WASHINGTON, DC—In conjunction with the seventh annual Digital Learning Day, Future Ready Schools® (FRS), an initiative of the Alliance for Excellent Education (All4Ed), released a new guide for school districts interested in using “blended learning” to support their approach to instruction. Blended learning is a variety of practices and strategies that combine online learning with in-person instruction from classroom teachers to give students greater control over the pace, location, and path of their learning.
To provide a real-world example of how a school district uses blended learning to support instruction, the guide, Blending Teaching and Technology: Simple Strategies for Improved Student Learning, showcases Lindsay Unified School District (LUSD). In this highly mobile rural district in California’s Central Valley, 86 percent of students come from low-income families and more than half are English language learners.
“When people are buying a new car, they don’t ask how long it took to build,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “Instead, they ask how well it performs. At Lindsay Unified School District, students benefit from a flexible, robust learning environment where teachers provide customized learning opportunities for each student. More school districts should examine such a model to see if it fits the needs of their students.”
At LUSD, each of the 4,191 students receives a unique learning experience every day customized to his or her specific needs. Students no longer progress from grade to grade at the same rate regardless of whether they have learned all or any of the content. Instead, the district implemented a performance-based system (PBS) of progression that gives all students the time and support they need to become proficient in all academic content before moving to new instructional material. After deciding to implement a PBS, LUSD needed a new vehicle for delivering instruction and chose blended learning.
To reach this point, LUSD first needed a clear vision for what district leaders hoped to accomplish instructionally and a plan for how they wanted to change teaching and learning. To guide other school districts through this process, FRS developed a research-based framework and five-step planning process to support school districts in leveraging digital learning strategies, like blended learning, that prepare all students for success in college, a career, and life.
“Effectively implementing a new instructional approach supported by blended learning requires more than online content and fancy devices,” the guide notes. “District leaders must identify the instructional goals and learning outcomes they want to accomplish to ensure that all students, particularly those historically underserved, graduate from high school ready for success in postsecondary education, a career, and life. Once district leaders have a clear vision for how the district wants to transform teaching and learning, they can choose the blended learning strategies and related platforms, content, and devices that support those intentions.”
The guide notes that blended learning is not an end goal in and of itself—nor does it prescribe a specific instructional approach. Instead, educators can integrate blended learning strategies into a variety of educational models that prepare students for success after high school. LUSD illustrates that blended learning simply serves as the vehicle for delivering curriculum in innovative ways to achieve a district’s instructional goals and student learning outcomes.
Should a school district choose blended learning to support its instructional approach, the guide identifies potential challenges and opportunities the district may face and offers practical strategies for implementing blended learning aligned with seven key planning areas, known as the FRS “gears”:
- Curriculum, instruction, and assessment
- Personalized professional learning
- Budget and resources
- Community partnerships
- Data and privacy
- Robust infrastructure
- Use of space and time
“In the rush to purchase the latest device, some districts skip over the vison and planning steps—sometimes resulting in devices left on the shelves or awkward fits into instruction,” said Wise. “This guide, when combined with Future Ready Schools’s framework and planning process, gives practical advice for how school districts can give students greater control over their learning while freeing up teachers to give students more individual attention.”
Download Blending Teaching and Technology: Simple Strategies for Improved Student Learning at futureready.org/blendedlearning.