What’s in a Blended Model

 What’s in a Blended Model?

Over the last couple years there’s been quite a bit of debate over what the ideal blended learning model looks like. Often times the first question a client asks me is, “What blended learning model is most effective?” While it is a fair question to ask unfortunately it is generally the wrong question. Any model is as effective as those executing it and as long as the work is student centered and reflective it will eventually be better than what you see in a traditional classroom today. As such, the school model we choose is not as critical as the process we take in transforming and personalizing our instructional practices.
Talking about blended learning in terms of a set of defined school models is more tangle and possibly more exciting, but it’s not the way most schools should think about their first entry point into the space. Teachers rely on a set instructional practices to serve the needs of their students. We need to train teachers on the process of designing and executing blended practices, not on how to adopt complex models (which creates an unnecessary implementation hurdle). Take class rotations. If it can be implemented in any traditional class at any time, why then is it positioned as a ‘model’? it’s simply one of many practices teachers have at their disposal, just like most elementary teachers who use learning centers as needed. In some cases, a blended practice might require a change to the schedule or staffing, but one practice still does not make a model.
On Monday I might take students out to a park to conduct field research on feeding patterns of insects using photo-blogging tools. On Tuesday my class goes 1:1 on laptops to set up their personal research pages while I pull small groups to support effective research practices. On Wednesday I quickly set up stations in my class where students rotate between offline and online work to build up their quantitative research skills. On Thursday students select videos to watch at home of students presenting their research from years past. In just four days I’ve incorporated inquiry instructional rotation and personalization into my class. These practices are not exclusive to any one model, but they could be observed in flex rotation or flipped models.
In fact, most schools that are 2-3 years into blended learning started by blending instructional practices. Over time the number of blended practices increased and improved and the collection of those practices were classified as a “blended model” by others. The schools themselves did not self-identify with those model titles. If you are a school looking to go blended don’t start with the question what model should I pick?
Ask yourself, “What practice(s) can I blend to improve personalization or instructional efficacy?”
Do you want to blend data-driven daily lesson planning? Great – design a process for analyzing student data, find a digital assessment tool that makes collecting formative data quick and easy, and test the practice.
Want to blend project based work? Design a project lesson framework and find digital research prototyping and project presentation tools that help kids demonstrate mastery more clearly.
By focusing on incremental practice design you can implement faster reduce startup costs and learn more effectively (think agile product development and the use of sprints.) After 2-3 years of thoughtfully blending/personalizing core instructional practices you might look in the mirror and see a new school model.
What’s it called? Let other people worry about that.