We live in an amazing time where school leaders have the capability to advance student-centered learning–the combination of personalizing learning and implementing competency-based learning–at scale. The engine to drive that transformation is blended learning. With the upgrade of the Blended Learning Universe (BLU) this week, educators and innovators have gained an important tool to advance this work.
After the publication of Disrupting Class, Heather Staker, Katherine Mackey, and I began collecting stories of schools, districts, charter management organizations, and other groups across the country that were blending online learning into traditional schools. We talked with–and in many cases visited–over 150 school programs. These visits were crucial to our early research that helped us define what blended learning is and develop and evolve a taxonomy of the various models of blended learning that were being implemented in schools. Blended learning is not simply the addition of technology into the classroom, but instead using online learning in schools to allow students to begin to learn at the time, place, path and/or pace that made sense for them as individuals. Although personalizing learning is not a novel concept, blended learning is the only mechanism to personalize in a high-quality way at scale–for all kids, everywhere.
The effect to which schools have seen a complete shift toward student-centered learning of course varies in the implementation. In some cases, for example, schools that intended to individualize instruction with online learning have ended up foisting technology onto busy teachers who had neither the time nor the experience to reorient their classrooms around each student’s personal needs. Others spent piles of money on new devices and broadband expenses, with little thought given as to how the devices would be used and how learning would shift. Supporting school leaders to help them deploy the right strategies and tactics in the right circumstances so that blended learning would boost each student’s fortunes has become more and more important.
To that end we published Blended, a how-to guide for managing the design and implementation of blended-learning environments, and we launched the BLU, an online hub full of resources for educators everywhere. To help school districts implement blended learning and allow all children to realize their fullest potential, we wanted to amplify the success stories we saw. We therefore included in the BLU a directory of all of the schools we had come across during our research, with the hope of one day making the directory a live network that schools could log in to and create profiles for themselves. With the upgrade this week, that vision has been realized, and school leaders everywhere can now join a growing network of over 275 schools all over the world aiming to transform our education system into a student-centered one.
The benefits of a social space where school leaders, parents, teachers, and everyone can come and learn about how blended learning is changing learning are far-reaching. Not only will there be a place to check the pulse of change toward a student-centered education system, but also the continual research, discussions, and collaboration of school leaders will accelerate the transformation in education that we need desperately. Furthermore, schools facing various challenges because of the costs of technology, student behavior, teacher development, and so forth can now search the directory by school type, student demographics, technology use and more to find schools that face similar challenges and learn how they are solving them.
My college Julia Freeland Fisher wrote that, “Personalized learning—as a concept—encompasses an intricate alignment of models, goals, and student supports that the field is very much still trying to figure out.”
We hope the BLU will play a significant role in helping the field do just that.