The Most Exciting and Scariest Part of Blended Learning Isn’t Technology; It’s Change

Today We Release a Step-by-Step Blended Learning Expanded-Time Implementation Guide

This blog is written by Roy Chan, Director, Effective Practices, and author of our new blended learning report released today: Supporting Student Success through Time and Technology: A Step by Step Guide to Successfully Implement Blended Learning and Expanded Learning Time at Your School. 

While many know us for our work with more time, we know that good schools don’t just have more time for their students, they also use time well. Using time well means that the days, hours, and minutes spent in a school are personalized to set up every student and teacher for success—now and in the future. In working with and learning from schools across the country, we’re finding that educators are increasingly looking towards blended learning in our shared efforts to truly personalize learning and maximize time.

Like expanded learning time, blended learning looks different at different schools, but can be defined as the combination of teacher-led instruction with online digital content to personalize student learning.  In a blended learning classroom, all of the following may take place simultaneously: One group of students may be collaborating on a project; another group of students may be receiving small-group tutoring; and another group of students may be working independently on digital programs that adjust content based on each student’s skill levels. It is in these dynamic environments that student time is more likely to be maximized than say, in a traditional whole-class lecture. To move away from the latter and in to the former approach, or ‘to go blended’, requires a dramatic rethinking and redesign of space, time, and practice. It requires change. And change can be difficult, and almost certainly unpredictable; blended learning can be (and has been) done well or poorly.

Our latest publication, Supporting Student Success through Time and Technology, details the current blended learning approaches at six expanded learning time schools across the country, and highlights their lessons learned. From these schools, we learned about the successes and unforeseen challenges in moving from traditional learning environments to blended learning environments. We learned that the shift to blended learning mirrors the shift to expanded learning time in a number of ways, in particular the need to: Align the resource (e.g. time or technology) to existing instructional priorities, adopt new practices, support staff, and communicate often with stakeholders. We also learned that blended learning and expanded learning time are distinct but mutually supportive strategies. Blended learning, done well, maximizes learning time. Meanwhile, more time, done well, allows for the meaningful collaboration and development opportunities that teachers need to go blended. Above all, we learned that the success of blended learning and expanded learning time are ultimately dependent on practitioners, from school leaders to teachers.   

The aim of Time and Technology was to share practices and lessons in the hopes of helping more schools implement blended learning successfully in the future. In our early research and writing, we realized that profiles of existing school practices, by themselves, would be insufficient to meet that goal. More specifically, we realized that schools need clearer guidance down the path to blended learning, so we’ve included a second part to the publication:  A design and implementation roadmap, laid out in seven steps, each including resources aimed to shine some light on the unexpected, avoid mistakes of other schools, and ultimately navigate change a bit more smoothly. We hope that the combination of the six school profiles and the seven implementation steps will help to maximize the time schools spend in the design and implementation of blended learning, just as educators hope that the combination of teacher-led instruction and online digital content personalizes each child’s learning time.