Consider the student: blended learning

From the keynote speech by Laser Systems Director, Vivette Eaton

Dubai, June 25th 2019

What do we mean by blended learning?

I see blended learning as a three-pronged approach.

  1. Face-to-face teaching
  2. Independent, online learning
  3. Workplace practice, shadowing, and experience

Even in 2019, we are still working with ‘traditional’ methods of teaching. In most countries, education is a set of mandatory requirements and sweeping expectations.

  • Core subjects to be taught are set by the Government
  • Hours students must be in an education establishment are set
  • The emphasis on subjects is set, for example, students will find maths prioritised over music even if this doesn’t make the most of their talents
  • How students can present evidence of learning, knowledge, skills, and achievement is set

These requirements are in place to give the impression of equality, ensuring all students are working to the same expectations.

While there may be a slight difference in teacher style, most young children are learning the same core subjects in a similar learning environment. More than anything, access to funding and resources are what will make the biggest difference to how students are taught, which can often leave some students at an advantage or disadvantage compared to those in other learning establishments.

Teaching students in the same way with the same emphasis on subjects doesn’t account for individual needs or individual taste. It’s important students are given equal access to education and can be taught the same subjects, but teaching in a classroom environment with written assignments for example, will always disadvantage those who don’t enjoy the classroom experience and struggle with written classwork.

It can also mean that students who show a passion and talent for certain aspects of learning or particular subject areas will not be given the opportunity to nurture this from a young age as the education structure favours the status quo.

How can on learning environment suit a group of 30 students?

We know it isn’t possible.

Students, particularly in schools, are grouped according to location and age over everything else. There is no consideration as to whether, as a group, the learning environment will meet their needs.

Even the school day is designed like a work day. This prepares students for a life of work but doesn’t consider how they might learn best. If a student struggles in the morning but learns better after lunch, is consideration given to how their learning is delivered to address this?

How can we ensure we give students the best possible learning experience, giving them the skills, knowledge, and confidence to excel in later life?

We need to meet their individual needs, but not simply the superficial needs. Every student should be given the same opportunities to reach their full potential.

For example, we know from research that teenagers need more sleep than any other age group. Research published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience in December 2017, found that student absence due to illnesses dropped by over 50 percent with a 10am school start for children between the ages of 13 and 16. This is a significant change at 50 percent and a permanent change to school start times for teenagers could see a huge improvement in attendance as well as overall achievement.

As educators, we must facilitate our students to achieve their goals. This means:

  • Meeting someone where they are
  • Choosing methods of learning that suit their personality and needs
  • Being flexible and adaptable
  • Giving a range of varied resources to learn and practice
  • Valuing initial assessments while also understanding that needs change

We should priorities the things young people need:

  • Independence
  • Respect
  • Options
  • Confidence
  • Positive, trustworthy relationships
  • To look forward to their future

We can become facilitators of this by allowing students to take responsibility for themselves and their learning while giving them the support and guidance they need. Let them tell us what they need and how they learn best. We need to listen and adapt, but as educators we firstly need the funding, time, and resources to do this.

However, we don’t need resources to listen or to flip the classroom and use this format for sharing, understanding, and clarifying. We can encourage learning outside the classroom and gain experience from real life involvement.

Let the classroom be the place students ask questions because they have read things, been told things, discovered things, but haven’t yet seen these things in action.

Similarly, it is important that the time students do spend in face-to-face teaching is:

  • Informative
  • Collaborative
  • Organic
  • Engaging for all students by incorporating a range of teaching styles

In an article published in EduTopia in 2015, they stated:

“According to findings culled from five meta-analyses, blending technology with face-to-face teacher time generally produces better outcomes than face-to-face or online learning alone. An analysis of effective technology use for at-risk students found that simply replacing teachers with computer-based instruction typically yields no learning benefits. Rather, blending technology with teachers to support interactive learning, exploration, and creation leads to higher engagement and learning gains.”

Blended learning allows greater equality, diversity, and representation:

  • Consider the student who lives with a carer rather than a parent
  • Consider the student who is learning in a second language
  • Consider the student who is from a minority background
  • Consider the student who is from a disadvantaged background
  • Consider the student with a physical disability
  • Consider the student with a learning difficulty
  • Consider the student who is unwell

Whether it’s needing extra time, needing access to learning in a specific format, allowing for a wider variety of inclusive examples, or giving students the option to return to sections of learning at any time, blended learning including online learning makes all this possible.

The results reported in the 2018 Educational Technology Journal research article, ‘Blended learning: the new normal and emerging technologies’, found that blending maintains or increases access for most students and produces improved success rates for minority and non-minority students alike. In addition, students expressed they believed the most effective learning environment was a blended learning environment.

Giving students a truly flexible, blended learning approach to learning would include:

  • Face-to-face teaching
  • Peer group collaboration
  • Online learning resources accessed in and out of the classroom
  • Flexible approaches to teaching – not expecting a one-size fits all attitude to give the best possible experience to al learners
  • Regular feedback from students about their own experience and adapting learning where possible
  • Workplace experience or hands-on experience to put learning into context and further develop life skills

The 2018 ‘Teaching with Technology Survey’ which questioned 161 faculty members in the US about their experiences using technology in the classroom found 73% said technology made their job easier or much easier, and 87% said technology has positively affected their ability to teach.

Online learning was initially widely frowned upon, despite offering important opportunities and support to students who were previously struggling to learn. It’s vital we continue to be open to what might be possible tomorrow and not just what we can accept today.

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