This paper provides information from several published articles, case studies and other resources examining the effects of implementing blended learning in the classroom. The majority of these reports provide documentation explaining the benefits of transitioning a traditional classroom to blended learning. The blended learning model provides a learning environment for students to have choices in their learning and access to online resources. These choices provide increased engagement appropriate for 21st century students to improve learning. The obstacles regarding blended learning revolves around schools unable to apply the model effectively, teachers’ lack of technical training, and teachers attitudes towards implementing technological devices. When teachers are not effectively implementing blended learning, lack the skills needed, and proper belief in blended learning benefits, there is no difference in student engagement. The objective of this review is to provide tangible benefits to students when blended learning is implemented, in anticipation that the school continues to move forward with the decision to execute this model.
Implementing Blended Learning to Improve Student Learning
The advancements in technology have made learning more accessible than ever before allowing access to high-quality learning resources and communication to peers (Adams, Freeman, Giesinger, Hall, Cummins, and Yuhnke, 2016). Educators are challenged with seeking out ways to keep up with these changes while keeping 21st century learners engaged and increasing the level of student learning. One model that has been widely used in K-12 Education is blended learning. Schools have become interested in blended learning because research has shown that the combination of online learning with instruction is more beneficial together than each concept individually (Kellerer and Werth, 2013). Blended learning provides students with choices, which increases engagement and access to information online both in school and at home. Blended learning can be challenging to implement, but when properly implemented this model increases student learning allowing teachers to meet needs for 21st century students, and provide opportunities for students to work at their own pace through personalized learning.
Benefits of Blended Learning
Blended learning is a popular innovation taking the place of a traditional classroom. The idea is to combine the best of both concepts of online learning, and traditional teacher teaching (Clayton, Horn, & Staker, 2013). Blended learning allows for teachers to individualize student learning, increase the rigor, and monitor students’ progress. Through this model, students can participate in activities that are differentiated. These activities include; face to face, collaborative practice and online curriculum (Aspire Public Schools). The opportunities that blended learning provides increased student engagement and involvement. In addition, this model provides students access to online resources twenty-four hours a day, which extends the students’ learning to outside the classroom.
Choices Improve Student Engagement Blended learning allows students to choose how they want to learn a concept. Giving students choices can promote student engagement. Research shows that giving students a sense of control increases happiness and lowers anxiety (Ronan, 2015). Blending learning does just that, it gives students control to take back their learning. Over twenty years ago, Alfie Kohn (1993) stated that when students tune out or act out, it is not a direct cause of burn out, but instead students feel lack of control and feel powerless. When students are given choices, they find the topics more interesting, can improve decision-making skills, and are able to learn the material on a deeper level.
At Taylor County School District in Campbellsville, KY at- risk and low-income students were in danger of not graduating. The district decided to give the students options and choice in the way they wanted to learn. The students could choose between traditional, online, peer-led, instructional models and project-based learning (Pierce, 2015). Allowing students to choose the way they learned increased student engagement, and in the last few years with these changes, the school had 100% graduation rate. Furthermore, at Spring City Elementary Hybrid Learning School in Pennsylvania, the school decided to implement a station rotation model (Watson, 2015). This model allowed students to rotate between three models, individual, direct instruction and peer collaboration. The end result of implementation was successful in improving test scores for the Pennsylvania system of school assessment. According to the study published by the International Association for K-12 online learning, all grades and subjects improved since the blended model was introduced, the smallest gain was 19 percent in reading and the most significant increase was science which rose a total of 27 percent from the previous year (Watson, 2015).
Videos in blended learning increase engagement Videos can be incorporated into a blended learning model, to allow students to watch content, while teachers are working with smaller groups of students. Research showed that 92 percent of students believed that incorporating videos in their courses, added value to their education (State of Video in Education, 2016). Videos provide students with engaging instruction and provides students with control to re-watch content or speed up the pace. Many teachers use YouTube, which provides teachers access to ready-made videos to embed on a website or learning management system for students to view (Guo, Kim, and Rubin, 2014). However, simply implementing an instructional video is not enough to retain a student’s attention. Research shows that the video length and quality of video are important factors to increase student engagement. Students are more engaged with the videos if they include a more personal experience, such as the teacher being in the video along with the content. Videos that include an enthusiastic instructor speaking at quick pace students find more engaging than videos without sound or slow paced. The length of the instructional video was also an important factor in effectively engaging students. According to the research study performed by professors Gua, Kim, and Rubin the average time that students would watch a video was six minutes. If the videos were longer than nine minutes, the majority of students only watched halfway through. Implementing videos are a way for teachers to successfully provide effective engagement through blended learning.
