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Elementary Schools Are a Good Fit For Blended, Says Horn

While many educators expressing an interest in blended learning may have middle or high school students in mind, some blended learning models may represent an easier transition for elementary schools than their secondary school counterparts, said Michael Horn at the 2012 Virtual School Symposium here in New Orleans on Monday.

Horn, the executive director of the education practice at the San Mateo, Calif.-based Innosight Institute, has led efforts to define and classify blended learning as a practice during the last two years, most recently co-authoring a paper published in May that named four basic blended learning models.

On Monday, he said the rotation model, described in that paper as any setup in which students rotate in groups between online and face-to-face modalities, represents only a slight shift for many elementary school cultures.

"Station rotations have been alive and well in those classrooms forever," Horn said. "It's just that (until recently), one of the rotations was not online learning."

While Horn said he wasn't discouraging the formation of rotation model middle and high schools, he said the structure of the class day, in which students typically rotate from teacher to teacher for each subject, generally would make it more difficult to transform an already operating secondary school.

Rob Darrow, the director of member services for the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, agreed.

"If you're rotating a group of kids, what subject do you decide to rotate out?" asked Darrow, who joined Horn as a co-presenter in Monday's discussion. "Working with a schedule at a high school is a lot harder than at an elementary school, and working a schedule that has had a fixed schedule for the last five years is a lot harder than at a brand new school."

Instead, students at secondary schools are sometimes more likely to participate in a self-blend model, Horn said, where a student supplements his or her face-to-face coursework with a course taken entirely online.

While some educators might not think that model feels as legitimately blended from an educator's point of view, Horn said from a student's perspective, it does include the same range of experiences he or she would encounter in other blended models.

Horn also held to his prediction, now a few years old, that blended learning rather would have the greater impact on education than fully virtual learning. And if headline presenters so far at the symposium are any indication, that impact is showing up.

Monday's opening keynote featured a presentation from Stacey Childress, the deputy director of education at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, that focused on the foundation's Next Generation Learning Challenges grant program, which devoted its third wave of grants to blended learning programs.

Meanwhile, all four of the "featured sessions" on the first day of the symposium, per the convention guide, focused at least partly on blended trends and practice.

The International Association for K-12 Online Learning is host of the symposium and sets the program, including selecting "featured sessions."

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