Confronted with community concerns about blended learning? Heed these solutions.

September 10, 2019 | by Kenzie Chin

As a classroom teacher for eight years, I previously worked in three different schools with very different faculties, leadership teams, and student bodies. One similarity across all three schools was a hesitancy to adopt technology as a primary content delivery system. Although some members of the schools’ communities recognized the potential of blended learning to help teachers better tailor instruction to students’ needs, various concerns raised by other administrators, teachers, and families seemed too loud to overcome. 

One thing I learned while interviewing dozens of educators for the Blended Learning Universe (BLU), however, is that not only is blended learning possible to implement, but many schools are doing it effectively and seeing positive results. Moreover, blended learning can be a channel to start strengthening connections between educators, students and parentssomething educators hope and strive to do but in traditional circumstances often lack the time to do well.

Here are some of the most common concerns about blended learning I’ve heard over the years from educators and parents, and the solutions BLU school leaders use to allay them.

Concern: Technology is too expensive. 

Solution: Schools apply for grants. 

State and federal grants are available specifically for this purpose. Several school leaders that I spoke to (at Stuttgart Jr. High School, Wynne Intermediate School, (MS)2, among others) were recipients of grants that allowed blended learning to become a reality in their schools. 

It’s also important for school leaders to research technology extensively before purchasing in bulk, in order to ensure it suits their school’s needs. Todd English at Booneville High School purchased several iPads, Mac laptops, and Chromebooks before settling on hardware to purchase for the entire school.

Furthermore, many schools already have devices—they just have yet to use their technology as a content delivery system. Few additional hardware costs would be necessary to create blended learning programs at these schools.

Concern: Devices in schools mean screen-time overload for students.

Solution: Schools carve time to show parents that blended learning isn’t all about devices.

While most BLU school leaders do not see screen time as an issue, some reported that parents initially bought into the myth that students would be “glued to screens” all day, rather than actively moving about the classroom and interacting with other students and their teachers. In response to these concerns, some schools very intentionally devoted time to bringing parents into blended-learning classrooms. Seeing blended in action showed parents that students can actually get more face time with peers and teachers, as rote whole-group instruction is replaced with project-based learning activities and time in small groups.

Concern: Lessons won’t be individualized enough for students.

Solution: Choose the right model of blended learning.

I’ve often heard this concern specifically relate to software: off-the-shelf content can’t customize to students’ individual learning needs. In reality, the ability to individualize a program depends greatly on which software is being used and how, so it can be important to choose a blended model that allows for some degree of individualization. 

An Individual Rotation model, for example, can help teachers customize learning to student needs more than in a traditional classroom. The Flex model allows student competency to determine the pace of learning, rather than seat time. Of course, not all models work for all students and circumstances. For example, the principal of a school with many students with disabilities found that the blended programs they tried didn’t work for students who require more tactile stimulation, so the school dialed back technology-based content delivery and practice for those students. 

Concern: Student-teacher relationships will suffer.

Solution: Schools re-train teachers to take on new roles as mentors and tutors. 

For blended-learning environments to thrive, teachers can’t simply take a step back and let technology take over. Teacher-student relationships are more important than ever, with teachers taking on a new role of mentor/tutor. 

To enable this shift, some school administrators re-trained teachers to adopt new roles as “guides on the side” who strike a balance between digital learning and other learning modalities. With professional development around blended teaching and learning, many educators described that a blended approach gave them more time and opportunity to forge relationships with students. Teachers were less tied up with lesson planning, content delivery, and grading, and could therefore spend more time tutoring, mentoring, and advising students. 

Concern: Faculty are convinced that blended learning is just another trend that will come and go. 

Solution: Tap into teacher leaders.

Blended learning is not a fad that will come and go. Over the past decade, we’ve only seen adoption of blended-learning practices gain momentum rather than die down. 

Many BLU school leaders reported getting staff on board by tapping into teacher leaders. Several school leaders discussed creating a coalition of teachers—often younger teachers who were more comfortable using technology—who piloted programs for a year or so, and then transitioned into technology coaches for teachers who were less comfortable. When teachers who may have resisted change initially saw the successes with their own eyes, they were much less likely to resist the shift.

Concern: Parents may resist the change because it’s not the kind of learning they know.

Solution: Involve the parent community from the beginning.

Just as teachers need to be brought onboard once schools consider implementing new blended-learning models, parents must also be invited into the conversation. Parents are key stakeholders in the blended-learning process, and their support is vital to creating a successful program. 

Some school leaders at (MS)2 and John Barry Elementary School spoke about efforts they took to teach parents about the changes in the school; the increased responsibility, in many cases, of the students; and the changing role of parents. Many used technology as a selling point for parents, showing parents how they can become more involved with their children’s education through software that communicates data directly from school to home. Several school leaders were also adamant that despite the fact that some community members resist, the future of education is going to involve technology. They felt motivated to drive their mission forward, with or without the support of each and every person in their community.

Concern: Staff know we’re already a great school and don’t feel compelled to change.

Solution: Explain how blended learning equips students with the skills they need to navigate the changing times.

One school leader in particular, Alexa Sorden of Concourse Village Elementary School, spoke powerfully to this concern. Teachers at her school felt that their school, a Blue Ribbon winning school in the Bronx, was already a leader, and that it was not necessary to change. To address this concern, she discussed with teachers the need to prepare students for the future. The school may have been great in the past, she said, but in order to continue to empower students to advocate for themselves, to make good choices, and keep up with the changing skills needed to succeed in life, students need a learning environment that helps foster independence and critical thinking skills. Sorden viewed blended learning as a means for transforming the traditionally teacher-led classroom into a student-led learning space.

All of these concerns presented BLU educators with hurdles, but they didn’t halt their journeys. Blended learning is opening doors to re-allocation of resources, increased connections with parents, and personalized curriculums and paces of learning. Throughout this summer, I have been blown away by the work that BLU educators do. Blended learning is possible. And if we’re going to adapt to our changing students and to our changing world, then as educators let’s heed our hopes, not our hesitations.

Kenzie Chin interned this summer at the Christensen Institute. She is now a Public School Monitoring Specialist at the Massachusetts Department of Education. 

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