Bridging Learning Gaps In Bergen, Norway schools have used electronic devices to provide opportunities for students to read both inside and outside of school (Hylen, Vosloo, & West, 2012). Research shows that using technology devices to read increases engagement and inspires boys. One expert claimed that boys lacked the patience to stay focused long enough, but can be motivated through technology, increasing attentiveness. This shows that technology used in a blended learning environment, can increase students’ engagement and minimize the reading skills gap between both girls and boys.
Moreover, Tanzania was experiencing similar achievement gaps with girls dropping out between their primary and secondary schools (Martin, 2017). The main reason that girls were dropping out of school is their lack of understanding of the English language. Camfed, an international non-profit organization, has provided a solution to this problem by developing an e-reader program. This program has been developed to assist girls that struggle with English language skills. This program allows girls and boys to both have the same access to educational resources through technology. The feedback provided through the use of the e-reader program showed that girls increased their self-confidence. Access through the e-reader program transformed girls that previously were too shy to participate in class discussions, to willing participants in extra activities including speech and debate. This program has provided an equitable environment for boys and girls, which has reduced the learning gaps and increased girls’ English language skills. When blended learning is implemented effectively it has potential to provide more opportunities for students to work with small groups, where students have more confidence to ask and answer questions (Boccella, 2015). At a Hybrid school in Spring City, PA students have gained the confidence to take ownership of their learning, through technology in a blended learning model. This blended learning model increased test scores at Hybrid school. According to the study published by the International Association for K-12 online learning, the test scores increased 24 percent in math, 20 points in reading, and 27 points in science. These schools have effectively used technology to implement blended learning to bridge these educational gaps and academic deficiencies.
Technology Needed for 21st Century Skills 21st Century students are exposed to technology and real-time communication; no longer do students sit waiting for teachers to respond to questions. Students receive information almost instantaneously through iPads, smartphones, laptops, computers, and video consoles (Cable Impact Foundation, 2015). Schools are starting to recognize that traditional models are not mimicking the way students learn or preparing them for future careers. Student leaders are understanding that students sitting in proper rows, is not a beneficial structure to the learners in the 21st century (Johnson, Adams, and Cummins, 2012). The times are constantly changing, and schools need to keep up with the demands of the students. Students are expected to not only understand content, but be able to work with peers, problem solve, and think critically. To better serve the changing student population, schools will need to be innovative and proactive to address these changes. Schools need to use current technology to meet the demand of these students. The one-size-fits-all is not effective nor meets the needs of the current student population. The resources that can support these ideas are to personalize learning, provide choices, and engage students in technology. If the education system is able to keep up with these demands, the system must make changes in order to be relevant to the current student population.
Traditional schools have realized to prepare students for 21st century skills, the classroom must mirror the way people learn and work in the 21st century (Adams et al., 2016). 21st century students are likely to change careers several times throughout their lifetime and need the skills to prepare them for these career changes. According to 2016 Horizon Report K-12, LinkedIn reports that by the time a person has turned 32, they have already changed their job four times. To prepare students for future careers, it is important that students master 21st century skills through active learning and real-world situations to learn how to think globally, obtain social skills, and become technologically advanced. Research conducted throughout Europe showed the use of technology increased independent learning and provided a collaborative environment (Balanskat, Blamire, & Kefala, 2006). Students used technology to connect with the world in an interactive way. This lead to students effectively using technology to develop real-world skills of increased communication, teamwork, and processing information.
