Distance learning has left a mark on schools worldwide. Even now that educators are getting ready for a gradual reopening, it is clear that they will not allow the efforts made to adapt to the crisis to go to waste: the next phase of the plan for the return to a new normal is blended learning, and it just might be here to stay.
But this combination of distance and in-person learning may leave some teachers unprepared, so let’s take a look at what to expect.
Set your goals in the new blended learning approach
First of all, blended learning should not be seen as a frightening, alien method that requires you to forget everything you thought you knew about teaching. It can certainly be unfamiliar territory, but teachers will find that the basic principles are nothing new.
Just like traditional lessons, blended learning calls for accurate planning: it may be a new method to you, but it is still your responsibility to set a clear curriculum and some common learning goals. All blended learning does in that respect is give you more opportunities to achieve those goals in different, more engaging ways, from educational games to online discussion platforms.
Be prepared, however, for your role as a teacher to change: while frontal lessons lend themselves to a common learning pace for everyone and to minimal parental involvement in a process that is largely confined to the classroom, blended learning leads to more personalised learning paths and to a continuous flow of learning between school and home in which families will likely want to have a say. While a teacher is still an authority figure, be ready for that authority to take a different form. Switching to blended learning involves giving students more power while still providing guidance, and a meeting with parents and guardians to keep them fully informed of what the changes involve might also not go amiss.
With the vastness of the Web at your fingertips, the teacher is no longer the only source of knowledge for the students, but rather a mentor and a mediator between the different and sometimes conflicting wants and needs of the administration, the students and their families, who is there not only to impart information, but also to help them navigate a volume of knowledge so immense that no one person can retain it all, distinguishing between reliable and unreliable sources and learning to apply said knowledge to real-life problems.
Find a model that works for you
Blended learning is, in fact, an umbrella term that covers many different ways of combining online and in-person teaching. The online portion may come before the face-to-face portion, as in the flipped classroom model, wherein lectures are delivered online and physical classroom time is reserved for practice and group projects to consolidate the newly acquired knowledge; it may come after the in-person lessons, as is the case with employing discussion forums and other forms of social media as a safe space to share opinions and questions; it may even come during classroom time itself, if the teacher chooses to show the class an instructional video, use online educational games as an in-class assignment to reinforce a concept, or even just allows the use of a search engine to find the answer to a relevant, thoughtful question.
From the free learning resources of Khan Academy to using Moodle to facilitate communication between teachers and students, the only limit is your imagination. Integrating online and in-person learning might even affect the physical design of your classroom: if you choose to devote most of your face-to-face time to group projects and let the bulk of individual learning happen online, for instance, it may be time to say goodbye to single front-facing desks and perhaps involve the students in finding a new and more dynamic configuration that suits them better.
There can be wrong ways to attempt blended learning: if implemented haphazardly by teachers who have failed to educate themselves first, it will not be effective. But provided that the educators have mastered the tools at their disposal and have a solid game plan, there is no one right way, either. At the end of the day, blended learning is what you make it.
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