Is “blended learning” a trend?
I think it would be easy to call “blended learning” a trend. It seems to be rather popular in education right now. There are lots of grants available to support it. Instructional technology is a common talking point among reformers. Many teachers in many schools are experimenting with it, some with fantastic results. Others with frustration.
Blended Learning has been on my mind recently as it has become the current focus of my professional work. And to answer my opening question, for some, I suspect it is a trend. Write a grant, get some cash, buy some tech, generate some buzz. That’s how you take advantage of a trend. But for some, there might be more there. The reason that I have a hard time calling blending learning a trend or a fad is because of what is driving it. Or should be.
For many, myself included, it is being driven by an appreciation for the educational opportunities that in the internet provides that aren’t nearly as available without the internet. Flipping classes, collaboration, cross-curricular projects, etc — this stuff existed prior to the internet. But never have those tools been so available and so easy to implement and adapt.
So, will it work?
That completely depends on whether or not we are prepared to allow blended models to address our most pressing issues. I’ve written about this before. Blended learning is no magic bullet. Blended learning is an opportunity. Nothing more or less. It can be capitalized upon or it can be wasted. As with all opportunities, in order to take advantage of it, you need to be waiting for it. You need to be expecting it. You need to know why you are looking for it and what you expect to be able to use it for.
Because make no mistake, underperforming students and schools aren’t underperforming BECAUSE the students haven’t been using the internet. Therefore, simply involving the internet in their schooling isn’t a meaningful end. Blended learning is a how, it’s a means. A means to what?
At this point, I’m going to shout out to Simon Sinek, whose TED talk I recently saw. There were some quotes in this that I really liked. For example:
“But very, very few people or organizations know why they do what they do. And by “why”, I don’t mean “to make a profit.” That’s a result. It’s always a result. By “why”, I mean, what’s your purpose? What’s your cause? What’s your belief?”
When I heard that portion of the talk, I replaced “to make a profit” with “to improve student achievement.” Re-read the quote with that update. Improving student achievement shouldn’t be a why. It should be a result. What is our compelling “why”? Why should we blend offline and online resources to create a new educational model? What is the value the model? What transformation are we trying to create? Why will our students have access to a more powerful experience because of it?
The “whys” that we choose will drive our ability to create blended learning opportunities that have value instead of those that are blended because that is what folks are doing these days. They will energize us when our work exhausts us. They will help us to motivate our students when they (and perhaps we) are tempted to think that engaging a new learning opportunity is too much work. Those moments are real. And when it comes time to push through them, it isn’t the “what” that inspires.
It’s the why.
I suspect there will be teachers and schools that implement blended learning with fantastic results. I also suspect there will be teachers and schools that will implement blended learning and be very disappointed. It will depend completely on the “why” at the center of the golden circle. What will separate the two is the effort and energy spent developing the why.
And it begins with conversations like this: “I think we should start to implement blended learning.”
“Oh yeah? Why?”