Blended Learning – So what is all the fuss?

As we approach the Halloween Break and another lockdown period, the focus of many in our society is on the wonderful job our schools are doing.  The first phase of Covid-19, from March to June, has been defined by many as Emergency Remote Teaching (ERT).  This phase showed the resilience of schools to continue school learning remotely using every trick in the book.  However, it is widely recognised that this phase was not fully online learning or blended learning in most cases. Since returning to school in September the focus has been on blended-learning.  We in H2 Learning are using the European Commission’s definition of Blended Learning, which appeared in their Blended learning in school education: guidelines for the start of the academic year 2020/21.  The definition they used is wide ranging and captures the key elements of blended learning, as outlined below

What is blended learning? graphic

H2 Learning has been working with schools, FET organisations and others to help educators deepen their understanding of what blended learning is and how they can plan for it in their school or college.  There is nothing new here and many schools have been engaged in blended learning for quite some time.  The following video captures blended learning very nicely.

So what is it we are blending here?  Well we would we suggest we are blending 3 key ingredients.  They are the modality where learning is taking place and we have defined these as follows:

Three modalities not one graphic

Where schools are forced to consider over-flow classrooms or to cater for students who have to self-isolate or teachers for that matter, they need to consider the modality.  So if learners are at home, they are either going to be engaged in Self-directed or Live Online Learning.  During the ERT Phase much was written about the issues around over-using live teaching during a school day with learners, so there is a need for balance.  Where schools are limited to how much learning can take place in a live classroom setting, they will need to consider the other modes in their new blend.

Having considered the modality, where learning will take place, the teacher next should consider what kind of learning strategies they want to use with their learners.  This is defined by the content and the context.  For example, if you are teaching Mathematics and you want your learners to engage with some content in advance of class by watching/listening to a video, a screencast or an animation, they are engaged in Acquisition.  This might take place at home online and you might combine this with a Discussion activity, where they will discuss their solutions live with their classmates, in their classroom or live online.  This is a very common blend, that is often called Flipped Learning or the Flipped Classroom Model.  Again this has been around for a while.

Social and emotional wellbeing graphic

Finally, to complete your blend you will need to identify the appropriate technology tools to go with your modalities and learning strategies.  To do this we can use the following Technology Wheel.

Technology Wheel graphic

While many teachers may wish to start with the technology, we would suggest deciding on this part of the blend last. So once you identify the modality and the learning strategies you want to use then you are ready to find the right technology to make this a reality. Today we have a wide range of tools to select from, so the list is endless. However, the technologies in the centre of the wheel, which are commonly found in schools, can facilitate most of the learning strategies and should be our first port of call.
Having gone through this process you are then ready to put a plan together that captures your blend. We would expect that the blends will vary depending on the context and will reflect the following factors:

  • The Digital Learning Tools in the school
  • The Digital Learning Planning culture in the school
  • The Digital Competency of staff and students
  • The access to digital technology at home
  • The access to broadband by students
    Therefore, there is no one size fits all for blended learning and there will be multiple blends even in the same school. We would urge schools to plan for these blends and to share their blended learning plans with their students and parents, as captured below.
TeachNimble Blended Learning Planner graphic

H2 Learning has worked with nearly a thousand educators, in Ireland and in the US, since the start of August and we continue to refine the TeachNimble Blended Learning process.  We are currently working the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools (ACCS) and with the Further Education Support Service (FESS) to refine our online course materials and our live workshops.  If you are interested in finding out more about the process and the approach we use, please contact us on info@teachnet.ie.

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