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Is blended learning the future of tailor-made education?

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A student uses a laptop computer during a English lesson at the Ridings Federation Winterbourne International Academy.
Matt Cardy/Getty Images
A student uses a laptop computer during a English lesson at the Ridings Federation Winterbourne International Academy.

Some parents say blending in-class and internet-based instruction doesn't work for all students

The "blended learning" program at Granada Hills Charter High School has moved some parents to protest. Parents are upset that a charter guaranteeing admission to local public school students placed their kids in a program that relies on digital learning.

Take Two’s A Martinez spoke with Michael Horn about the theory behind mixing in-class and internet-based instruction. Horn specializes in the future of education with a focus on improving the student experience.

Interview Highlights

Blended learning: a day in the life

For an elementary school student, what you’ll often see is a student might be in a very traditional classroom rotating among different stations, one of which would be computers. So they would be spending maybe 20 - 30 minutes online doing some individual work. Then spending maybe 30 minutes with the teacher in small group in small group instruction. And then, maybe spending 20-30 minutes in group projects with their fellow students.

As you get older and students move into high school, students have more autonomy or control over that experience, often. And students will maybe learn far more online, or decide this doesn’t work for me. The online learning is directing my learning, but I might choose to do significant chunks of it offline in projects or reading traditional books.

A tailor-made education? 

The big benefit in my mind is personalization. Basically, the fact that all students have different learning needs at different times… The advantage of technology is that it allows us to personalize learning much as a tutor would do. A tutor is able to adjust pace, use different explanations to reach you. Technology can do the same thing and free the teacher up from having to lecture to the median of the class to spend more time... one-on-one with the students.

Too much of a good thing...

I think the cons are when you create a program that says every student has to be on the computer for this many hours. Or you minimize the role of the teacher such that the student’s only recourse is to learn through the computer. And then you want to be mindful of the amount of screen time students have. Particularly at younger ages, being on the computer non-stop is not a beneficial thing. You want to give them plenty of offline experiences that engage their whole body in learning.

Learning disabilities in the blended classroom

Blended learning is actually most effective with students with special needs because it creates a preponderance of options when it’s done well for how that child can learn. It can create many different learning modalities to explain a concept… The idea is that it increases the amount of time a teacher is able to spend in quality interactions with that student and allow them to get the right learning at the right time and get more explanation than they would in a traditional environment.

But if someone is saying this is the only program through which you can learn and you don’t have access to a teacher in real time, that might be frustrating and might not be the best option.  

Quotes edited for brevity and clarity.

To hear the full interview about blended learning, click on the media player above.

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