Educational technology tips for teachers, librarians and schools.

5 Common Misconceptions About Blended Learning

5 Common Misconceptions About Blended Learning

By Julia Freeland Fisher

Blended learning—any formal education program that combines online learning and brick-and-mortar schools—is getting more popular, and more misconstrued as technology becomes a more important part of the modern classroom.

Most commonly, people misconstrue the role that technology and teachers play in blended learning, as well as what might get lost if we double down on implementing blended models.

Director of Education Research at Clayton Christensen Institute, I want to clear up some of the misconceptions. Hopefully this will help you embrace the blended learning model and make the most of its value in your classroom.

More: 10 Benefits of Teaching in a Blended Learning Classroom

#1: Blended learning is about 1:1 devices.

Schools are flocking to purchase laptops and iPads to support technology in classrooms, but it’s important to remember that a 1:1 laptop or iPad roll out is not a new instructional model.

While some sort of hardware is required to implement blended learning, and some blended-learning models require that all students have computers or tablets at their fingertips throughout the day, it’s not necessary for implementing an effective and successful blended learning program.

At face value, whether a student can or cannot carry a machine around all day tells us little to nothing about a school’s actual pedagogy, about the quality of interactions between students and teachers, or about the rigor of the software programs delivered through those devices.

A 1:1 program in fact proves a poor bellwether of changes in student learning. Schools should first redesign their instructional model and only then buy the devices that can best support that vision.

#2: Technology replaces teachers.

Teachers living the day-to-day realities of blended learning in the classroom know that blended learning actually opens up more opportunities for face–to-face teaching moments, not fewer.

Linda Howard, for example, a 6th-grade English Language Arts teacher at Morton Middle School in Fall River, Mass., describes her experience teaching in a blended model: “I get to work with small groups a lot more. I understand my kids so much better now. Working with them individually and having their data from i-Ready [one of the school’s digital content providers] has really opened my eyes to each kid’s strengths and weaknesses.”

Howard’s description exemplifies how using technology can actually free up teachers to teach in smaller groups—rather than managing or lecturing at an entire classroom.

Megan Toyama, a blended-learning teacher who teaches AP U.S. history and 10th-grade modern world history at Summit Tahoma in the San Francisco Bay Area put it: “Blended learning really helped my relationships with students who struggled with whole class instruction, either because it was not at the right pace for them or because they would zone out and lose focus in the big group.”

In other words, teachers are here to stay; and blended learning is a tool to support, rather than detract from, face-to-face instruction.

teachers drive tech

#3: Children lose creativity and critical thinking opportunities.

Rather than “dumbing down” the learning experience, blended learning allows schools to implement the building blocks of higher order skills. Technology is in fact one of the best available tools to move away from standardization in the traditional sense.

With the right technology tools, teachers in a blended classroom have up-to-date information on how every student is progressing through the online material. Moreover, schools can rely on software to deliver instruction at lower levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, which in turn unlocks deeper learning experiences that help students develop creativity and critical thinking skills.

“Standardization is not the enemy of creativity and critical thinking. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Critical thinking and creativity are deeply connected to long-term factual knowledge. Students need a deep reserve of practices and strategies in order to explore complex ideas and problems,” says Joel Rose, CEO of Teach to One, a blended math curriculum.

More: How to Motivate More (And Better!) Writing With Blended Learning

#4: Technology inevitably decreases human interaction.

Although many blended learning software tools simply deliver asynchronous content, we’re seeing more educational technology that connects students to new relationships as part of the learning process.

For example, video technology applications can be used to bring classrooms together with other classrooms or subject matter experts with whom they would otherwise never have contact. Online mentoring and guidance platforms are also starting to gain more traction and investment, especially in the college guidance space.

Not to mention, online tutoring services such as MindLaunch are able to match tutors with students based on personality assessments that make it more likely that students and teachers can build good rapport.

In other words, technology can be used to create promising relationships and connections far beyond students’ immediate context, rather than depriving them of human contact.

#5: One tool will rule them all.

Blended-learning models allow educators to differentiate instruction in ways that were historically impossible. But to deliver on this promise, we shouldn’t presume that one single technology tool will drive learning in equal measure among all students.

That assumption falls into the trap of traditional education research that asks, “What works on average, or what is best at teaching to a non-existent middle?”

If we measure EdTech tools for average efficacy, we risk focusing on technology tools that digitize our traditional practices, rather than on seeking breakthroughs in differentiated instruction.

In successful and effective blended learning, educators sort software tools that fuel blended models on the basis of their diverse advantages and drawbacks, rather than measuring them against a one-size-fits all yardstick.

Some EdTech tools might be great for in-class practice exercises but terrible for homework help. Likewise, some EdTech tools might only engage students with certain interests.

Blended learning is meant to help you reach every student and facilitate learning in a more engaging and effective manner—that requires not just a change in technology, but in mindset as well. Challenge the traditional mentality and see how you can use your creativity and passion for teaching to make learning better and more memorable for each student in your classroom.

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