Yesterday Melissa Smith, a Tech Coach for K-8 in Memphis, TN, asked if I would comment on the use of blended learning in the K-8 environment. Sure!
I have the exact same feeling about blended learning as I do with unblended learning: good learning takes place when an inspired teacher helps a student to discover his or her own passions. The blended environment takes advantage of new technologies that can, and are, dramatically changing the fundamental learning relationship between student, teacher, and knowledge. ANY opportunity to enhance this fundamental relationship should be embraced, particularly if it is something as inevitable and powerful as digital connectivity.
A good blended environment (and I am not an ed-tech specialist) takes advantage of on-line learning where that modality is most efficient and effective. Sounds pretty straightforward to me. More importantly, we need to look into the crystal ball and think about what the future looks like, and here I think the case is quite compelling, even if the exact outcome always remains fluid or cloudy.
Schools, like all knowledge-based organizations are on a nearly vertical path of transforming mechanisms for information transfer. There is no question that computers are better, more efficient tools for SOME kinds of knowledge transfer than human teachers. It would be contrary to everything we know about both efficient markets and the nature of organizational evolution to think that we will not adopt the better, more efficient tool. Schools have experienced unsustainable rates of tuition increase during a time of moderating incomes and shrinking demographics; we simply have to take advantage of cost efficiencies where we can. Clearly, blended learning offers some of those opportunities, and probably better learning outcomes for SOME content.
Are blended learning vehicles perfect? No; what disruptive innovation is perfect in its first or second iteration? But the number of innovators in this field suggests that improvements will be rapid and quickly disseminated across markets. Might we see a day when 15-25% of K-8 learning is done online? I think the answer is absolutely yes, and probably within the next five years. Do I see a future for 100% online learning? I hope not. Schools and human teachers have powerful roles to play in the lives of young people, and I don’t want that to disappear. I don’t think an online course can stimulate, mentor, and encourage passion as well as a good teacher.
Schools and school leaders should be aggressively testing how a balanced use of online resources can free up precious teacher time to revolutionize the student-teacher-knowledge relationship to increase the overall value proposition of school. Right now, one of our best options to enhance that value proposition comes from blended learning. In Socrates’ day, the best option came out of a sheepskin scroll. In Dewey’s day, it was blackboards and building blocks. Tomorrow it will be something we can’t even picture any more than we could picture an iPad or full time Internet connection 20 years ago. To me, blended learning is convenient slang for adopting new pedagogies that make sense and improve learning. In this respect we should always “blend” our learning.