Friday, June 9, 2017

So What About the Evolution of Blended Learning

Learning is inherently about experiences. Whether in a formal school setting or in our everyday navigation of the world around us, humans learn through experiences that move us emotionally. As teachers and learners, we know this intrinsically. When we think back to the teachers that had the greatest impact on us during our time in school we often remember those who had the ability to make their lessons meaningful to us on a personal level.

In the last decade, technology has changed much about how learning happens in schools. Unfortunately, too much of that change has been driven by efficiency and productivity concerns. Instead of looking at technological advances as opportunities to provide students with new, exceptional learning experiences and emotionally engaging applications of their knowledge schools have focused upon ways to save time, improve workflow, and analyze data. None of these goals are bad for students, but none are focusing on the preparation of our next generation for the unique challenges they will face in a complex global society. 

Blended Learning was born out of the desire for education to be more efficient at delivering instruction and evaluating students on their acquisition of knowledge. Knowledge and assessment will always be important in the learning process, and in that regard Blended Learning has been successful in meeting those narrow goals. Students are able to move at their own pace, receive feedback on their progress, and review content as many times as they need. Because effective formative assessment and differentiated instruction are proven ways to improve student performance on traditional metrics, the use of Blended Learning has gained attention as a possible way to revolutionize education for the 21st century. 

While improving personalization of students' consumption of information, Blended Learning does not address some of the most important needs our children have in order to be prepared for an increasingly global and complex world. Innovation, creativity, and problem solving are best developed when students have agency in the learning process within a culture that lets them experience the joy of using learning to make the world better. 

Teachers know that "delivering instruction" is but a small part of the vital work they do in helping students develop into lifelong learners. Of course we want our students to be knowledgeable, but we also want them to develop into socially minded citizens who can use that knowledge in ethical, innovative ways to affect positive change on their communities. We want them to learn the importance of empathy. In fact, empathy is the character trait that correlates most strongly with success in life

When we look at technology's ability to transform learning, we must start by asking what emotionally engaging experiences can be created for students that would have been impossible previously. We must look at how new technologies afford our students the ability to work with those who are different than themselves, solve problems with experts who are using knowledge in practical ways, and experience the satisfaction of helping others. When we do this in our education systems we will see the true power of technology to transform education and develop our next generation of global problem solvers.