Blended Learning in K-12/Blended Learning's Lesson Design Process
Designing a Lesson
The keystone standards of blended learning are akin to other forms of learning. Identifying the objective, establishing the timescale, and recognizing different learning styles are basic principles found in any successful lesson plan. Streamlining the lesson plan comes with experience, as does determining appropriate applications of the lesson and its evaluation.
An online environment can foster close relationships between student and teacher and between student and other students. When students interact online, opportunities arise for the sharing of personal information and personal responses. Therefore, students must first understand that their classmates are to be treated with respect. Instructors should make clear what information might be confidential and what can be shared. In addition, students should understand that they are to use language appropriate to an academic forum and free of slang or jargon (the latter can be especially difficult when working in education academia). Students should also know how to invite, accept, and offer feedback in ways that promote learning.
With the preceding principles established, the focus turns to the design of the lesson itself. A sample outline follows. Only the main topics are mentioned here. Like a jazz score, this outline is a framework, not a crystallized prescription. Practitioners are advised to start here and then improvise as their experience and proficiency develop.
I. Purpose Statement (the overall intent of the lesson plainly stated)
III. Prerequisites (if any)
IV. Learning Objectives
V. Content/Learning Activities (For each item of content to be addressed, show how it would be communicated to the students and the estimated time needed. This is by far the longest section of the design document.)
VI. Application of Learning Strategy
VII. Evaluation Strategy
The Purpose Statement gives an overall description of the lesson to be presented. It may include the concept to be taught and the means by which it may be delivered. Perhaps this statement will state how much of this lesson is to be performed online and how much is to be completed during a classroom session. The statement is usually concise, but divulges an overview of the entire lesson.
When making decisions about the design of a blended learning lesson plan, there will always be a need for determining an appropriate timetable. The lesson plan should be designed to include a balance of online and offline activities, but those activities must remain within reasonable time limits. Far too many teachers have made the mistake of heaping an excessive amount of online work on their students. Teachers are then accused of believing that theirs is the only class in which their students are currently enrolled. Balance is key. Too much of either component will cause the lesson or activity to either grow dull or become overly burdensome, thereby diminishing the learning aspect. At the same time, the lesson must include enough challenges to promote and instill the concepts being taught by the lesson. The balance is delicate, but the very nature of the flexibility of blended learning helps to maintain that balance. The duration portion of the lesson becomes streamlined after its first delivery. Ample time must be allowed to complete activities, but overplanning seems to be the wiser choice. Students and teachers alike find it awkward to have time remaining at the end of a lesson with no other learning planned. It is best to have too many activities planned for a session than to not have enough. You can always reduce the work load or save it for another time.
Prerequisite skills must be addressed by students and teacher. Offering a traditional lesson to those without previous skills to complete the new lesson leads to frustration for everyone concerned. Opportunities to learn using technology without previously learned technological skills will cause like frustration. Technical skills learned along with the academic concepts makes for a very efficient lesson, provided the academic goals and objectives are met. Technological skills are important, but should not distract from the academic portion of the lesson, but rather enhance it.
The learning objective is the meat of a lesson plan. It is the compass that guides the teacher throughout the lesson. When expressed to the students, it points the learner into the right direction as well. In a blended learning class, if the learning objective is rooted in a math concept, it is crucial that the teacher remain focused on that concept - not the technological means by which it may be taught. If a technical skill is being presented, that objective must be made clear in the lesson plan.
Content and Learning Activities must be introduced into the lesson plan and provided for ample practice if the student is to grasp the intent of the lesson. Looking back at the learning objectives and the "Content/Learning Activities Outline" can help answer evaluation questions. "Is my test content-valid, based upon the methods of lesson presentation?" "Should my test include a short review time via a traditional classroom setting, or would an online review better prepare my students for evaluation?" "Should the test be performed online or in the presence of the teacher?" Online tests make for easy and quick grading by the teacher. Security of the test, however, might be diminished depending on the software used by the teacher. Tests taken exclusively in the classroom setting, however, negate the natural lessons of technology. Teachers who evaluate their students' performances by using a mixture of tests - some online, some offline - have experienced more fruitful outcomes. Supplying examples to read as text online or offline proves to be helpful. Presenting video explanations or examples online, where students can view a snippet of the lesson repeatedly gives enough exposure to solidify an idea or concept. Any tool that can be afforded the student should be considered to improve retention.
