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Personalization, Tailored Instruction Vital to Blended Learning, New Report Says

By guest blogger Sara Gilgore

A new report traces the evolution of "blended learning," and argues that its value to the nation's schools will hinge on the extent to which it can help educators tailor instruction to individual student needs.

The International Association for K-12 Online Learning, a Vienna, Va.-based nonprofit that supports blended learning, examines blended learning's role in K-12 systems today in its report, "Blending Learning: The Evolution of Online and Face-to-Face Education From 2008-2015."

For blended learning to be effective, according to the report, efforts to "personalize" instruction need to play a critical role.

The paper, released July 8, argues in favor of creating classroom and school environments that seek to meet different students' individual needs. It offers case studies of schools and districts that the authors say have employed blended-learning models.

The use of blended learning—the combination of teacher-led and technology-based instruction—has steadily expanded in K-12 education over the years, as the availability of digital resources, tools, and adaptive platforms has increased. Those strategies have been focused on helping teachers "meet each student's unique learning needs," the authors say.

When iNACOL published its first report on blended learning in 2008, the concept was new, and the initial goal of the educational strategy was simply to provide students with access to online resources, said Allison Powell, co-author and Vice President of New Learning Models for iNACOL.

Now, more schools are seeing the benefits; blended learning has "changed the whole way we think about education," Powell said, as it gives students and teachers access to new content and experiences.

But it's not as simple as arming students with computers.

"Blended learning is not about the technology itself," the report says. "It is about the shift in the instructional model to personalized, student-centered learning to ensure each student's success."

The models outlined in iNACOL's report provide basic principles for integrating blended learning into classrooms, with organizational setups that include a "flex model," in which students engage in online learning on campus, with varying levels of on-site teacher involvement, and a "rotational model," in which students move between computer-based and face-to-face learning settings.

All of the models place emphasis on personalization, but with alternative structures to accommodate differing student and class needs, the report's authors say. (For a visual representation of the various blended learning models, see the graphic below.)

BlendedLearningReport-Graphic.PNG

This individualized approach "is where we see the biggest benefits and opportunities," Powell said.

However, it could be years before the majority of schools will be able to successfully adapt these models, as some are now working to get students access to technology as a starting point, Powell said.

Many applications of blended learning are the result of the work of individual teachers rather than school-wide efforts, Powell said.

Yet some schools and districts have implemented blended-learning strategies customized to individual student needs, say the authors, who cite those approaches as exemplars in the report.

Among the seven schools and districts profiled in iNACOL's report are the Randolph Central School District, in New York.; Spring City Elementary Hybrid Learning School, in Pennsylvania; Nolan Elementary-Middle School in Detroit; and Innovations Early College High School in Salt Lake City.

From these examples, the paper draws lessons about what helps to ensure the success of blended-learning programs, such as defining goals and cultivating school climates dedicated to ongoing improvement.

Research on blended-learning models will ultimately help determine which models are most effective, predicts Powell, who said that the base of knowledge will allow the instructional approach to grow.

"In five to 10 years, I think it will really be a reality for all schools and students," Powell said.

Image courtesy of iNACOL.


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