Cover of book
For Administrators

Blended Classrooms Should be Designed and Implemented to Make Students Active Learners

By Brian Gatens February 2, 2015

Designing and implementing a shift to blended learning are the final pieces of the puzzle in “Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools” by Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker.

Cover of book "Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools"Often authors struggle with adapting complex topics into understandable chunks, but Horn and Staker do an excellent job of making blended learning accessible. The previous chunks of my in-depth review of “Blended” explored:

  • Understanding the definition of blended learning.
  • Recognizing its capacity to disrupt traditional teaching environments.
  • Mobilizing teams to study and apply these principles.

After setting the stage with the background on blended learning, the different models and how schools should pick the best team, Horn and Staker tackle the more complex phases of designing and implementing the model. Here’s a quick summary:

Designing a blended learning environment

Blended learning is much more than adding more computers to classrooms. A technology-filled environment is not necessarily a blended learning classroom. Rather, blended learning comes alive when students make a fundamental shift from being a passive recipient of information to becoming actively involved in the learning process.

A blended environment has to be designed to enable this shift. As the authors remind us, motivating students is usually the most pressing issue for teachers. Students simply do not engage in the traditional learning environment. Too often, they find the classroom as something to be endured and not enjoyed. To its credit, “Blended” takes an essential detour into the nature and structure of classrooms that takes children’s learning needs and attitudes into account.

The authors soon return to connecting the benefits of blended learning to the needs of students. Ideally, a blended classroom offers deeper content online, gives students the ability to master basic skills and grants them more autonomy. All of these traits are essential to helping build student engagement via blended learning.

“Blended” wraps up the Design section with an appendix listing examples of successful blended learning programs and ways to match the available physical space to the model that the school is considering. It’s an extremely helpful chapter to say the least.

Implementing blended learning

Now it’s go time. The school has done the research, built the team, found a problem to solve and marshalled the resources necessary for a successful blended learning implementation. So what’s next?

First off, don’t train-wreck all that hard work by misjudging the culture of the school and the capacity of the students to adapt to the new teaching and learning expectations. Once again, “Blended” steps away from the computer and the learning to offer an excellent overview of how to understand a school’s culture and how to deliberately reshape it. This is a lesson that goes beyond blended learning, and “Blended” should be complimented for it.

Second, be sure to spend some time getting used to the idea that your work is a continual striving toward discovery. This attitude is the key to establishing where you want to be at the end of the blended learning process. Starting with the desired result and planning backward from there is the best way to bring this model to your school. It is poison to begin with assumptions, but healthy to begin with a desired finish line.

“Blended” closes by reinforcing that innovating is a process that takes place over time — it’s not defined by any single event or action. Further, innovation is more than an action. It’s a mindset to be adopted by teachers, administrators and the community.

Though “Blended” provides great guidance in making effective use of computers in the classroom, it goes much further, offering a fine reminder of the attitudes, actions and beliefs we all can bring into our schools to improve the experiences of our students and staff.

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

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