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Beyond the Classroom: The rise of blended learning

By Staff | Dec 5, 2014

Blended learning is any time a student learns at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home and at least in part through online delivery with some element of student control over time, place, path and/or pace. Schools that use a combination of classroom teachers and some online learning activities are considered to be blended schools. There are many blended schools in North Dakota and the number of them and future involvement is sure to increase.

Last winter, I read a collection of articles titled “Forty Profiles in Blended Learning.” These profiles were two- or three-page articles describing blended learning schools with the following demographics: high poverty, low poverty, suburban, urban, private, public, private charter, public charter and schools connected to colleges. The following aspects of Blended Learning were revealed:

Greater individualized learning

Enhanced curriculum offerings

Students can greater customize their education

Greater student control over classes

Students may work at a faster/slower pace

Parents often want more for their children than is currently offered in traditional settings

Many students want more varied curriculum offerings than they currently receive in traditional school settings

Student advancement is based more on proficiency than time spent in the classroom

Curriculum is updated more frequently than in traditional textbooks

Flexible class scheduling

Teachers spend less time grading assignments and more time analyzing student needs and then working with students individually or in small group settings.

I have people say that online learning is not for all students. That statement is 100 percent correct. But for those of us who have spent any amount of time in a school setting, it is very obvious that the current traditional education system is not for everyone. Wolford has been a blended school in grades 7-12 for more than two years. Our students take math, science, English and social studies from a classroom teacher. Our business department is fully online. At last year’s state FBLA competitions Wolford had six of our 10 participants place in the top 10 in the state.

Some electives Wolford students take are criminology, game design (computer skills), graphic design, fashion design, beef production, ag careers, equine science, farm business management, plant science, sports entertainment and marketing and wildlife management. No, all of these classes are not necessary. But, by offering our students more curriculum choices, our perception is that students enjoy school more than in the past. In my experiences with blended learning at Wolford, I have come to observe the following:

Students have taken greater control of their education

Learning has become more enjoyable

Discipline concerns have decreased

Students have requested extra classes

Many students demonstrate greater motivation to succeed

College preparedness is enhanced

Students can work from home when absent

Students can better prepare for future planned absences.

In my travels around the state I often hear complaints about poor student attitudes and lack of effort. Perhaps giving students more control of their education would lessen some of these issues. In North Dakota, we still require students to sit in a desk 45 minutes a day for 175 days in order to earn a credit. There is no proficiency standard. What if the student only needs 100 days to complete their class? Or, how about the student that needs 200 days? I am in no way saying blended learning is the answer. But it is an opportunity to reach more students and allow another avenue in which to achieve student academic success.

What is happening with classroom technology advances/blended learning in N.D.?

The North Dakota Center for Distance Education had 750 enrollments in 2007 This year NDCDE will approach 5,000 enrollments. Their curriculum is more than 95 percent online. One hundred forty nine North Dakota schools purchase classes from NDCDE. The South Prairie School located 10 miles south of Minot will go from K-8 to K-12 in August of 2014. There will be no textbooks for grades 9-12. These students will have an electronic textbook. The only books will be in the library.

We haven’t just sat back and let blended learning happen. We have brought in a college professor to evaluate our business program, and a retired county agent/ag ed teacher evaluated our online ag ed program. We also survey our students on the good and bad of our online curriculum. The online learning opportunities are not just for those of school age. Many adults are taking online classes and many more adults will be doing this in the future. I think blended learning opportunities deserve serious attention. Through these opportunities, we can really erase limits placed on our children because of our rural geography.

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