Is Blended Learning a Fad?

Is Blended Learning a Fad?

Teacher Leadership Challenge | March 31, 2014

Written by Jeff Gerlach on Tuesday, 08 April 2014.

This is my response post to the March 31st installment of The 2014 Teacher Leadership Challenge.

How important is blended learning to modern education?

Many educational trends and classroom strategies emerge and fade away all the time, but is blended learning here to stay? - Gary Abud

TLC2014I’ve sat in many a staff meeting where “new” educational strategies perished before the last slide of the presentation had its 30 seconds of fame. K-12 education has more acronyms than FDR’s new deal programs. Unfortunately they are force-fed to educators like actual alphabet soup. This often turns teachers off to new ideas because they too closely resemble duds from the past. Or worse yet, they liked a strategy but the next year it was replaced by a new one. So I am very cognizant that something buzzworthy, like blended learning is today, needs to be presented so that teachers can visualize how it can improve their practice now and in the future.

I’d hate to derail a good conversation by lecturing you on the official term for what you do in your classroom. So let’s not talk about hybrid, mixed-mode, web-enhanced or even blended learning. Instead I want to share with you my own efforts to address problems of practice and enrich learning for my students.

When I began teaching, my understanding of technology integration was very superficial. I used response clickers, showed content with a projector and pulled most of my learning resources from the internet. I used technology because I was comfortable doing so instead of thoughtfully using technology to improve what I did. In retrospect, I think this is quite common for new teachers. You’re not really thinking about improving, you’re thinking about just doing everything for the first time and frankly surviving.

One of the first indicators that pushed me to improve were the recurring sore throats that I got every day. After a year of afternoon pain, I was determined to stop talking at my students for 90% of the school day.

I used to design basic websites in high school so I leveraged this knowledge to create a very rudimentary online environment for my students. At first I aggregated text, images and videos to take the place of direct instruction in my course. I intended to have students interact with these items at home and then come to school prepared to engage with activities to reinforce and expand upon what they did at home. I know we’re trying to avoid labeling things, but yes essentially I was trying to flip my classroom. I talked considerably less, but it didn’t mean that learning improved.

I noticed the restrictions that came with expecting students to engage in specific learning experiences, in specific locations at specific times. I started to think of the online environment as a place that could make time/place/pace irrelevant for direct instruction, learning labs, discussion and feedback. I started to test the limits of online learning in a constant effort to improve my ability to personalize learning for my students and provide elements of customization that would allow my students to have choice in how they learned.

My initial measurable and anecdotal successes with blended learning drove me to try more. Continuing to grow those successes excited me so much that I began to share my ideas with others. Eventually I became interested in helping other teachers work toward creating similar experiences for others. Now, as an Instructional Designer with MyBlend, I get to focus entirely on that.

The funny thing is, it wasn’t until I began interviewing for my current position that I was introduced to the term “blended learning.” I never thought it had a term. Because you see I never set out to be a blended teacher, I strived to be a teacher that engaged students in powerful learning experiences.

So is blended learning a fad? Perhaps the name is. Perhaps if a teacher were to set out to teach just like me, found out it didn’t work for them and gave up on it, it would be. But the thing about blended learning that makes me feel it’s worthwhile to promote is that it promotes a timeless philosophy; use the best possible learning tools to support the best possible learning strategies.

Header photo by Cle Mansfield

About the Author

Jeff Gerlach

Jeff Gerlach

Jeff Gerlach (@JGer1) is an instructional design coach for Michigan Virtual University. He works with teachers to design blended learning experiences for students through presentations, school partnerships, online courses and 1:1 coaching. He holds a master's degree in educational technology from Michigan State and has experience as a face-to-face teacher in the metro Detroit area where he blended his classroom for six school years.

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