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Success of Blended Learning Depends on Innovation, Study Says

By guest blogger Rob Bock

As blended learning becomes increasingly prevalent nationwide, a new study on its impacts on classroom learning techniques comes with a caveat: educational technology is ineffective without ways of analyzing its results.

Released this week by Arlington, Va.-based think tank The Lexington Institute, the study, "Why Blended Learning Can't Stand Still: A Commitment to Constant Innovation Is Needed to Realize the Potential of Individualized Learning," examines ways blended learning is affecting K-12 education, for better or worse.

A 2012 study from the Innosight Institute found that the United States has spent at least $60 billion on educational technology, or "edtech," in the past two decades with no discernible gains in student outcomes—not a slight number given the economic conditions of the past several years.

While Ed-tech detractors have claimed schools are motivated by "blind faith" in utilizing technology and overemphasizing digital skills at the expense of traditional reading, math, and writing fundamentals, the Lexington Insutute's report counters that many schools have embraced the term "blended learning" without grasping its true significance.

"Schools that use technology to deliver content, collect data, or improve technical literacy are not engaged in blended learning when they are simply marrying technology to traditional methods," the report says.

In addition to merely owning technology, blended learning work requires continuous innovation and adjustments through constant monitoring of student achievement data. The report's authors borrow a quote from Summit Public Schools in California's Silicon Valley and the Blended Learning Pilot in the Oakland Unified School District in Oakland, California.

In each of those systems, the report says, school leaders utilize technology to differentiate lessons based on specific students' learning levels and needs. Constant, real-time data monitoring streamlines the formerly arduous task of analyzing student results, giving teachers more time to plan and individualize lessons to accelerate and enhance learning. Lastly, all the school systems mentioned continuously look for ways to improve their own models and re-think overall instructional design.

"The 'tech rich' model of introducing technology into the classroom for its own sake is proving a taxpayer-funded boondoggle with negligible education benefits," the report says. Technology is "a subordinate tool serving to accelerate and make more efficient" new models of blended learning instruction.

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