Blended Learning: A high-quality approach to personalized education
As schools begin to move beyond simple reform measures and into more encompassing and revolutionary systemic reimaginings, blended learning continues to provide options that previously did not exist. Blended learning can allow teachers to create a personalized learning experience for students that offers student choice, ownership, voice, and agency, which will increase student engagement and academic achievement (Cummings, C., Harapnuik, D., & Thibodeaux, T., 2017). Blended learning, combined with a personalized learning approach, has the potential to fundamentally innovate current educational models “unleashing the potential of each and every student in ways never before possible”(Kennedy, Patrick, and Powell, 2013, p.4).
Blended Learning Defined
Until more recent years, technology use in school was limited to computer classes and Language Arts for the typing of essays. Technology innovations and personal technology device ownership have created a population of students who expect on-demand learning. Many teachers struggled to meet the needs of this new tech-savvy student, so they began attempting to leverage that technology in new ways. Unfortunately, many were simply digitizing lessons that were previously on paper, rather than actually changing their approach. Teachers soon realized that this method was not successful and many deemed the technology in education fad to be just that, a fad. However, those who had adopted a student-centered approach that utilized blended learning models found that students were affected positively. “Blended learning is any formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path and/ or pace” (Horn, M. B., & Staker, H., 2015, p. 33). “What blended learning offers is a rational approach, focused on redesigning instructional models first, then applying technology, not as the driver, but as the enabler for high-quality learning experiences” (Kennedy, Patrick, and Powell, 2013, p.9). The most important aspect of blended learning is the focus on being student-centered with the student having “increased control over the time, place, path, and/or pace of their learning” (Kennedy, Patrick, and Powell, 2013, p.12). The majority of blended learning programs utilize one of four models- Rotation, Flex, A La Carte, and Enriched Virtual, which allow a variety of applications and interactions between the instructor, student, and learning material (Horn, M. B., & Staker, H., 2015).
Personalized learning is defined as “tailoring learning for each student’s strengths, needs, and interests- including enabling student voice and choice in what, how, when and where they learn- to provide flexibility and supports to ensure mastery of the highest standards possible” (Kennedy, Patrick, and Powell, 2013, p.4). Miliband stresses that personalized learning is dependant upon “really knowing the strengths and weaknesses of individual students. So, the biggest driver for change is assessment for learning and the use of data and dialogue to diagnose every student’s learning needs” (2006). In order to sustain a successful personalized learning program, strategies are needed “ that actively engage and stretch all students, that creatively deploy teachers, support staff and new technologies to extend learning opportunities, and that accommodate different paces and styles of learning” (Miliband, 2006). “Across the country, personalized learning is increasingly recognized as a promising strategy to boost student academic growth by meeting the individual needs of students” (Johns, 2016).
Johns identifies a framework, referred to as the Core Four elements, as a spectrum within which teachers may begin integrating personalized learning (2016). Johns’ Core Four are Integrated Digital Content, Targeted Instruction, Student Reflection and Ownership, and Data-Driven Decisions (2016). This model puts an emphasis on student reflection, similar to the “authentic and deep learning experiences” discussed by Cummings, Harapnuik, and Thibodeaux (2016).
The COVA approach, as defined by Cummings, Harapnuik, and Thibodeaux, emphasizes student choice, ownership, and voice through authentic learning experiences (2016). This could become the cornerstone of a sustainable personalized learning system due to the effects of student agency on learning.
Positive Effects of Personalized Learning
Personalized learning, facilitated via blended learning, enables teachers “to provide each and every student with the flexibility for the learner to maximize how, when, where, and what they are learning” (Kennedy, Patrick, and Powell, 2013, p. 15). “Personalization allows students to take ownership of their learning, giving them the opportunity to feel valued, motivated, in control” (Kennedy, Patrick, and Powell, 2013, p.5). “To personalize learning is to encourage students to develop clear goals and expectations for achievement and support them to make good decisions in a challenging and rigorous learning environment” (Kennedy, Patrick, and Powell, 2013, p 5). As Sir Ken Robinson said, “Education doesn’t need to be reformed– it needs to be transformed. The key is not to standardize education, but to personalize it, to build achievement on discovering the talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they can naturally discover their true passions” (2009). Personalized learning allows students to explore their interests, move at their own pace, and set goals to reach their potential (Johns, 2016).
In order for personalized learning to be effective, the relationship between the teacher and student must take precedence. Often, blended learning fails because of a lack of infrastructure to support learning (wi-fi, equipment, etc) and a “lack of quality training or support” and “no clear vision for how technology will change instruction” (Johns, 2016). These challenges can be overcome with careful implementation and training.
With careful planning and implementation, blended learning can be leveraged by teachers in order to provide a personalized learning experience for students. Student choice, ownership, and voice in an authentic learning environment allows for deeper learning and student engagement (Cummings, 2016).
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