Anyone who has ever worked in education for a span of several years knows that trends come and go faster than a teacher’s lunch break. Whether it’s a new science curriculum or a new approach to teaching phonics, educational curricula and techniques are constantly being reinvented.
One trend, though, that isn’t going anywhere is the use of technology in the classroom through blended learning. More and more schools and districts are investing in computers along with software, digital curricula, and learning platforms to go along with them. We can confidently say that blended learning is here to stay!
What is blended learning?
Blended learning is the practice of combining online digital media with traditional classroom instruction. Blended learning has become the preferred method of incorporating tech in the classroom as provides all the perks of digital learning with the benefits of teacher-to-student instruction.
Benefits of digital learning:
Students can go at their own pace. In a traditional classroom, if students are being held back or rushed ahead by a pace of instruction that is trying to accommodate all learners, they are likely to get bored, frustrated, or confused. Digital learning is great because students can work at their own speed. Instead of moving on to the next lesson just because the calendar says it’s time, with digital learning students move on when they have mastered the concept.
Students take responsibility for their own understanding. In a personalized digital learning space students can stop, rewind, and look up words they don’t know. This means that students have all the tools they need at their disposal to ensure they understand a concept before moving on. And because students are working independently on computers, there is no risk of a student being embarrassed for not understanding an idea the first time around or for not knowing what a word means.
Kids love technology. And for good reason – technology makes it easy to provide engaging material by including videos, images, and interactive activities in lessons. Through a digital learning environment, students can watch video clips of a new science concept, participate in a class message board about the story they’re reading, or play games to practice a new math skill. By diversifying the ways that students are learning and practicing new material, digital learning helps increase engagement.
Cons of digital learning:
The completion rate of online courses is typically very low (think 13%). Granted, this figure represents those people taking an online course on their own, not in a classroom setting. Nonetheless, this low proportion of people who finish a course does surface some underlying flaws of digital learning. Students may have a tendency to get distracted or lose interest in an online course, especially if they don’t have opportunities to connect what they’re learning on the computer back to their own lives.
What happens when students get stuck? Even with the ability to go back and rewatch the explanation of something, there will be times when students still don’t understand a concept. In order to attain comprehension, they may need an idea explained in a different way, or might need someone to directly address their misunderstanding. This is one area where the computer can’t replace the teacher.
Benefits of the traditional classroom:
The relationships that teachers develop with their students will never be replaced by technology. Over the course of a school year, teachers come to know a student’s preferred learning style and how much background knowledge a student has on a subject, making it easier to anticipate and address misunderstandings as they come up.
In a traditional classroom, some of the best learning happens when students learn from each other. Teachers can plan classroom activities and experiences that are based on discussion, where students get to learn how to listen and respond to the ideas of others. Such activities also encourage students to practice teamwork, a life skill that is essential for the world beyond the classroom.
Cons of the traditional classroom:
When a teacher is trying to present a new skill to a class of 30 students, there are bound to be students who master the skill quickly and are ready to move on, just as there will be those who need much more time than what is allotted. In a traditional classroom, students at both ends of this spectrum are not in their optimal learning environment which will negatively affect engagement and performance.
Teachers know that differentiation is one of the biggest challenges, and isn’t always possible for every lesson. Consequently, whole class instruction won’t often appeal to each student’s learning style, meaning that some students might not be accessing the material as well as they could if it were presented differently.
When implemented correctly, blended learning allows teachers to capitalize on the benefits of digital learning and traditional classroom instruction in order to get the best of both worlds. Keep an eye out for future articles on how to best use digital learning in your classroom!
Blended learning in our educational products
All of the Teaching.com products are designed to be used in a blended learning environment.
In iAcademy, the teacher portal makes it simple to set deadlines for each lesson so that students have a clear picture of what they are working on, but have some freedom in how they arrive at that deadline. Teachers are provided with supports for the non-tech portion of the curriculum which include discussion questions for each lesson that allow students to share thoughts on the material and make connections to their own lives.
With Typing.com, the online platform teaches students to master touch typing through a series of leveled lessons. Nonetheless, teachers are essential to the learning process. Teachers monitor to ensure that students are following the instructions and are using proper form. Additionally, teachers should check in with students to set goals, review performance benchmarks, and address common errors.
As with any blended curriculum, one of the most important roles of the teacher in both of these programs is to build excitement and intrinsic motivation and to show students that the skills they are learning on the computer are valuable for their lives. Teachers might teach a mini-lesson on jobs where typing is a required skill or facilitate a discussion about why it is important to verify sources online.
If you’re looking to make the most of the technology in your classroom, check out some of our other blog entries for tips on how to successfully create a blended classroom that will make your life as a teacher easier and will improve outcomes for your students.