Digital learning summit: How ‘blended learning’ works

Blended learning is an education strategy that combines aspects of digital learning and a more traditional school setting. It offers superb flexibility and high quality to students who use it.

And it’s happening right now in Utah’s public school system.

Utah’s Digital Learning Summit in Salt Lake City earlier this month focused on “blended learning,” which was defined as this:

  A formal education program in which a student —

• uses online schooling at least part of the time,

• with some student control over time, place, path and pace,

• AND at least some of the student’s schooling happens in a supervised brick-and-mortar setting.

This combination is ideal for students and parents who want to take advantage of the flexibility and opportunities offered by digital learning but who don’t want to go totally online; those who would like to have a teacher’s support, in person, on a regular basis.

A fascinating part of the summit was a panel of Utah high-school students who are using blended learning right now. It included students who were in regular high school but also taking an online class; Innovations High students; and a student who used one of Utah’s fully online charter schools.

By far, the biggest advantage to digital learning that these students cited was flexibility. They loved being able to learn at a time that worked for them, or to work on one subject at a time if they wanted. They also pointed out the high quality of their online classes and the excellence of the teachers they worked with.

Michael B. Horn of Innosight Institute said at the summit that blended learning is taking place mostly in public school situations as opposed to home-schooling. He mentioned the “flipped classroom,” which Sutherland has written about previously, as the “low-hanging fruit of blended learning.” Click here for a detailed diagram of the models of blended learning.

John Bailey of Digital Learning Now! had high praise for Utah, saying our state is “the talk of the country” because of its education reforms. Utah is “not just sort of tinkering around with innovations on the edges,” he said, adding that in many places classrooms have (for instance) iPads but no real change in how learning is delivered.

Tom Vander Ark of Open Education Solutions had several suggestions for Utah:

• Accelerated adoption of computer adaptive testing (and he said Utah already leads the states in online testing).

• Reasonably good access to technology – and he said it’s time for BYOD (bring your own device). In other words, let students bring their electronic devices and use them for learning.

• State leaders should make a shift not just to online but blended learning.

• People need a roadmap for how they can blend their schools.

• Make sure additional options available to students are high-quality options.

To learn more about the summit, including what state Sen. Howard Stephenson and Rep. Greg Hughes had to say, click here.