What is Blended Learning?
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What is Blended Learning?

First published in my Urban Education column at www.examiner.com on January 31, 2013.  

Many teachers who teach in urban settings complain that students are unmotivated and they don't know what to do. Learners who act out have in many cases simply become disinterested in school for various reasons. One of the main reasons is that they have been disengaged in learning so often that they have lost interest. Absenteeism is a main cause of disengagement. Learners who are absent too often miss important information and get behind so they lose interest. 

 The acting out and unmotivated learner misbehaves in order to cover up the fact the he or she doesn't understand and they don't want anyone, including the teacher, to know that they don't know. Blended learning is a 21st Century tool which allows teachers to differentiate instruction is a way that each learner is engaged in what he needs to learn, and nobody else in the class knows what that something is except the teacher and him. This allow students who have been absent and missed important information and necessary instruction to catch up at their own pace. 

 What is Blended Learning? Blended learning is an innovative combination of direct face-to-face instruction coupled with online learning. It may also be called hybrid learning or mixed mode instruction. It allows teachers to mix different learning environments, allowing for student need. This computer mediated method of instruction approaches teaching and learning in more integrated manner. Blended learning comes in many forms. There are many programs such as Achieve 3000, MyReadingLab, MyWritingLab, and others that can be used to engage students in differentiated online activities. In the past, technology-based program such as Aventa, Apex, and K12 acted as the star of the classroom with very little face to face instruction. 

 The programs can become quite costly. Additionally, in many cases, there was an tutor or instructional mentor in the classroom guiding students while the actual teacher was someplace on the other side of world. Students only had access to the actual teacher via the internet. Though this works for students who are on level and on target for leaning, districts are finding that this approach is not as effective for the unmotivated learner. The unmotivated learner and in fact great benefit from online activities and online instruction, they need a teacher in their faces every day. They need this teacher to encourage them and facilitate learning in their behalf. Thus, there are many approaches to blended learning. 

 Blended learning has many shapes and forms. Entire districts or individual teachers involve students in many different ways. There is no definitive outline or format. In some cases learners involvement in technology is highly structured and while in other cases it is not. At the same time, in some teachers rely highly on computers and other hand held technologies and in other cases, the teacher can only get a computer one day a week, or even one hour each week. Either case provides teaching and learning for the blended learning model of instruction. Whether we want to accept it or not, blended learning is the future of education

 However, there is often a reason for concern in low socio-economic areas where a digital divide still heavily exists. Real funding barriers exists in many urban and rural areas. Despite the fact that technology is becoming less expensive, in some areas the digital divide has not narrowed. Urban schools still face the challenge of the lack of necessary resources to provide technology for all students. These facts are real and relevant. Districts and administrators are encouraged to give attention to the need for more technology in all classrooms. It is 2013, why don't all classrooms have enough technology for all students? Not withstanding, this is where free Web 2.0 technologies and hand held devices including cell phones come into play. Teachers are now being trained to use Web 2.0 technologies to engage unmotivated learners in the classroom. In this case, technology and the teacher are the co-stars of the show. 

 The teacher plans for instruction as usual. He or she then incorporates one or more free Web 2.0 technologies into the lesson plan to engage students in the learning process and support the learning he expects to take place as a result of his lesson. Both teachers and students alike benefit in significant ways from the use of Blended Learning, the approach offers unequaled advantages. Teachers are better able to differentiated instruction than otherwise available in the traditional environment, in a more effective way. Students who are either behind or advanced are afforded opportunities to work at their own pace. A teacher is better able to support student individualized need without pulling her hair out. 

 Students can access lessons and activities anywhere and anytime, making it perfect for students with high absentee rates. Teachers are better able to connect Blooms Taxonomy, multiple intelligence instruction and meet the needs of her student's various learning styles. Finally, when students are engaged in a Blended Learning environment they become better equipped with critical thinking and trouble shooting skills necessary in the world of work that awaits them.  

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