Seamless Integration The blended learning model is both cost-effective and easy to implement. The ease of this transition to this model makes it ideal for most classroom teachers. Schools can make changes with a small budget and changes do not require major architectural improvements to transition to blended learning (Staker & Horn, 2015). Schools are not having to completely renovate a school, but can easily move furniture to provide a space for technology and small group instruction. Schools that already have a one to one student to computer ratio will not have to purchase any additional resources. For schools that do not currently have access to student online devices, these schools will likely have a future opportunity to purchase these resources, with costs of smartphones and tablets continuously dropping (Hylen, 2012).
Personalized Learning The blended learning model provides technology that can foster a student-centered personalized learning, allowing students to take charge of their learning pace and path (Adams et al., 2016). This allows educators the potential to reach under-served populations, by increasing engagement, and allowing them ownership of their learning. Personalized learning provides flexibility and freedom for students to move at their own pace, instead of sitting in a traditional classroom, seated in rows for several hours (Wright, 2016). The more that we can tailor content for students, the more time we can spend on their deficiencies. Personalized learning allows teachers to seamlessly differentiate students learning, providing students with a predetermined pathway (Next Generation Learning Challenges, 2016). This provides teachers the flexibility to reach many students levels at the same time, they do not have to teach to the middle to reach the majority of students.
Students at Summit Shasta High School in California implemented a blended learning model allowing students access to online instruction tools both on campus and remotely (Paulson, 2014). This allows the teacher more in-class time to work with students one on one, assist in projects, or re-mediate struggling students. The blended learning model at Shasta provides personalization for students which have increased students test scores and a reported happier environment. Students are working at different academic levels, but all students are able to work at their own pace while being challenged. In Canadian provinces, the districts that have supplied these technology opportunities for students have seen a connection between increased access to technology and increased student achievement. (UNESCO, 2012). Without this model, some students that are currently below grade level in core subjects would have been left behind. However, the blended learning model set in place has provided personalization allowing opportunities for students to catch up, or advance ahead. In addition, blended learning personalization allows the teachers and parents an increased opportunity to monitor the student's’ progress (Open Education Europa, n.d.). This monitoring provides another layer towards holding students accountable for their education.
Challenges of Blended Learning
When blended learning is implemented effectively students are more engaged, their learning increases, and they can deepen their level of understanding concepts (Staker & Horn, 2015). Research shows that when blended learning is not implemented properly, and more emphasis is placed on using technology, there are not any gains in education (Digital Learning Now, 2015). Blended learning can lose all effectiveness when educators are more focused on quickly implementing new technology, instead of working to elevate how the content is being taught. When too much emphasis is placed on new technology, teachers’ lack technical skills or teachers disagree with the potential benefits of using technology, blended learning can have no benefit to students learning.
Importance of Proper Implementation Technology is changing at such a rapid pace that there is a push for schools wanting to make quick adjustments to keep up with the current trends. The fast pace which technology is changing is putting pressure on schools to keep up with these changes regardless of the true student outcome. Schools commonly make the mistake of loving the idea of technology so much that they cram it in the current model, which does not improve the learning (Staker, 2015). A statement made by Harvard Professor Porter explains that there is a significant risk when putting technology in front of the educational strategy (Myers, 2014). This shows how much pressure schools are under to keep up with the demands of technology. Schools can not allow technology popularity to deter from the student goals. Classrooms should be designed to benefit students in their learning style and pace, regardless of the implementation level of technology. The purpose is not to chase an idea to prove that a blended classroom has been created, but to create a model that will benefit the school (Toporek, 2015). These changes should be personalized to a specific school, a classroom, and population. The ultimate goal is to allow students learning to be flexible and without boundaries.
The way that the shift takes place in blended learning is important, if the school is just trying to add another technology initiative, the plan will fail (Digital Learning Now, 2015). To incorporate a successful application of this model the culture needs to be considered, goals need to be established, decisions on specific technology best suited for the learning environment need to be made, and teachers’ need extensive training (Hochleitner & Lautzenheiser, 2014). The school's culture is significant with Blended learning and will amplify the good in a school with a good culture or amplify the bad in a school with a bad culture (Staker & Horn, 2014). Schools need to take their time when selecting technology. There are many vendors that will attempt to sell software, apps, and other e-content without providing any long-term proof of student success.
