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Rural Schools Face Barriers, Promise by Moving to Blended Learning

Mostly rural Idaho teachers who have used blended learning for at least one semester say it benefits their instruction and students' learning, according to a new study.

Still, the majority of teachers surveyed hadn't used blended learning in their classrooms yet, and they said a lack of time, technology, training and administrative support were the biggest issues they faced, according to "Transforming K-12 Rural Education through Blended Learning: Barriers and Promising Practices."

Blended learning is when students learn part of their lessons online and have some control over when and where that happens. Blended learning requires that some learning happens digitally, and it's intended to be a complement to, rather than replacement of, traditional instruction.

Researchers with Northwest Nazarene University's Doceo Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning, in partnership with Idaho Digital Learning Academy and the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, investigated the impact of blended learning in rural Idaho in the spring of 2013. They sent electronic surveys to 627 teachers who had received some formal training in blended learning from the state's digital learning academy, and 73.3 percent of teachers surveyed said they taught in rural school districts.

Nearly 32 percent of respondents had used blended learning for at least one semester, and the study asked those teachers questions on how it had affected their classrooms. More than 90 percent said blended learning was equal to or better than previous techniques they used in class, and researchers found positive correlations between self-paced learning and the quality of students' work, interest, and excitement during class.

For the remaining 68 percent of teachers who hadn't used it yet, the study asked about the barriers to implementation. Only 5 percent of those teachers said they hadn't used blended learning because they didn't see its benefit, and nearly 40 percent said they saw barriers that couldn't be overcome. Close to 60 percent planned to use blended learning in the future, and they said the biggest issue was time, followed by technology, training, and administrative support.

"Although a larger sample size confirming these results would be of benefit, these findings, along with the strong correlations teachers indicated between items regarding blended learning
improving and other important characteristics of effective education, suggest that blended learning implementation leads to positive outcomes for both the students and teacher," according to the study.

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