Source (Infographic): How to Implement Blended Learning: Version 2.0

There is a lot of talk these days about Blended Learning. However:

“Increasing student opportunities to engage with technology — such as teachers using flipped classroom strategies, a school computer lab, and computers using digital curriculum in the classroom – are all steps in the right direction, but don’t meet the full potential of blended learning. If it doesn’t change instructional practices, schedules, relationships and resource allocations, there’s still room to grow!”  (Source)

Blended learning is not about ‘adding’ digital media and digital tools. Blended learning is about creating meaningful learning experiences that leverage advantages of face-to-face experiences with advantages of digital interactions.

Three years ago I said in a post, ‘The future of education will be open and distributed‘:

Within 5 years, every student from Grade 6 or 7 right up to
Grade 12 will be involved in some level of distributed learning.

Although I might be a year off, I think we are headed in that direction, with an emphasis on the distributed learning being more blended than ‘at a distance’.

Distributed Learning – Any learning that allows instructor, students, and content to be located in different locations so that instruction and learning occur independent of time and place; often used synonymously with the term “Distance learning”. (Source)

Blended learning – Blended learning is any time a student learns at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home and at least in part through online delivery with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace; (Source)

Last April I shared:

Blending won’t be something done to classes or students, rather it will be the modus operandi… the way teaching and learning happens. In fact, even ‘distance learning’ could have synchronous ‘face-to-face’ meetings in virtual worlds. It will be an exception to the norm, in a very short while, to have a class that is strictly face-to-face or solely online/asynchronous.


…Currently, in many cases, blended learning means that the face-to-face component is a more traditional class/lesson. We need to think about what our synchronous meetings with students look like and point the way to other options.

One such way is for us to make our face-to-face experiences events rather than more traditional classes. A few examples:

A writing class gets together once every 6 weeks for ‘poetry cafe’ style readings of their writing (not just poems). Students connect during these times, but continue to connect online, providing feedback to each others’ writing. The face-to-face experiences helps students connect later online. We have a teacher that didn’t only do this, he also had the students connect with art classes and they created a published book of writing and artwork.

A Math class could get together (face-to-face or virtually) to solve messy questions that go beyond the Khan Academy (or Content Connections) algorithm -focused video ‘instructions’.

A photography class meets in park and works on depth of field, or rule of thirds, or composition photos that are later shared online for feedback and critiquing. Students that can’t make it to the park to can still do the assignment on their own.

Chemistry labs can be run with multiple labs happening at once, with students getting credit both for doing the labs and also for being mentors for students that are further behind than them.

I said this earlier, but I’ll say it again:

Blended learning is not about ‘adding’ digital media and digital tools. Blended learning is about creating meaningful learning experiences that leverage advantages of face-to-face experiences with advantages of digital interactions. 

That said, here are some barriers to rich blended learning experiences happening sooner rather than later in our programs. I’ve also included some suggestions to overcome the barriers:

1. Barrier: PLO’s (Prescribed Learning Outcomes, or for my American friends things like the Common Core). We want to spend more time uncovering the curriculum, digging in and exploring ideas around interesting topics, and following students interdiciplinary  interests… rather than just covering a detailed and specific curriculum. The curriculum needs to be about ‘streams, not silos‘, it needs to make cross-curricular opportunities obvious and intentional, rather than something teachers have to force.

Suggestion: My favourite quote from someone that works in our ministry of education is, “There are no PLO police”. We are fortunate in BC that we only have 5 Provincial Exam courses, and outside of those courses, I think we should really be letting go of specific PLO’s and starting focusing on larger concepts and core competencies. Engage students in meaningful projects and inquiries that allow them to find interest and excitement in the subject area(s).

2. Working with existing online courses and current Learning Management Systems (LMS’s). Because assignments will cover different learning outcomes, if a face-to-face experience covers only some outcomes from one online assignment, and then other outcomes from another online assignment, a teacher must either have students do these online assignments on top of the face-to-face experience they planned, or they must also redesign the online assignments. This is an issue when taking a current, primarily online course and trying to make it into a blended course. The LMS can also become the place where busy work is done or where things are handed in, rather than a robust community-oriented online hub.

Suggestion: Chris Lehmann says, “If you assign a project and get back 30 of the exact same thing, that’s not a project, that’s a recipe.” We need to make our LMS robust with student choice, we also need to provide students with reasons to connect and share their ideas, rather than forcing online connections and conversations.

