Blending Learning Transforms Rural Education


Thursday, November 7, 2013 - 1:00am

Blended learning, the combination of online learning and traditional classroom learning, has become one of the hottest trends in education. But like any new trend in education, traditionalists have questioned whether blended learning is just another fad, or truly a more effective way of educating students.

A recent study by the Northwest Nazarene UniversityDoceo Center for Innovation in Teaching and LearningIdaho Digital Learning Academy (IDLA)and iNACOL makes the case for blended learning as an effective method of instruction.

The study was conducted by distributing electronic surveys to 627 teachers in the rural state of Idaho that had received formal professional development in blended learning from the IDLA. Of the 627 teachers, 145 (23 percent) responded and 46 (31.7 percent) respondents had used blended learning for a minimum of one semester.

These surveys asked teachers about their experiences using blended learning, and how it impacted their teaching and student learning. The responses were heavily in favor of blended learning.

According to the report, blended learning “was shown to be particularly beneficial in facilitating teacher-student communication, fostering students taking responsibility for their own learning and locating resources themselves, improving student behavior issues, the time students are on-task, and student motivation.”

The benefits weren’t isolated to student learning. The teachers themselves benefited from blended learning. According to the report:

“…the use of blended learning improved their ability to be innovative, assisted them in monitoring student learning, and allowed greater opportunity to provide 1-on-1 instruction. Strong correlations were found between allowing student self-paced learning, a teacher’s ability to be innovative, providing resources to those who miss class and/or who struggle, and students’ ability to locate resources on their own and important educational outcomes such as student interest level, perseverance, motivation, time on task, excitement, attendance and a teacher’s overall enjoyment of teaching.”

Although blended learning could help improve student learning, enable teachers to be more innovative and generally increase their enjoyment of teaching, the respondents indicated that the benefits come at a cost. Respondents indicated that blended learning programs can take time, effort and expertise to establish. To help combat this, respondents suggested teachers seek training whenever possible. In addition to ascertaining the benefits of blended learning from those who have implemented it in their classrooms, the study also set out to identify why other teachers hadn’t followed suit. A separate survey was issued to teachers who had received blended learning training from IDLA but had yet to implement it in their classrooms.

According to the responses, nearly 40 percent faced barriers to blended learning adoption that could not be overcome. These barriers included time, technology, training, and administrative support. Only five percent of respondents had yet to implement blended learning because they didn’t see the benefit.

This study shows that blended learning can effectively improve student learning and teaching. It also shows that blended learning allows teachers to be more innovative, enables them to spend more one-on-one time with students and helps them enjoy teaching more. However, to be effective, blended learning initiatives need to be bolstered with technology and administrative support. Teachers also need to invest the time in professional development and training to ensure they’re using these new learning techniques effectively.

To read about how a Colorado school district implemented a successful blended learning program, click HERE.


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