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A Simple Guide to Blended Learning for Teachers

Posted on 17th June 2020 by Sophie Cronshaw

The start of 2020 has presented remarkable challenges for educational continuity. Crowded classrooms have given way to eerily quiet schools, as previous educational constraints were quickly overshadowed by an unprecedented global health crisis.

With many nations now having reportedly passed the initial peak of COVID-19 infections, talk is turning to the difficult question of schools reopening. Kickstarting education access in this environment will require a careful balance of social distancing and innovative learning models. That’s where blended learning has an important role to play.

What is blended learning?

Blended learning is an educational approach which combines traditional classroom teaching with online education and digital learning tools, ensuring educational continuity through the assistance of a virtual learning environment.

This methodology is summed up wonderfully by “the thoughtful integration of classroom face-to-face learning experiences with online experiences.” Garrison and Kanuka’s (2004, p.96-7).

The fundamental principles of this hybrid teaching model echo those of the classroom. Blended learning is designed to support the same invaluable interaction that exists within a physical school environment, leveraging digital platforms to ensure that all-important engagement with education.

With COVID-19 now presenting a physical barrier to educational access, virtual tools and blended learning can provide a renewed framework for essential teacher-pupil interaction.

What blended learning might look like in (and out of) the classroom

There is no definitive model of what a ‘blended learning classroom’ might look like. This is a dynamic learning environment, and one which will require an adaptive approach to fit unique local needs and resources.

This concept is perhaps best summed up by the observation that “blended learning is about rethinking and redesigning the teaching and learning relationship.” Garrison and Kanuka’s (2004, p.95-105).

Of course while talk of blended learning has accelerated in recent months, it is by no means new to education. Blended learning has been championed since the advent of digital technologies, and already sees widespread adoption in higher education through ‘flipped classrooms’. With this model, students are introduced to learning material through online platforms, with classroom time aimed at deepening and expanding student understanding.

It’s important that educational decision makers, teachers, and parents are engaged in a collaborative approach to design a blended learning ecosystem that enhances the learning experience for both pupils and teachers. 

In Scotland, blended learning is likely to take place in cohorts, with classes split into separate and exclusive groups as laid out in the Strategic Framework for Reopening Schools, Early Learning, and Childcare. In-school class sizes will be significantly reduced, with each cohort spending half of the time attending physical lessons at school, and half on in-home learning. 

In England, a return to school originally planned for 1st June fell afoul of significant hurdles in implementation. The UK Government has announced plans for a ‘catch-up’ programme throughout the summer, which is likely to involve elements of blended learning. Full details have not yet been released by the Department For Education.

US education plans vary by location, with almost all states mandating some form of closure or limited access to physical classroom environments. The US represents one of the more diverse educational landscapes, and already boasts a number of online-only schools. Some educational districts have incorporated blending learning into existing contingency plans, such as Miami’s Instructional Continuity Plan, which sets out how technology can support educational access during periods of disruption.

Considering the critical parameters of blended learning

Like any educational transformation, it’s important that blended classrooms are informed and designed in collaboration with all stakeholders. Fundamental to the success of this model will be enabling teachers to add value to students, rather than detracting from their ability to teach and interact with pupils. 

As many have discovered with the recent rush towards home learning, parent support is equally essential. Schools, teachers, and educational authorities should work to understand how parents can fit into this model — whether as co-learners, co-teachers, or educational support.

It’s important to build a sense of community when creating this ecosystem. That can perhaps involve weekly video calls or messages that keep parents informed of educational plans for the days or weeks ahead.

Maintaining an integrated whole-of-class approach in a blended classroom is another notable challenge, particularly where classes are split across multiple cohorts. Pupils should be encouraged and supported through whole-of-class experiences using tools such as shared video calls, or classroom achievement boards that include both those in physical and virtual classroom settings.

Sumdog Contests are a great way to encourage whole-class participation, providing a virtual environment for a class to work towards shared goals through Sumdog’s online maths games. You can even set dedicated classroom competitions through Sumdog Competitions, and since Sumdog’s adaptive learning engine is designed to provide questions that match individual proficiency, it offers a fair virtual competition regardless of pupils’ individual abilities.

Tools and technology to support blended learning

While it might be a challenge, blended learning is also an opportunity. 

While access and functionality of tools will vary by age group, here are some top apps or platforms to consider.

  • Video Calling: Zoom, Skype, Google Meet and other video calling software are simple but effective tools to promote teacher-pupil and whole-of-class interaction. Whiteboard presentation features can also help support a more interactive learning experience.
  • Collaboration Tools: Microsoft Teams and Microsoft Yammer are two valuable collaboration tools that can support a blended classroom. These platforms are designed primarily for a business environment, but offer an adjacent opportunity that’s worth exploring for education.
  • Shared Drives: Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, and Dropbox are all accessible and user-friendly cloud sharing platforms that allow shared file access. This can be a simple way to centralise shared resources, and particularly useful for visible resource management and class timetabling.
  • Video Messaging: While blended learning should aspire to interaction above one-way communication, video messaging can still be an effective way to connect with and inform pupils or parents. This measure also benefits from the relatively ubiquitous nature of WhatsApp, Messenger, Viber, and other similar messaging apps.
  • Sumdog: Sumdog’s adaptive learning platform is designed to provide personalised maths and spelling practice that kids love. Educational engagement will rely on pupil motivation more than ever in a blended classroom, making Sumdog’s fun and accessible educational games a great opportunity to engage your class. Advanced teacher reporting also provides insight into pupil progress which may be difficult to maintain in a dynamic virtual learning environment.  
  • Seesaw: Seesaw is an education-first learning and communication platform which promotes digital teacher-pupil interaction. It includes functionality for shared annotated documents, family communication, and a range of other tools which can support a blended classroom.
  • ClassDojo: Another great virtual space for classroom collaboration is ClassDojo. This collaborative communication tool can be a great place to build that sense of community that’s at the heart of an effective blended classroom.

Find out more about how Sumdog can support blended learning in the classroom by contacting our team today.