Sunday, April 28, 2013

Blended Learning: School as a Learning Station

My goal this school year has been to dive more into the concept of blended learning.  I've been really fortunate with timing: I was able to attend a blended learning design workshop in Denver last month, eNet Colorado started offering Intel's Blended Learning course this month, and the Blended Schools Network offered a MOOC on blended learning as well (which started 2 weeks ago, as of this post).  Of course, I've been able to dig around on my own, but having some structured opportunities has also been helpful.

From the Innosight Institute
I've seen various definitions for blended learning, but I found the one from the Innosight Institute useful in talking with folks who are just starting to hear this term: a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online delivery of content and instruction with some element of student control {emphasis mine} over time, place, path, and/or pace and at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home {emphasis mine, again}. 

In our district-level discussions, we've tried to bring blended learning into the conversation whenever possible.  Our long-term goal is to have time, place, and age-agnostic learning for all students and teachers.  That can happen, if we start to look at the brick & mortal school as one part of an overall "learning station."

The school "learning station" idea plays into the student control aspect and is where we have to take a close look at our own practice.  We have had technology-rich environments for some time (with either labs, carts, or learning stations), but rarely have I seen situations where students control any of those elements (time, place, path, and/or pace).  This part of the definition could assist in explaining how to transform a technology-rich learning environment into an environment that is approaching or fully implementing a blending learning model.

Identifying levels of student control over those elements might also help us figure out some thoughtful ways to measure impact on their learning.  What happens when there is control solely over time? place? path? pace? Which of those are key for different learners? Which elements need to remain under teacher direction for specific learners?  Do students who need credit recovery benefit more than others with control over place or path?  Does path help us get away from putting students into certain classes based purely on age?  How do these help us get to time, place, and age-agnostic learning?  How can the school become 1 learning station in a much broader and varied learning process?

Because teachers may be familiar with the idea of learning stations, starting to ask how we can make the physical classroom or school only 1 part of a learning station might push the view of learning experiences and teacher/learner roles into a different light.  If we truly want time, place, and age-agnostic learning, we need to think about being a critical part of the learning process but certainly not the only part.