Monique Markoff, March 31, 2016
Blended learning is attracting a lot of attention among educators and parents around the country, for good reason. This largely untapped frontier may allow access to more and better quality content and prepare students for jobs in a techno-centric world (Bonk, Olson, Wisher & Orvis, 2002; Beetham & Sharpe, 2013). Not every school has the resources to invest in manipulatives, teacher training, or specialized learning software. However, blended learning can help students access both the materials and the instruction to enhance their conceptual understanding of mathematics.
Blended learning, the act of learning from computers for part of the school day, takes many forms and can serve a variety of purposes. Some researchers propose that blended learning is just a short stop on the way to complete online learning, a middle place where innovation can be developed in order to transition to virtual schools (Christensen, Horn & Slaker, 2013). More commonly, blended learning is seen as a transition to better pedagogy (namely student-centered learning), increasing access and flexibility, and cost-effectiveness (Graham, Allen & Ure, 2003). Blended learning enables individualized learning paths, immediate feedback on problems, and the ability to go at the student’s own pace. Although these are all factors that can enhance student learning, the true potential of blended learning is in its ability to optimize the resources – a methodology for truly blending the best of all the resources available to teach a given subject. The best method may rest solely in the classroom, completely through an online component or as a combination.
Equity is a serious issue. Blended learning’s efficacy as a mechanism to increase equity and access is found in its ability to diversify and optimize the lessons we teach. Students in different schools and even in different classrooms are getting completely different experiences, in terms of curriculum, teaching quality and opportunities to engage with math conceptually (Oakes, 1986; Anyon, 1981). This disparity is the worst for students of color, especially in terms of their math outcomes (Lee, 2002). Blended learning can contribute to leveling the playing field in classrooms by providing exposure to rich tasks, complex instruction and an environment that is able to be responsive to students in both a timely and individualized manner. Blended learning can provide access to materials and teaching styles that match a student’s profile, thus differentiating to best support that student. All of these pieces of a blended learning environment can act as equity tools, giving students the experiences and instruction they need to reach their potential.
For educators interested in using blended learning approaches, this article provides ideas for implementation and some key questions that may guide stakeholders’ decision making.
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