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Technology's Massive Influence on Society Makes Blended Learning Inevitable

By Brian P. Gatens January 26, 2015

Let’s all have a collective sigh and eye roll.

How many times have we as been told that [insert item here] will fundamentally change what we do? And all we have to do is [insert item here] and student achievement, satisfaction and test scores will skyrocket. Nothing to it, right? I’ve heard it all too, but I have yet to find the magic bullet that solves all our problems.

So, is blended learning just the latest cure-all? Will it join such alleged innovations as whole language, open classrooms and basal readers in the dustbin of history? Will we look back in a few years and say, “Good idea, but it just didn’t pan out?”

Well, blended learning does have one key difference from the fads of years past: It’s tethered to the massive changes in society due to the Internet, mobile technology and our evolving ways of seeing the world. These changes are shaking all of our legacy institutions, from the news media to brick-and-mortar retail stores, to their core. It is different this time, and schools will not be immune to it.

So, will all classrooms blend?

First, let’s not speak in absolutes. There is no single way to teach children or to work with parents, nor is there a single way to structure a classroom. Instead, it’s wiser to focus on becoming as knowledgeable as possible about the options available and choose what works best for your students, grade level and subject matter.

Cover of book "Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools"Second, it’s an incontrovertible fact that technology is quickly catching up with the classroom. With the advent of school-friendly laptop pricing, easy-to-install wireless technology and programs like Google Classroom to better connect students and teachers, the barriers to seamless use of technology are quickly falling.

Third, books like “Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools” by Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker are establishing a strong, research-based and real-life rationale for blended learning. The advocates for a blended approach integrating technology into education are no longer on the fringes of the industry. Rather, they are gaining strong, valid support.

Horn and Staker contend that the trend toward blended learning is inevitable. Their experience and research lead them to conclude that disruptive innovations will eventually replace current classroom structures.

Where does this leave the traditional K-12 education?

Horn and Staker argue that blended learning will be far more disruptive to middle schools and high schools, where factory-style schedules and individual courses can easily be adapted to a blended model. Also, older students need less intense supervision, which will be a factor in favor of adopting blended learning in the higher grade levels.

At the elementary level, the biggest change will be using blended learning to extend the school day through before-school programs and after-school tutoring.

To their credit, Horn and Staker are intellectually honest enough to concede that integrating blended learning into the classroom is not an overnight phenomenon, and that it may not even occur within the next several years (or decades). I’ve concluded this is mainly a side effect of the difficulty in changing a solid, established education structure rather than a weakness in blended learning models.

How will schools change?

As technology begins to take a deeper and deeper hold in schools and society, traditional models of education will begin to give way to blended learning models. As these initial improvements begin to show results, more and more changes will be brought into the classroom. It is important to note that schools will still look very much like traditional schools, and that the primary change will take place at the classroom level.

This shift in content and instruction should free teachers up for more individualized activities and a deeper approach to learning. Simply put, blended learning enables the core information to be conveyed more easily, so teachers can then focus on fewer topics with more intensity. Ideally, we can move away from the inch-deep-and-mile-wide approach to teaching.

What’s the biggest risk?

Another encouraging sign of the honesty of “Blended” is its exploration of the greatest risk with blended learning. With more and more opportunity for content to be delivered online, teachers may begin to feel they’ve been supplanted by computers. Instead of working with students, they’ll feel their only responsibility is to supervise.

Recognizing that this could scuttle the entire concept of blended learning, the authors dedicate the rest of the book to just how a school system can successfully integrate blending learning.

Read more on ‘Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools’:

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