In part one of our interviews with Daniel Mahlandt, director of the Ephrata Virtual Academy in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, he provided an overview of his district’s virtual school and how it meets the needs of students not served by the traditional classroom environment. In this second piece, we drill down into the difference between online and blended learning. Here’s what Dan had to say:
Daniel Mahlandt (DM): Blended learning is where students have the opportunity to work online at home, in school, or to choose which learning environment suits their needs best, and to work flexibly between the traditional school building and their home environment. The key is that it gives the student flexibility in time, structure, and place, and it gives them the opportunity to learn in a way that is personalized to meet their needs. While many people try to make a distinction between blended and online learning, I think this is an artificial distinction and one that won’t exist in the future as we all become more comfortable with the role of technology in the classroom and the benefits it can bring.
FuelEducation: How do blended learning solutions help students achieve their educational goals?
DM: In traditional classroom environments you have to teach to a group of students who are each at different places on their learning journey and who learn best in different ways. In other words, teachers are forced to teach to the middle in a way that’s not going to engage probably a majority of students in their class. So we’re missing out on the opportunity to have every student reach their fullest potential.
Online, or blended learning, gives the opportunity to personalize learning, so that each student gets the resources they need to thrive. Blended learning solutions enable teachers and schools to identify and group students by strengths and learning gaps and teach to the individual’s need. Gifted students can be accelerated, at-risk students can be supported more fully to avoid disengaging or dropping out, and students who learn in non-traditional ways can be accommodated within the social community a school provides. To me, blended learning results in a more satisfying educational experience for our three most important constituents—our students, parents, and teachers.
FuelEducation: What types of students are best served by blended learning solutions? Can you share a success story with us?
DM: In my opinion, blended learning is the better option for all students. As I said previously, from the results we’ve seen at the Ephrata Virtual Academy so far, there’s greater satisfaction all around from students, parents, and teachers. Blended learning allows us to tap into students’ strengths and uncover their weaknesses in a way that traditional classroom learning does not.
For example, when a student learns online and needs to pass quizzes before proceeding to the next level, they need to demonstrate a much more granular level of comprehension and knowledge internalization than they would based in a classroom where it is assumed that once the text is read that learning has been achieved. The analytics created by online learning really do empower teachers to see the gaps in learning and address them immediately.
In terms of a success story, it’s hard to identify one particular one, because we haven’t truly penetrated the classroom yet. However, the story I mentioned last time about the student on the autism spectrum who benefited from online learning, really is one of the most remarkable examples I’ve seen so far. I think far more learning problems stem from social and emotional challenges than we currently understand and that these students, as well as students with health problems, will be the first to benefit from blended learning programs. However, in the end, as blended learning programs become more widely available, every student will benefit from the ability to personalize their educational experience.