The most crucial step needed in each lesson plan is the preparation of transfer of learning strategy. If learning is not transferred from the place of learning to practical application, there can be no positive return on investment of the time needed to create, implement, and evaluate the lesson plan. Students are smarter than we might think. If the lesson doesn't apply to something tangible or if it can't be used in real life, you can expect them to ask, "When are we ever going to use this stuff?" Make sure that your objectives are made clear to the students. The learning standards must be addressed, yes, but also find a real life application to better your students' understanding of the materials covered. If this is not done, much of your time, and your students' time, has been greatly wasted. A second look to ensure that students have indeed learned the objectives might trigger revisions, allowing for more (or better) class activities and teacher feedback. This should be done before any evaluation strategy. Technology is useful in simplifying this task of transferring the learning strategy. Many times a lesson taught with the use of online instruction or with technology as its main tool provides a built-in application. Students see more clearly how the concepts are used in real life situations, and because the lesson was applied practically, the student retains the information and skills much longer.
A blended learning class is like any other - when lessons are presented, it is imperative that assessment is given to check the depth of learning. Caution must be practiced when using online assessment. If this method was never practiced during the teaching of the lesson, the student finds himself at a bit of a disadvantage when being tested. Instead of devoting proper time to the non-technical concepts taught, the student might be fighting his way through the technical tool he must use to perform the task at hand. For example, students that have graduated from high school may need to take an assessment test at a nearby community college in order to be placed properly into a Math or English class. If the college issues an online test and the student has no past experience with such a method of testing, the scores can be expected to be lower, causing the student to be placed in an inappropriate level class. If online testing is to be used, pretests are advised to familiarize the students with the technical part of the test-taking task. Not doing so would seemingly violate the equity issue.
Identifying opportunities of learning in blended learning is the same as identifying any learning opportunity. The focus should remain, however. The K12 teacher must recognize the need to provide the right methods of teaching for his students. The overall intent of the lesson should also address the result of the lesson. Teachers may ask themselves, "What exactly do I want my students to know as a result of this lesson?" Be sure you understand the objectives of the lesson - many times they provide the basis for subsequent lessons. Outline the topics and subtopics that must be addressed by the lesson.
Blended learning is advantageous to the learner. Research has shown the limitations of applying a generalized style of teaching, rather than modifying lesson plans to fit the needs of the student. "Increasingly, organizations are recognizing the importance of tailoring learning to the individual rather than applying a 'one-size-fits-all' approach." (Thorne, 2003) Of course, common needs exist, but blended learning allows the teacher to look for creative ways and use a variety of media to address the specific needs of his students.
When a teacher designs his lesson plan, it is important to note the type of learning activity (e.g. lecture, case study, role play, simulation, game, etc.) that best conveys the objectives of the lesson. There are two reasons for listing traditional teaching methods only at this point, instead of both classroom and online activities:
- We as teachers usually establish on paper the "ideal" learning experience when you work under a more familiar, traditional style of teaching. It is live, face-to-face, instructor-facilitated and student-collaborative.
- Once you have established the lesson plan for the "ideal" learning experience, you can systematically analyze the elements that can be delivered online without compromising learning effectiveness. You will discover here what might be best left in a classroom setting.
Blended learning is not simply adding an online component to a lesson plan. Technology in a lesson plan should be used wisely - to enhance the lesson. Technology should not be used just to show off technology. Excellent opportunities exist for teachers to make learning interactive, dynamic, and fun when used properly. The technology aspect of a lesson should be like a good baseball umpire - it (like the umpire) is good if it (he) goes unnoticed.
"Since the intent of blended learning is to enhance learning by combining the best of both worlds...elements of the outline that appear to lend themselves to self-study online should be highlighted. Such elements tend to include easy-to-interpret, straightforward information that is relatively easy for the (student) to accurately grasp on his/her own." (Troha, 2003) Students should be able to perform required tasks online with little or no prompting by the instructor. Of course, teachers should guide their students along, but when a student can accomplish a task online with limited assistance, that student encounters a learning experience that is deeper and more rewarding.
Blended learning courses are dynamic by their very nature. Revisions will need to be made to adapt to the learning needs of its students. Knowing what works and what does not comes with experience. The best resource for K-12 teachers to create and implement a blended learning course is another teacher or a network of teachers who have had experience with launching such courses.