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Blended learning, when students learn both from a teacher and from online programs, has become a popular choice for schools around the country.  In 2009, 3 million k-12 students took and online course, up from 45,000 nine years prior, according to a report by the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation. In large urban districts and rural schools alike, teachers and principals are turning to computers and iPads to give students a chance to work through material at their own pace.

Blended learning
Anthony Kim

Now that blended learning is more common place, what’s next for the trend? The Hechinger Report talked to Anthony Kim, CEO and founder of Education Elements, a group that helps schools and districts apply blending learning models, to find out.

Q: What’s happening now in blended learning classrooms and what will the next big shift be?

A: In the past, what we’ve seen are individual schools implementing school models. What I think the next evolution of blended learning is districts or networks of schools thinking of how to scale this. It’s not just kind of just replicating the same model, but it’s actually having multiple versions of that that’s suitable for different types of teachers’ skills and students’ skills, and also building district level capacity to support these implementations.

We’re just starting to hear more about, instead of districts saying, ‘Hey I want to do this at one school and try it out,” we hear from districts saying, ‘I need to do this at 10 to 20 schools at a time.’ We need to have the sustainability of supporting this kind of roll out.

What are some of the most important factors that a district, when they’re trying to do this on a wide scale needs to take into account?

They need to consider the continuum of teachers’ skills and where the teachers are at in terms of their ability to take something like this on. It varies. There’s teachers out there that are doing really intense project-based learning and able to use data on one end of the spectrum.  There are teachers on the other end that are lecturing and doing whole group instruction and uncomfortable with small group instruction. The designs for a district actually need to support that whole continuum.

What would support for the teacher who is uncomfortable with small group instruction look like?

Let’s say a school might be doing classroom rotation, which is breaking up a class into small groups. If you’re uncomfortable, you might start with two groups rotation. You have 30 kids in the classroom. You have two groups of 15 students. Half of them are working on the computer, half of them are working with the teacher and they rotate. That might be an easy way to get comfortable.

An elementary school teacher, for example, that’s already used to doing station-based instruction, they could probably comfortable handle three, four groups at a time with students rotating every 15 minutes. A high-school Algebra I teacher might be really uncomfortable with having four groups of students doing something different in that time.

How do schools make sure they’re using technology in a worthwhile way, versus using technology for the sake of using it? 

The way we help schools think about it is looking at against Bloom’s Taxonomy [a set of educational goals developed in the 1950s]. The lowest levels are remembering and understanding, and it goes applying and analyzing and then evaluating and creating at the top. Often times when you ask teachers what are they doing every day, a lot of them do feel like they’re at the lower level of Bloom’s Taxonomy, which is helping students remember and understand. A lot of the technology the online delivery systems of instruction are also at that level of remembering and understanding. They introduce a topic through a video. They ask students to take a test. If you get it wrong, there’s some practice questions. Very few of them say, ‘Hey go out and create this project, show it to me and I’m going to grade it.’

What we have to do is help teachers understand that they have to move their practice up on Bloom’s Taxonomy so that the technology can actually support what they’re doing at remembering and understanding so that they don’t have to do that any longer. The minute you are able to explain that and convince them of their role, they start to appreciate technology as support for instruction and not a threat. There’s a lot of folks that talk about, ‘We want teachers to be the facilitator and not the sage on the stage.’ But that doesn’t explain enough about what the teacher is doing. It still degrades what they’re doing. What I think is helpful is when you start talking about teachers actually helping students create and analyze and apply.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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