As we've explored throughout this series, it's clear that blended learning sounds like an incredible opportunity to disrupt the status quo in education. Between its ability to prioritize student learning, its focus on skills acquisition, how it weaves technology and holistic support for a personalized experience, to its incredible ability fit to the needs within the classroom: it would seem obvious that this is the education solution for states to adopt. So what's standing in the way of blended learning taking off? What are the setbacks? In this fourth and final part of this series, we explore what the path forward looks like for blended learning, and what you can do to make a difference.
A Call for Hard Data
Blended learning is scalable- there's no question about its potential there. The model as is has been working well for many programs across the country, but if we care to move blended learning beyond its current fragmented state and as a polished, out-of-the-box ready solution for states and school districts to adopt, a couple things need to happen.
As with every quality learning program, measuring student outcomes is essential. Measuring outcomes is crucial for understanding impact, and what can be done to improve educational programs. There is no exception for blended learning, especially since it's a relatively new model, and subsequently lacks hard data on student outcomes. Though successful blended learning programs are able to measure skill competencies to ensure students are prepared for college or the workforce - the monitoring of student success often ends there. Due to the fluidity of the programs in the current blended learning landscape, researchers have had difficulty calculating the success of these programs. This presents us with a few challenges, mainly in that to be able to advocate for blended learning as a viable solution at the higher level, we need hard data.
Lifting Restrictive Policies & Expanding Research
Holding blended learning programs to the same standards as traditional schools isn't working. Traditional accountability measures such as attendance and seat-time requirements, and compulsory attendance age limits are incompatible with blended measures and present roadblocks to reporting success. Policy makers and practitioners need more information and comparative research against existing models so restrictive policies can be lifted, and the most impactful solutions can be scaled.
To do this, we need better awareness-raising efforts, so decision makers can understand how blended learning is actually helpful for re-engaging at-risk students and building connections with caring adults. In addition, more literature and resources on the actual implementation strategies of blended programs needs to be made available. Researchers also have the opportunity to investigate how employers are harnessing blended learning for workforce training, and its implications on re-engaging youth.
Developing a Centralized System, While Maintaining the Integrity of the Blended Model
Arguably the most pivotal undertaking in expanding blended learning will be figuring out how to balance program autonomy and developing a consistent set of practices and measurements across the blended learning landscape. Each blended learning program and site is given varying levels of autonomy, in order for each site to develop their own practices to be responsive to the student community, all within the set of defined standards and expectations from the entire program. But beyond that, there is no national or statewide model for programs to follow, thus holding blended programs by the same standards is nearly impossible. A consistent, centralized metric to measure outcomes and program performance will need to exist in order for blended learning to be recognized. Blended learning experts, educators, school administrators, and all stakeholders will need to come together to develop this set of centralized standards.
Once a centralized set of standards are in place, educators can figure out which programs have the best strategy that's consistent, measurable and that produces the best student outcomes. In turn, programs can start measuring and reporting student outcomes in a consistent manner, researchers will have more data to analyze and present to decision makers, and restrictive policies have a chance of being lifted.
The stage has been set for blended learning to pave the way for the future of education. But the model alone will not suffice, a movement will require the coordination and efforts of all stakeholders to develop a unified vision and action plan for the future.
To dive more in-depth with one of the blended programs profiled in the Center for Promise research brief, check out the Polk County Case Study.
More from the series:
- Part I - Introduction to the New Report
- Part II - Blended Learning and Technology
- Part III - The Holistic Approach to Blended Learning
Resources: Photo credit.