allow course customization, so take time yearly to review your courses and remove content as necessary. An online course is like a textbook, so pick the sections required by your district or state standards and skip the rest.
Analyze your data and adjust accordingly
A good completion rate will vary based on your implementation type. For example, a credit recovery program may hover around 50%, but an initial credit program should be higher. Work with your curriculum provider to understand realistic goals, review the data yearly to ensure you’re on track, and identify ways to improve going forward.
Check your time to completion and ensure your class is the right length. If students are taking 70 hours to complete a course that should be 60, you may need to eliminate some assignments to reduce course length.
Empower your teachers
Teachers are essential in a successful blended learning program. Just like a textbook cannot replace a teacher, neither can an online learning platform. Teachers must interact with the students, be available to answer questions, reteach in small groups, and grade assignments that are not automated (ex: essays). Teachers also assist with student integrity by walking around the classroom and overseeing assessments. Ensure your teachers are incorporated into your implementation and work hand in hand with the software.
Blended learning will look different from one school to the next. As long as you leverage technology as a way to enhance learning and promote understanding, you’re using blended learning. But, with this variety of options comes a lot of questions, and like any major change, it requires significant consideration and planning for a successful implementation. Buy-in, funding, feasibility, infrastructure, and efficacy are major concerns that require significant time and research to solve. For further reading on these and other considerations, check out this whitepaper on building capacity for blended learning.
McVay, L. (2015, October 28). Funding an Online Program? Here Are Key Resources. Where Learning Clicks. Retrieved from: https://www.wherelearningclicks.com/funding-an-online-program-here-are-key-sources/.