Part One: Should Blended Learning be Disruptive? From Emerging Sustaining Hybrid to Disruptive Blended Solution. Where are we in St. Vrain?

In my last post I mentioned ” high quality blended learning” in reference to eCredit. What exactly makes a program high quality blended learning ?

Think about personalization and mastery-based learning in classrooms. Do we expect students to master concepts before progressing? Yes. But what happens when students don’t master grade level concepts at the end of the seat-based, time controlled learning experience? Are we holding students back each grade level or how about advanced students, are we allowing them to test out of concepts and move forward? Is learning personalized for each student? Unfortunately, students are not in control of their learning and cannot move at their own pace and on top of it will be passed through to the next year whether or not it’s the best thing for them. According to the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive innovation in their white paper “Is K-12 Blended Learning Disruptive”, published May 2013 , high quality blended learning is one that is personalized, one that is mastery based, that has high expectations and a level of student ownership.

In eCredit recovery we’d like to think we come some what close to meeting the criteria of high quality: learning is indeed personalized with Compass’s individualized assessments and automatically generated learning paths and from there students can work at their pace yet within a specific time frame. I have worked to design ways that teachers will build autonomous learner skills that yield increased student ownership of learning  which include things like modeling study skills such as note taking and habits such as daily review of goals and goal setting while all along building community and forging deep relationships with students. The online content used is rigorous, diagnostic, and because of that teachers can work individually with students to intervene and reteach concepts in conjunction with the software. But that’s eCredit; a small district program that’s doing big things beyond just helping kids recover credit! It can be done! What about steps in the district to start implementing blended learning solutions?

And wait a second, do we even understand what blended is and isn’t?

Adding technology to a classroom is just that, a layer of technology- a technology-rich classroom. We know that. Some are still shocked to think that showing students an instructional video from Khan Academy  or Compass is still not meeting the definition of  blended learning. But am not shocked. How can we expect to share in an understanding of blended learning when we haven’t come to the table to discuss what that is in our district. It is safe to say that as a district, we are not offering high quality blended solutions. And the few who are are blending do it this way: taking the old way of doing things layering with new. While it appears that it may be blended it’s actually considered the “hybrid” model of blended learning. Think of hybrid as the marriage of old and new to create a new solution that performs better but because the old way of doing things is still there at the core, not much changes in the logistics of teaching and learning practices and policies –and so we don’t see a shift.   So let’s take the flipped classroom model that is thrown around a lot ; this is an emerging sustaining hybrid solution and while it is a good one, according to the Clayton Christensen Institute, it does not meet the definition of high quality blended learning that disrupts. Models that disrupt are the Flex models, A La Carte, Individual Rotation and Enriched Virtual which basically is online enriched with added traditional classroom experiences, such as working with a teacher on as needed basis. Perhaps the district’s one to one iPad roll out will allow us to try those emerging hybrid models though still married to the traditional practices, at the very least any hybrid model is a step in the right direction and will help us perform better such as implementing a Flipped class or the Station rotation model. It is clear that with the hybrid model, schools essentially attempt to improve the existing traditional classroom with the new product which while is an improvement, is not disruptive.

But should blended learning disrupt?

In the disruptive model of blended learning we see a scheduling and staffing change, we see students pacing themselves, and learning is more personalized. I’ve got a side job writing professional development courses and I’m working on a course on blended learning and this past weekend I checked in online to do some reading at the Clayton Christensen Institute. I focused especially on their recent article on whether blended is disruptive and clearly the impetus for this blog (that and the Coursera that I’m enrolled in on Blended Learning). I was tickled to see that the Institute is using the word hybrid to suggest the marrying of old and new and blended to indicate a departure from the old rather than using blended and hybrid interchangeably! So on the one side we have the sustaining option: a hybrid solution where we have the best of both worlds, where the advantages of online learning are  combined with the best of the traditional classroom. On the other side we have a disruptive blended option. In the disruptive option online learning is deployed “in new models that depart from the traditional classroom” so learning isn’t tied to seat time but to mastery of content and learning is personalized. Why should you care about whether you are teaching and learning in a blended solution that is sustaining or one that is disruptive? Well, according to the research, “disruptions almost always become good enough to meet the needs of mainstream customers who, delighted by the new value propositions they deliver, adopt them. In other words, the disruptive models almost always supplant the sustaining models over the long term.”

Getting to high quality blended learning is the goal and while eCredit isn’t completely there, we are very close and we are constantly working on the model. For true blended learning to emerge, a change in policies and practices and philosophies around the logistics of teaching and learning would need to occur. If we do not move away from the sustaining hybrid models, history shows that these hybrid models which allow us to hold onto traditional practices and policies will eventually be ineffective and will inevitably be supplanted by the disruptive models.

To better understand this theory of hybrids and disruptive blended learning, spend some time with the white paper: Is K-12 Blended Learning Disruptive? 

And as you read, consider the specific steps that need to be in place at schools to first get to the hybrid zone of blended learning that will allow us to implement one of the models  and/or transition from the emerging hybrid zone to a disruptive blended solution.

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