3. There are still students who want the quick cookie-cutter course. Collaboration is hard work and there is a culture of ‘shopping for the easy marks’ that persists in the search for online courses. Easier isn’t always better, and giving students what they want isn’t the same as giving them a rich and meaningful learning experience. But as long as the ‘easy route’ is available, it becomes desirable in a competitive world where marks are still what get you into a good university.

Suggestion: Give students experiences they want to have. We started an Entrepreneurship 12 course with Y.E.L.L., Young Entrepreneurship Leadership Launchpad. The program brings in engaging entrepreneurs from our community as weekly guest speakers and the course culminates with a Dragon’s Den style finale. Students aren’t just taking this course for a credit, they are taking it for a unique, inspiring and engaging experience. They will also end with a great ‘Portfolio’ product that I think says more about them than a mark in a more traditional Entrepreneurship 12 online course would.

4. Lack of intentional, cross-curricular, teacher collaboration time. A big part of teacher learning is collaboration time… opportunities for teachers to get together, not on their preps, but during times embedded into their day, to specifically work on cross-curricular and cross-subject/topic connections.

Suggestion: I said in a blog post, We aren’t in the ‘teaching business’, rather we are in the ‘learning business’“I think there needs to be a recognition that we aren’t in the ‘teaching business’, rather we are in the ‘learning business’, and if we aren’t constructing a teaching model that supports teachers in their learning then we need to redesign what a teacher’s day looks like!”

We now have weekly collaboration time to discuss cross-curricular themes and to co-plan at the Inquiry Hub, (more on this in a future post). However, we are struggling with a mismatch between the online courses that we had to work with, the intentions of our program to be based on student generated inquiry, combined with the challenge of blending the curriculum across designated courses, and the restraints on our development time, while providing students personalized programs. So, you can see how these barriers can work together to slow things down.

It’s always easy to pick out the reasons why things aren’t working as well as they should or could, what I’m not seeing are catalysts to help speed things up. So, I’d like to hear from others:

What are you doing to help support rich, meaningful blended learning experiences in your school?

What are some good examples of blended learning that meaningfully ‘change instructional practices, schedules, relationships and resource allocations’ such that the blended experience is enriched?

How are you using your LMS effectively or what other tools do you use to help students connect meaningfully online? (Tools that aren’t add-ons, but are truly enhancers to the program.)

And finally, with all of our busy schedules, where and how can we share these things so that, in sharing, we can help create a catalyst to develop programs that are positive models of what blended learning can be?

13 comments on “Not Yet Blended Learning

  1. Hey David, love your observations, as usual. Will just press you though on the comment about ” ‘distance learning’ could have synchronous ‘face-to-face’ meetings in virtual worlds.” As long as we couch this methodology as being something that’s futuristic, we can feel absolved and comfortable about not doing it. Progressive DL schools around the world have been utilizing virtual worlds to meet with their classes as a whole both synchronously and asynchronously for many years. For them, using 20th century technology for 19th century pedagogy with 21st century students, is no longer an option. They have moved on, embracing what “can be” rather than what “could be.” Having students cued up in programs like Blackboard and calling themselves virtual schools is a great tragedy. Just telling it like it is David. : )

    The opportunities for schools to extend this methodology into blended learning are of course many. “Snow days” become irrelevant, as do many student behavioral challenges. School districts can use this when forced to adopt reduced school days due to budget constraints or overcrowding. Students learning can become more flexible regarding the times for attending 3D interactive virtual classes and/or workshops. These classes can include field-trips, project-base learning, and very shortly even P.E. Classes can be blended with other students from around the world, or even be taught by (accredited) teachers living on another continent. There’s no need to speculate about the possibilities when it’s already widely in use. I think a more productive conversation might be about how to help inform, motivate, and train teachers here in BC to make the move.

    Perhaps the biggest obstacle is that we tend to accept teachers for training that have been very successful in traditional school settings. When I speak at Faculties of Education about the Immersive Technology program at Heritage Christian Online School, I find that the teachers in training are very representative of the 10% who would rather curl up on the couch and passively read a story rather than the 90% who prefer to be part of an interactive video game backstory in which they become an active participant in how the story unfolds. When you think of the dynamism that characterizes the 21st century, which of these students would you think would make a more effective teacher? Finding enthusiastic students is not a problem. We have a waiting list. The challenge I’m afraid is in finding teachers willing to embrace the present.

