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Is a reboot of blended learning required?

David Bainbridge discusses the need for evolution in blended learning

Posted by Hannah Oakman | September 01, 2016 | Secondary

The proliferation of social media and technology has changed the way that educators teach, students learn, and teachers and students communicate. As blended learning blurs the lines between physical and digital, students can, in part, control the time, pace, and place of their learning. They can ingest passive rote material at home, and free up classroom time for in-depth discussion. They can interact with peers and teachers instantly – and work more collaboratively. Not only this but, behind the scenes, teachers can use an abundance of data from these online learning environments to measure student performance, and respond rapidly to individual needs.

However, there’s a catch.

While savvy schools and colleges have been enjoying the success of blended learning, the discussion has already moved on. In a world where paradigms like 'personalized' or 'flipped' learning are becoming commonplace, it is not enough simply to adopt the digital classroom as a supplement to the physical one. Instead, digital platforms should be seen as the key to expand the learning environment beyond the bounds of the school walls, to encourage students to consider all their interactions in the context of their learning – whether commenting on social media, reading the news or streaming the latest film. In short, the classroom loses its walls. 

This is a different type of blended learning, one which relocates digital from the periphery to the centre. This is no indulgent change or naïve fantasy, but incredibly and pressingly necessary. It is necessary for the simple fact that the learners themselves – be they children or adults – have long outgrown the Victorian classroom. They are digitally active (more active than ever before) and their perspectives on the world, their communications and interactions are increasingly informed by tablet, phone and computer screens.

The challenge, then, is to populate this new ‘blended learning’ environment with as much engaging, adaptive and interactive material as possible. No doubt creating, curating, and containing this wealth of content is a considerable challenge for educators alone. To implement blended learning successfully and to reap its benefits, there needs to be a collaborative effort between educators, publishers and technology providers. 

The first step is for educators to embrace innovation, not shy away from it; to recognize that outside the classroom their students are consuming compelling content with stunning production values across multiple platforms, on demand and on the move; and to appreciate that these students have the same expectation for rich and relevant content in the classroom. All of these expectations must be met if drop-out rates are to be stemmed.

Technology providers can play a key role, not just in the creation of valuable digital systems that are effective and simple to use, but in fundamentally changing the educator’s approach to digital learning. These technologies must make a persuasive case with high-tech – but not high-brow – learning solutions, backed up by great-quality curated content. The truly compelling tools for time-strapped teachers are more intuitive and more impactful than the LTI standards adopted in some quarters in the US. 

Finally, the education publishers share in this responsibility. Those businesses who provide educators with beautifully designed and packaged courseware to bring learning to life must also step up to the plate. The temptation to rely on their physical textbook legacies is no doubt strong, when a simple PDF scan might pass for a ‘digital product’. As open online courses have proven time and time again, digital resources have the potential to be so much more. 

Blended learning – in its latest ambitious iteration – requires forward-thinking from all these parties. It is only with a collaboration between innovative technologies, rich and ready digital content and great teaching that learners will start to feel the difference.

This is a blended learning that requires as much a combination of efforts as a mixing of media. Get this combination right and it may inspire a generation to learn as intuitively as they browse, to see every blogger as a teacher, every webpage as a classroom. Get it right, and they can break down walls.

David Bainbridge is CEO and Founder, Knowledgemotion

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