Blended Learning in K-12/Success Tips
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Designing a blended learning environment can be a complicated and involved process. Several experienced authors have offered tips for success in such an endeavor. One such author, who appears at every attempt to search the web for blended learning information, is Frank J. Troha. This section of the chapter on the Design on Blended Learning in a K-12 environment attempts to outline his six tips for success, and comment on their relevance to a K-12 learning environment.
In his article entitled “Ensuring E-learning Success: Six Simple Tips for Initiative Leaders”, Troha offers the following six tips for success:
- From design, to development to deployment, consider everyone your learning initiative will impact, identify the key players within each constituency and involve them from the very start.
- Precisely define - and get agreement on - roles and responsibilities from the get-go.
- Do not bring in e-learning providers until you have a thorough understanding of your target audience’s needs, management’s expectations, the scope of the initiative, likely constraints (e.g., limited resources), learning objectives, content to be covered, evaluation strategy and a host of other basic design matters.
- Carefully select the right provider for the job.
- Develop and confirm precise, comprehensive selection criteria (e.g., past experience addressing similar topics for similar organizations, fee structure, service standards, references, etc.) before meeting with any prospective providers.
- Use the preliminary design document and selection criteria to interview prospective providers.
- If you are new to e-learning or blended learning, start small.
- From start to finish, keep all key individuals informed and appropriately involved.
- Strive for self-sufficiency and control.
Let us examine each tip and discuss the implications for K-12 educators.
1. From design, to development to deployment, consider everyone your learning initiative will impact, identify the key players within each constituency and involve them from the very start. The focus is on the involvement of and input from the key players in an organization. In an educational setting, this may include but is not limited to teachers, administrators, content chairs, parents, and other staff members. This success tip may be the most important in that without the support of the people directly impacted, the success or failure of the program may be severely negatively affected. In an educational environment, specifically K-12, it is crucial that you have the support of all key players. Without the involvement and participation of everyone affected, the program is sure to encounter difficulties that could be prevented with this consideration in mind.
2. Precisely define - and get agreement on - roles and responsibilities from the get-go. Without clearly defined roles and responsibilities, the key players within an organization may not fulfill their obligations to the program. For example, if it is the primary responsibility of the school district curriculum designer to outline the curricular content of the blended learning initiative, the resulting content may not fit the exact needs of the teachers who are asked to implement the blended learning model. Conversely, if teachers are involved in a serious way in the development of the blended learning course, they personally will feel ownership of the program and will subsequently become the promoters and even defenders of the program.
3. Do not bring in e-learning providers until you have a thorough understanding of your target audience’s needs, management’s expectations, the scope of the initiative, likely constraints (e.g., limited resources), learning objectives, content to be covered, evaluation strategy and a host of other basic design matters. In an educational setting, often an outside provider is not used, but the success tip is no less valid. The point is still that before a blended learning model is constructed and implemented, it is crucial that an understanding of all aspects of the program is established and communicated to all key players. As in most aspects of education at the K-12 level, communication is key to the success of any endeavor. The collaboration of different players is what makes the program being developed more successful, more useful, and ultimately may dictate whether the course is adopted on a permanent level.
4. Carefully select the right provider for the job. This tip is more relevant to a business audience where hiring outside vendors is more common. A school district is more apt to choose an internal employee to both help with the design of a blended learning model, as well as serve as a pilot to test the effectiveness of the resulting program. However, the point is still an important one, but can be rephrased in an educational setting to “Carefully select the right instructor for the job.” It is important to choose someone who has an interest in utilizing the inherent benefits of a blended learning course, as well as someone who has the technical expertise to effectively help in the design and implementation of such a course. In schools where there is a dedicated Technology professional, this person may be the obvious choice for playing a key role in both the design and implementation of the blended learning course. This should not be a limitation, however, for there are many able people within each curricular department of a school who would make able and competent contributors to the design and implementation of a blended learning program.
5. From start to finish, keep all key individuals informed and appropriately involved. Not only is it important for the key players to feel like they are a part of the process in order to gain support from them, it also reduces the amount of time that is needed to answer questions and provide training for said individuals. As was mentioned earlier, a sense of ownership by key players needs to be developed and nourished throughout the process in order to facilitate the positive development and future success of the blended learning model.
6. Strive for self-sufficiency and control. This tip is probably the most applicable to educators, as they are likely to embark on such an endeavor without any outside help from professional providers. Teachers have the advantage of experience in curriculum design and in the implementation of a course based on their specific curriculum. They also have an idea of what the end result should look like, and the experience needed to successfully design the blended learning curriculum for the specific needs of their students. Teachers have been educated about different learning styles. This knowledge can help the blended learning curriculum to best fit the needs of a diverse audience of students. They know from experience what is fair and reasonable to expect from their students. Teachers also know about their students’ socioeconomic backgrounds, which may play a key role in the design of the instructional blended learning model. For example, in some communities technology limitations may have an effect on choices of content delivery.
These tips for success are a good reference when designing a blended learning course. Of course, they should not be relied upon in isolation. The best advice for a school instituting blended learning is simple: look for successfully examples. A growing number of schools and other institutions have realized the benefits blended learning adds to instruction. Time needn't be wasted trying to “reinvent the wheel,” when so many excellent programs already exist as models for others to follow.