Starting an Online Program: To Blend or Not to Blend


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Blended Learning:  First, in all of the blended programs, the students learn in a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home at least some of the time. Second, the students’ experience online delivery with some control over the time, place, path, and/or pace. (Reference)

In the rush to digital learning, school districts may be willing to grasp at any branch of the digital tree that they hear about from peer districts or at the latest conference.  It is essential to match the type of learning (blended, online) with target student group.

Dr. Margaret Roblyer’s research can help districts determine the type of delivery model.  Her research indicates the characteristics of students in fully online programs:

  • Academic Achievement — Good students are good students regardless of the learning environment.  Online learning does not suddenly make a poor student a high achiever.
  • Organization — Students learning online must be organized.
  • Technology — Technology must be present where they are learning.
  • Self-regulation — Students must be able to put themselves at the place they want to learn and to drop all distractions.

The Innosight Institute published a classification of blended learning programs.  The study largely outline the blended practices in traditional brick and mortar institutions.  The models include direct instruction from teachers, group projects, and computer mediated instruction.  In some cases, students rotate between stations or there is a flexible schedule to pull out students who need extra help or for group activities within the brick and mortar context and traditional school day.  Check the referenced research above for specific details.

Beyond the opportunities outlined by Innosight, schools can consider blending classes rather than constructing new schools.  Students could be scheduled to be in physical attendance only half the time.  A senior year experience could provide a blended environment to prepare students for their next steps in education, the job market, or the military.  It must be noted that districts and states need various policies and enabling legislation to allow students to gain credit for students in partial attendance.  In Illinois, we have legislation that allows students to participate in non-traditional programs and the school district can receive state funding for those students.

Whether to blend or to engage students fully online can be determined by the characteristics of the students. Roblyer’s research provides insight on how to develop various programs, depending on the characteristics of the students.

From this Roblyer’s, here’s how a program can work for schools:

  1. High achieving students should be put into online courses.  They can work at their own rates to be somewhat self-sufficient.
  2. Average students can be successful in hybrid (blended) learning environments, where they get the direct instruction they need, yet they can work on their own when possible.
  3. Low achievers need focused help from teachers in small groups.

Before jumping on the digital bandwagon, schools should step back to look at the target student population and consider the modes of learning where that group can be successful.

Other postings in this series:

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