IO Education

Defining and Visioning Blended Learning: The Learning Accelerator Goes Deeper

High School Students Taking Part In Group Discussion

The Learning Accelerator (TLA), a national non-profit organization that is, in their words, “seeking to transform K-12 education by accelerating the implementation of high-quality blended learning in school districts across the US through cultivating and funding the supporting ecosystem” is out with a new, expansive, experience-informed vision for blended learning.

TLA’s website is chock full of useful self-created and third-party content, a required resource for educators learning more about – and more importantly, implementing – successful blended learning. The group was founded in 2012 on the belief that blended learning can transform American K-12 education into a more effective, equitable, and engaging enterprise for every student.

Now they are refining their focus based on their current and past experience to better define their vision of blended learning. Over the last year, the TLA team visited over 100 blended learning schools and interviewed over 40 school and district teams trying to implement successful blended learning. They identified the key practices that cut across all the different blended learning visions, definitions, implementations, and models.

TLA’s vision is that high-quality blended learning is the strategic integration of in-person learning and technology to enable:

For more details on what TLA means by each of these terms, see here.

TLA believes blended learning is not an end itself, but the means to accomplish important educational goals, and that these instructional practices – backed by a body of evidence – are critical to deeper learning and essential for achieving higher, sustainable, equitable student achievement.

What is notable about TLA’s definition of and vision for blended learning is the absence of complicated jargon or complex classification systems of blended models. Terminology is important and models can help describe a particular type of implementation, but they can be limiting if they are the only step in defining a vision and implementing a plan. Such an approach can limit adoption or implementation because of misunderstanding or opaqueness, and may miss foundational elements necessary for success.

The three transformational elements TLA believes blended learning enables – using data effectively, personalizing to student needs and preferences, and ensuring student progress is a function of mastery, not artificial time constraints – are applicable to all the different models of blended learning.

There is no question effective data use is foundational to successful blended learning, see here and here for more on data use. I’ve seen many schools trying to blend without effective data use and the result is typically a series of digitally disconnected lessons that don’t truly inform instruction, personalize the learning experience, or produce transformative results. Data – relevant, current, actionable information about student progress (activities and outcomes) is the lynchpin to any successful blended implementation.

Without good data used in real-time cycles of analysis to modify student learning trajectories, you can’t personalize. If learning isn’t personalized, you can’t take full advantage of competency-based learning because every student masters content at different times and in different ways. For some, the emphasis on competency-based learning may be a bit challenging, as there are not a lot of districts or states that have created friendly competency-based environments. Students advancing based on content mastery requires some systemic policy and operational shifts that are not widely understood or adopted. For more on competency-based learning, a good place to start is the CompetencyWorks website.

Finally, some may argue with embedding personalized learning within the overall blended learning vision since they argue that personalization comes before blending. This may be an “in the eye-of-the-beholder” semantic argument, but in my view, personalization can happen without blending in effective digital tools, but it takes those tools to personalize effectively, efficiently, and at scale.

To be sure, other definitions of blended learning are slightly different or more detailed, like the one in the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, section 4102.

But what TLA has done is to nicely synthesize major aspects of blended learning that goes beyond some of the definitional confusion and buzzword bingo that so often confounds practitioners. This is imperative for getting to a deeper understanding of improving teaching and learning and developing practical, powerful solutions.

As TLA’s Ohio blended learning survey demonstrated, simply calling something blended doesn’t make it so; the Ohio survey revealed many implementation and instructional areas for improvement, especially around professional development, but also with the foundational work of developing a coherent vision of blended learning in unique district and school contexts (see here for more on the Ohio survey).

For example, Yuma’s Elementary School District One in Arizona, the Enlarged City School District of Middletown, New York , Loudoun County Public Schools in Virginia , and Alpha Public Charter Schools in California are all blending differently, but authentically, in that they each are addressing the unique circumstances of their communities, schools, students, parents and teachers.

TLA’s vision is an important contribution to the rapidly expanding blended learning efforts across the country, because all quality implementation has a vibrant vision, a sound strategy, and thoughtful tactics (see here for more). TLA’s vision is an excellent starting point for those who are looking to start blended learning, and it is a benchmark against which those already blending can measure themselves.

Here’s hoping it becomes a powerful catalyst for more high-quality blended learning.

Written by Doug Mesecar

Posted by Blended Learning Facts