Having just returned from iNACOL’s Blended and Online Learning Symposium, I am confused by the term “Blended Learning.” Not confused in my understanding, but I am confused how to explain this concept to executive administrators and boards of education. The current definition as illustrated above is too confusing and not specific enough. Right now the definition works for those studying the field, but it is too fuzzy to explain to executives and boards, whose heads are already spinning from the acronyms of state and local budgets, special education, and other reform movements.
For now my best avenue of explain this opportunity is to apply instructional design concepts to this issue:
- Who is your audience and what are their needs?
- What do you want them to learn?
- How will you know when they learned it?
- What learning strategies can be used to help the target audience learn?
- What technologies can be used to support the learning?
I work in a graduate program where students learn in fully online settings and in “hybrid” settings, meaning that we meet with some cohorts in traditional settings for about 40% of the semester. For the balance of the time we work with a learning management system, email, phone calls, text messages, and group video conferencing software. Yet, the definition labels this hybrid setting “blended.”
Taxonomy is a challenging endeavor. Michael Horn and his associates have an incredible body of work studying the effects of computer aided instruction and its impact on school settings. While at the conference, presentations and conversations were about “blended programs;” the explainers described their setting with multiple sentences.
When we have to explain too much to executive administration and boards that’s a problem. We should be able to explain our settings in 50 words or less.
Here are some suggestions for the taxonomy:
- Define the online learning component with sharper terms. Because the field is pushing competency (mastery) education, this definition should distinguish this as data-rich. Students, teachers, and parents will have data to show progress. My graduate program has data, but not at the level possible with “big data” from emerging systems.
- Stop changing the terms. The term “Self-blend ” became “a la carte” earlier this year. I will continue to call this model “supplemental” as it is descriptive and tells me that this supplements a traditional catalog of subjects and courses. The “enriched virtual model” is a hybrid model, mixing traditional settings with digital learning outside school.
- Most administrators have witnessed or taught in rotation models. A traditional elementary classroom employs the rotation model daily without the computerized instruction. The association is easy. Make connections to traditional programs whenever possible. It helps the understanding of risk-averse leaders.
- Further decide whether we are using instructional models or learning models. There is a difference. Instructional models focus in what teachers do. Learning models focus on what students do. Notice the instructional design notes above. For me it’s about learning not teaching.
The researchers will continue to refine the terminology and sharpen the descriptions. Thanks to Michael Horn, Heather Staker and associates for their continued efforts to refine their descriptions. Yet for me, the terminology is not ready for prime time.