    Apologies to all for the lengthy response. David, you touched upon something that my experience has led me to become very passionate about.


    Gord Holden

    1. As always, thank you for your comment(s) Gord!

      I love that you started with some push-back, and yes, you are right! I said, “even ‘distance learning’ could have synchronous ‘face-to-face’ meetings in virtual worlds”, but I know of and have visited these virtual worlds with you already… it was my error to speak of them in the context of the future, when students are learning and engaging in these virtual worlds now.

      My focus at work has been trying to take advantage of the fact that students in our online courses are 90+ percent local, and finding reasons to gather them for meaningful face-to-face interactions. I should not let that bias limit my thinking around what I can do virtually, and having a virtual meeting place that is truly engaging can and should be done in tandem with ‘AFK’ (Away From Keyboard) experiences.

      One of the biggest challenges that I think we face in education today is that schools (and likely teacher ed programs) are primarily focused on teaching as it connects to ‘seat time’… the time that is spent with students ‘sitting’ in front of you. This is missing two key aspects of teaching: 1. When students are working independently and/or when they are self-directed; and 2. When they are online or virtual. Even when many educators think about (1 – self-direct time), it is usually connected to student management, and not teaching. And when thinking about (2 – virtual time), it is usually about handing in assignments and work integrity, and not about engaging students meaningfully with each other.

      These are challenges we must face as we try to evolve and transform online and blended learning experiences. The more people like yourself share what’s possible, now, the more opportunities we will see for students to engage in meaningful blended learning experiences!

      1. In promoting the ability to bring students together from around the globe in virtual environments, some of the points you make usually do get left out. I just want to affirm what you’ve shared.

        Ironically perhaps, the classes that use virtual environments in computer labs need to have the chairs removed. They become an impediment to the movement of students, ideas, and learning. This is an unexpected, but very welcome outcome. To my mind, real-life interaction should always trump virtual ones. My enthusiasm for VLEs (Virtual Learning Environments) is that they can actually promote this, and get students there where traditional methodologies have failed. The successes around this with students on the Autism Spectrum, or those with cultural impediments is frankly astonishing.

        One of the things I greatly appreciate about Quest Atlantis (and have learned from) is that they take great care to avoid creating virtual interactions with NPCs (Non Playing Characters) where these characters exist within the real-life social sphere of the students. Visits to see the doctor, dentist, grandparents, etc. become interviews, laden with critical questions. Students are also tasked with setting up appointments with various people who play vital roles in matters pertaining to the physical, economic, and political infrastructures we depend on. I’ve never heard of a student being turned down, nor could I ever imagine the interaction being as rich while listening to a visiting speaker while sitting at one’s desk. The flexibility of homeschooling for these kinds of field trips is a counterpoint to the increasingly rigorous restrictions being placed on public school teachers. Again, taking these field trips virtually (via Skype or in a 3D representation of that environment) can provide a helpful alternative.

        So, I’m with you on the importance of the face-to-face. You’ll find me pushing for that aspect of “blended learning” from the largely 3D interactive VLE place where we’re coming from. Making it a priority to get students out of their seats and interacting with a much broader community than can be found within the traditional confines of a brick and mortar learning environment. We must all strive to do the best with what’s available to us. I hope my role on your blog is to remind others of opportunities to do this through technology that they may not be aware of. We’re of the same mind David, just coming from different spaces.

  2. David, you always bring up so many great points and continue to push my thinking and inspire me regarding how much further I need to go in order to promote a richer learning environment for my students. Thanks so much for taking the time and effort to share your insights and experience. I’m a greatly appreciative fan. : ) Gord

  3. Hello David. I am actually a student at the University of South Alabama. I am Melissa Keeler in EDM310 and I believe that you would get a few of your questions answered if you would contact my instructor Dr. Strange. Personally, I am a middle-aged returning student and am struggling to keep up with this class because of the extensive use of technology. I am not familiar or very comfortable with it. I have spoken to a few of the teachers in my direct area (Hurley MS) and they tell me that they do have Promethean boards but no one instructed them on how to use them so they are used as a projector. The students are not allowed to have any kind of electric devices (cell phones) the teachers themselves get written up if they are caught using their cell phones during school hours. With such restrictions put upon them, the educators in the public schools in MS are achieving as much as they possibly can. I can only hope that I can find a school close to me that is not quite as restrictive and will hire a secondary history teacher who is not also a coach.

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