It is also significant to create a professional development plan, based on specific goals for that school (Darrow, Friend, & Powell, 2013). The school needs to provide initial and ongoing training for both teachers and school leaders. Teachers should be provided time, teacher resources, school support, and an opportunity to share with colleagues. There is a global concern for the amount of professional development and training for teachers on the subject of blended learning (iNACOL, 2011). Most schools place emphasis on necessary physical technology tools, such as infrastructure, and online resources. The schools are not placing emphasis on methodology and pedagogy changes that are needed to support this new teaching environment.
Research shows that most countries do not require a specific amount or level of technology training. The teacher’s technical skill level obtained for teaching online learning is inconsistent. This lack of training makes it challenging for teachers to implement technology with blended learning. With the rise of blended learning being used in the classroom and the demand for personalized learning, teacher training is unable to keep up with this demand. This will continue to be an obstacle until appropriate funds are allocated, and teachers are provided with necessary training to keep up with these educational demands. Teacher Attitudes Another obstacle aside from lacking proper implementation of technology, is some teachers have negative attitudes towards using technology. Some schools provide access to technology for students, but some teachers don’t use this technology. At Athenee School in Luxembourg, one in seven students had access to computers however teachers reported that they were afraid to use the technology or preferred traditional teaching methods (The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, n.d.). In Finland teachers using technology experienced learning gains, but were unable to convince colleagues of these gains. These teachers credited the lack of technical skills and teachers attitude about technology for their unwillingness to implement. These teachers lacked belief in the technology’s potential to effectively benefit students. It was reported many teachers made no attempt in Japan to integrate technology in their classrooms because they were skeptical of the value for their students. Teachers lacked the ability to see the gains that incorporating technology provides. While some teachers are concerned about the effectiveness of blended learning, other teachers feared technology devices were more distracting than valuable tools. When teachers lack proper expectations or classroom management, students can use technology for non-educational purposes. Students can use these devices for playing games, or other social media distractions which do not benefit student’s education (Hylen, 2012). Ultimately, these teachers were choosing not to use the technology because they did not believe that it was beneficial enough to implement. These teachers were unable to view the potential that technology provides to increase student learning.
Need for Future Studies
Future research should include studies specifically outlining how schools can create a model to provide personalization tailored to each individual student. Many studies have documented ways that blended learning has provided more personalization but lacks evidence of how to incorporate needs for special education students, gifted and talented students, and other accommodations. To provide students with support throughout their education, there need to be specific guidelines for teachers to consistently accommodate all students for ethical and legal purposes while using technology. Research shows blended learning provides students working at different levels from elementary level to a college course in the same classroom environment (Bocella, 2015). However, there are research gaps lacking case studies documenting how students are provided academic content specific to their needs. Furthermore, future research should include unbiased reviews of specific software used in the classroom. There is lacking evidence of which specific software program or website providing engagement and increases student learning. Teachers need more specific guidance to address concerns for students and effectively implement blended learning in the classroom.
Online technology in the classroom is a cost-effective way to allow students to explore the world (The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, n.d.). Students have access to tools that allow communication and information from anywhere around the world, twenty-four hours a day. This allows students options so they can take control over their learning, not having to rely solely on teachers. Blended learning provides teachers an opportunity to shift from providing expert-level knowledge to constructing environments that allow students to gain 21st century skills. When teachers are no longer expected to be the only source of information in the classroom, students can actively acquire information through a student-centered environment. A study conducted at the University of Minnesota compared students learning in a blended learning environment versus a traditional lecture setting (Adams et al., 2016). This study showed an active learning environment using technology was more successful towards bridging achievement gaps for struggling students, compared to those students learning in a traditional lecture setting. Research showed that this type of student-led classroom provided 48 percent more discussion, and interaction, which maximized students learning. Blended learning is not just about online tools and electronic resources. This model is about giving students control over their learning (Bailey & Martin, 2013). Blended learning is complicated to implement which requires schools and leaders to make a commitment. This is changing the way students learn and how schools design classrooms. This online movement has shown great gains in education. Educators not willing to make the shift to blended learning are not willing to take advantage of technology to increase student learning. Despite the obstacles with proper implementation and teacher attitudes, blended learning provides students a seamless option to increase their learning in preparation to develop skills needed for the 21st century.
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