Blended Learning and the Keys to Academic Achievement

"Blended Learning" appears on a tablet computer with a wooden frame

In my opinion, one of the keys to academic achievement is active student learning. Research tells us that personalized, collaborative, and connected learning experiences enhance student engagement, in turn, driving student success. By integrating blended and digital learning into the classroom, educators can take learning experiences to the next level and improve student performance.  

As I prepare my Blended Learning for Active Learners session for the Local Staff Development Opportunities (LSDO) Dinner Series, I want to share some thoughts about blended learning.  My presentation will be two, 3-hour sessions, each focusing on current instructional practices and tools. Guest speakers will include representatives from @Buncee @PearDeck @GAB__on and hopefully a few more in hopes of sharing instructional tools to support active learning.

According to its most basic definition, blended learning is an instructional methodology that combines face-to-face classroom methods with digital activities. Ideally, in a blended classroom, students will be able to learn according to their unique learning styles. Students often take different approaches to interacting with the same curriculum. Some are happy to express themselves verbally, others prefer to write and still more, prefer not to be in front of the camera. When teachers use a variety of instructional tools and applications, they help every student focus on his or her strengths. These lessons and activities can be taught in a physical classroom, through online tools, or in a virtual classroom, like a webinar.

A paradigm shift has occurred in education. The best mix of instructional practices take into account the learners’ requirements, levels of understanding, competencies at stake, and the nature and location of the audience and resources available. The focus of the classroom shifts from the teacher being the presenter to the teacher being the facilitator; students collaborate and are active participants in the learning.

In schools, leaders are promoting blended learning and in the process, are inspiring educators to redefine their traditional roles. The word “facilitator” has emerged as a key component to active learning because a facilitator places an emphasis on empowering students with the skills and knowledge required to learn, making the most of the content. The paradigm shift supports a more meaningful and impactful student experience.

I believe, and have seen, that in classrooms where more students are engaged and taking an active part in their own learning, the more likely they are to perform well academically; they get higher grades and score better on standardized tests. Think about it – makes perfect sense – the higher the student participation, i.e., the more active the learning, the higher the content retention.  With this idea as the foundation of instruction, teachers can shape curriculum and instruction to maximize engagement and increase student participation.

With this instructional shift, the focus of the classroom moves from teacher-centered to student-centered.  As Daniel Pink said, “We need to prepare our kids for their futures not our past”. When students are taught this way, it is essential to walk in their shoes. When you understand your learners’ drive and motivation you will plan lessons that engage minds and have students craving to learn. When students are excited, you will be able to construct a lesson that shows learners the “why,” the “what” and the “how” of the learning. By tapping into the learner’s real desire to learn, you make the learning process more effective. The more you customize the learning, the more you stimulate intrinsic motivation!

I believe there are three keys to blended learning to ensure engagement and relevance:  

  • Flexibility
  • Effectiveness
  • Efficiency

Too often, educators hear students ask, “When will I ever use this in the real world?” Honestly, it’s a great question–one that we should all spend more time thinking about. We are not planning lessons that are relevant to the students’ lives.  Just because a long list of vocabulary words is compiled on an iPad doesn’t mean it is digital learning. If it doesn’t have relevance to the topic or the students, the digital tool is irrelevant. Students need a personal connection to the material, whether that’s through engaging them emotionally or connecting the new information to previously acquired knowledge. Only then can you select the digital tools that match.

In a blended learning environment, be sure to select tools that match learning to ensure the content fosters collaboration and conversation. When a school is a 1:1 digital community, it is easy to forget about designing lessons for collaboration and conversation. Educators need to look for opportunities in the content design to ask reflective questions that will stimulate inquiry and conversation. Educators should stimulate student thinking with questions that will generate genuine discussions; conversations that move beyond reciting the right answer.

Once you know your learners, make a collaborative learning plan and select your tools – dig into digital tools/applications as a means to support your newly established blended learning environment. 

cross posted at 

Dr. Matthew X. Joseph is currently the Director of Digital Learning and Innovation for the Milford Public School District in Milford, MA. Before coming to Milford, he was a building principal for 11 years in Natick, MA and Attleboro, MA. Other professional roles include: classroom teacher, district professional development specialist supporting leadership and technology instruction. Matt holds licenses in general education, school administration, and Massachusetts superintendent. His master’s degree is in special education and earned his Ed.D. in Educational Leadership from Boston College.

Throughout his career, Matt focused on what is in the best interest of students and pushing the limits to achieve excellence in schools. He is an instructional leader constantly looking for student and school improvement while building community and continued teacher improvement. He is passionate about building a collaborative school culture, creating a school of learners utilizing 21st century instructional tools, and developing leaders’ communication techniques to enhance instruction and parent communication.

Follow Dr. Joseph on twitter at @MatthewXJoseph or read his blog

Dr. Matthew X. Joseph (@ MatthewXJoseph) is Director of Evaluation and Supervision in Brockton, MA.