Wednesday, 27 March 2013

A digital approach to blended learning

From flipped classroom teaching to Kagan and flex learning, technology is helping teachers blend their lesson strategies in new and more integrated ways.

Teachers will often work along a continuum that sees them tailor and tweak the degree of online learning in relation to offline, face-to-face sessions. The purpose of this is to combine online resources that personalise the learning instruction with facilitated, collaborative and project work, in effect blending the teaching methods to raise engagement.

The key to any effective blended-learning approach centres on raising and maintaining effective learner engagement. While for many teachers mobile learning and the use of digital resources will naturally raise students’ interest through its appeal and relevance to them, this will not be enough to sustain their focus and interest over time. Fortunately, within the blended learning model, digital technology is used to complement and not replace the role of the teacher. There is still a strong demand for face-to-face, bricks-and-mortar learning, offering a unique opportunity to test and maintain engagement.

But how can you make the most of your time with your students?

How to make the most of your time with students


1. Get them active

One of the most common misconceptions with the integration of digital classroom resources is that they’re intended to replace the role of the teacher. In reality, the use of virtual content delivery such as tutor-led videos, is to free-up teachers’ time and enable them to spend less time lecturing and more time facilitating active and group learning. Flipped learning is a perfect example, as the teacher assigns students with the task of watching a recorded video prior to their teaching lesson, enabling the learner to watch and absorb content at their own pace and in advance of entering the classroom. In this way, students have an initial understanding and an underlying knowledge of the topic and key concepts. This enables the teacher to begin the lesson at an accelerated point, and from the very start of the lesson the teacher can assign problem-solving tasks to get them moving and focused on what’s going on in the lesson. In this way, meaningful group collaboration and guided practice will demand attention if students are to solve a problem or project task together, and will require them to apply their knowledge to scenarios and new contexts.

2. Creating the need to know (metacognition)

Whether you’re familiar with the term metacognition or not, as a teacher our goal is to develop each learner’s

ability and to form and use particular learning strategies. Memory and recall is only one element of learning − students must also absorb knowledge and apply it, understanding when and how concepts can be used.

In creating authentic projects where students can investigate their understanding, or by assigning collaborative tests, students begin to question the relevance behind what they’ve been asked to learn. For example, using games-based learning the teacher is able to associate and link key topics and theories with sections in the game, so while the game provided the initial stimulus for students to engage, the teacher can harness this and pass it on to related offline learning activities.

Through the contextualisation of material and the creation of a desire to know, students buy-in to the learning process and replicate it in other situations and contexts.

3. Setting the goals and offering time to reflect

In a similar way to metacognition, individuals need to be clear on how they are performing, which areas need improvement and assess how they are progressing towards their set goals. While the start of term, parents’ evenings and other recognised dates provide formal opportunities to discuss goals, teachers should embed these and encourage students to build a personal connection with their learning targets based on what they themselves see as achievable or S.M.A.R.T (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timed).

By combining this with frequent moments for reflection, students gain a sense of responsibility and, with support, can be encouraged to become the agent of their own learning, rather than passive recipients of information.

4. Personalising online

Integrating digital resources may be something you are considering trialling or already use as an embedded resource on a day-to-day basis. Regardless of your school’s digital starting point, when initiating a blended approach there will be points in a lesson when online work needs to occur. This may be in the form of a module clip, an online assessment or an interactive test, etc. Regardless of which one, it is important to treat online resources in the same way that you would with offline alternatives. Consider the resource content and identify, if the resource does not already, which ability streams or bands the content and tasks fit into. This will help you to individualise instruction, so that learners are tasked with content that is manageable but challenging and fits their individual student needs.

So whether you are issuing extension activities for higher ability students or an additional video extract to clarify a misconception that a lower ability student is struggling to understand, as with offline work, online tasks are more effective when they are targeted. In this way, the learner is engaged by work that is individualised to their specific needs and supports the drive towards a more personalised learning agenda.

5. Making it mobile

Mobile learning has been a buzz term in education for a while now but it’s only been in the last few years that it’s gained real traction. The exponential growth in smart devices now means that many young people will either own a smart device or have access to one or more in the home.

Blended learning is perfectly suited to this. While we have outlined methods for engaging students with an individualised blended learning strategy, apps and online resources that can be accessed on the go can further support and often increase engagement.

Recent research by StudyBlue, involving nearly one million students, found that by providing them with curriculum-specific resources, and apps, accessible through their mobile device, learners would spend longer studying outside of school hours and in many cases engage in more effective learning.

Students study for longer and more efficiently using smartphonesSuccessful blended learning educators and schools are focusing on engagement as they work towards  student achievement. We have the unique opportunity to not replicate a system that has not served all students. Instead, we need to look at flexible time and place to innovate through blended learning.
As blended learning proponents develop new and innovative teaching techniques, successful examples all seem to share a similar focus on raising engagement, as they work towards student achievement.

Have you got a success story to share? Why not post a comment below . . .  ?

Read research article: Students study for longer and more efficiently with smartphones