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Customized Blended Learning: The Classrooms of the Future?

Jan 23, 2012 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

Online colleges may offer lessons that are personalized—to a degree. But not to the degree found at Summit High, a California charter school. The school has launched a test program that lets students personalize their own learning to an unprecedented degree.

In a ninth-grade math class, some students work on geometry exercises, while others take tests in algebra, probability, and long division. Students work online, in large-group, teacher-led instruction, and in small groups. Kids get to choose the type of instruction they want—and the teacher can monitor everyone’s progress on a laptop as he moves around the room, stopping to offer individual help when needed.

Even today’s typical online learning programs aren’t this personalized. Students often get a variety of types of learning included in a lesson or program—involving video lectures, quizzes and tests, group work, and learning based on reading and writing. But students in most online classes don’t get to stroll into a classroom (virtually or in person) and choose the type of learning they want to do that day.

Classroom Technology

Technology provides a level of flexibility that appeals to students of all ages and backgrounds.

Approximately 36 schools throughout the nation are trying out a combination of instructor-led and software-led instruction. But is it all that it’s made out to be?

Despite grandiose claims by the educational software industry, some studies have shown inconclusive or less-than-impressive results for educational software. For example, Carnegie Learning’s Cognitive Tutor software program was shown in a US Department of Education study to have had no discernible effect on student test scores, according to the New York Times.

But there are also plenty of reasons why highly personalized learning has big potential. It’s long been known that not everybody learns the same way—and there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all style of instruction. One of the biggest challenges of the teaching profession is how to cater lessons to many different learning styles. With customized, blended instruction that allows students to choose their style of learning, students won’t be spending time being taught in ways that don’t work for them before getting to the way that does—and learning can be more efficient.

In addition, the in-person, group learning style caters more to extroverts than introverts. In many classrooms, a small group of more talkative students can dominate class discussions—and students who are less naturally loquacious may feel uncomfortable speaking up and asking questions. Because of this, more introverted students often don’t get as much out of the classroom experience as extroverted students do. With a blended approach, quieter students can ask questions and interact online without the social pressure of a large classroom setting.

Even so, technology in classrooms has gotten mixed results in schools. Many schools are receiving large grants for technology even as they have to lay off teachers. It’s fairly clear that there are no shortcuts in teaching—and technology can’t save the education system all on its own. You don't have to be seeking a technological degree to see that technology is important and can help digital l skills can’t replace the fundamentals of reading, writing, and math that are graded on standardized tests.

The future of education is hard to gauge. Technology provides a level of flexibility that appeals to students of all ages and backgrounds—and makes school accessible to many who might not have been able to accommodate the schedule or travel the distance before. But it’s not a replacement for good teaching. Schools will still need to invest in their teachers—and be sure students are getting a solid background in the basics—if they want to see their students succeed.


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