Blended Learning

Yesterday I had the opportunity to talk with the High School’s new Principal Robert Mezzanotte and the STEM Coordinator Simone Palmer. The purpose of the meeting was to provide fuller answers to my 10 questions to the Superintendent of a few weeks ago. The meeting went as one would expect. And, as in many meeting that includes people, it was the side comments made and comments missing that were significant.

The Principal said that the successful introduction of “Blended Learning“ was his first priority. Until a week or so ago I had not heard of Blended Learning. Or if I had, I had assumed the term was the new educational term for computers in the classroom. It is not. Blended Learning is an approach to achieving an end goal of personalized student education through the use of technology for instruction. Let me try to explain.

High Schools use the same method of instruction today that I had when I attended. A teacher presents the same instruction to all students sitting in formation facing her. In the Blended Learning community this is called Traditional Instruction learning.

Before I move on, keep this diagram handy.

From Traditional Instruction the instruction and learning will move to Macro Differentiated learning. Here the teacher teaches to groups of students in the classroom. Each group is composed of students at the same “content level,” that is, the  a group of kids that “get it”, a group of kids that “don’t get it” and groups of kids that “sorta get it.” The teacher made the decision as to the groupings. The teacher will rotate between the groups over the duration of the class period. The teacher continues to drive the instruction (short lectures to small groups) and the instructional materials are not expected or, rather, not required to be online. (The online part is an efficiency that becomes important later, so keep watch.)

From Macro Differentiation the instruction and learning will move to Micro Differentiated learning. Here the teacher works with more and smaller groups of students. Some groups contain just one student — the smartest and the dumbest. When a teacher is not attending to a group that group will be busy learning from instruction delivered online and assessed continuously online. Progress is a calculation without  allowance to character or circumstances.

From Micro Differentiation the instruction and learning will move to Individual Mastery learning. Here all students have individualized online instruction, tutoring, and assessment. The teachers are available for coaching as are their peers — that is student to student coaching. Each lesson is a step in a chain without variance. Only the speed that the student moves along it is different. To be fair, each link in the chain may contain different content richness for the kids that “get it” and the ones that “don’t get it.”

From Individual Mastery we come to Blended Learning’s final destination of Fully Personalized learning. Here the student is master and commander of their own education. Directed by their own interests. A classroom is now a selection from an online catalog of available syllabi. Assessment is automatic and continuous. Peer to peer coaching and evaluation is routine. Learning has become “teacher-proof”. If you still have the diagram open, the information visual for Fully Personalized has a teacher sitting outside the student's learning. There is no direct connection between the two.

I am quite unsure where the teachers are in the Fully Personalized form of learning. The obvious place is an educational utopia where instruction is undifferentially produced for a student ideal that is hermetically delivered without an atom harmed. I might be overthinking this.
I don’t want Blended Learning. How about you?


Tom Hoffman said...

This is 100% hand waving.

Andrew Gilmartin said...

I assume you mean that Blended Learning is 100% have waving.

Tom Hoffman said...

Yeah. ;-)

Matt Caron said...

I do not want blended learning, but I suspect that my reasoning is different. I want to skip all the intermediary steps and get to the fully personalized learning utopia, because I'm not convinced that any of the intermediary steps are necessary for anything save political reasons (and, honestly, based on your reaction, I think they're right).

However, I don't expect government schools to do this. Too much momentum and protectionism from the teacher's unions. I expect homeschooling, small schooling, or unschooling to do this, and one would subscribe to have access to a pile of online course materials so that, when your child is interested, they can learn the things in which they're interested.

How this meshes with higher ed standardization remains to be seen, but, then again, while we're talking about all hearts and unicorns, we can assert that the point of university degrees is as either (or both):
1. a market signalling apparatus which tells potential employers that you can follow through and finish things.
2. a de-facto intelligence test.

There are more efficient ways to accomplish (2) (namely, an actual intelligence test, but I believe such things are banned by law as discriminatory in a lot of places).

(1) has some side benefits besides just the market signal. Based on our industry, I find that entirely self-taught programmers lack proper engineering discipline and skills (documentation, process, controls, etc.) and often even experience with source control systems. Conversely, I find that entirely academic folks generally lack low-level chops (because people only seem to teach high stack stuff, which means no one can do anything to program registers to boostrap a new board these days) and fail to understand that actually shipping is a feature, and that the perfect is the enemy of the good. In reality, a mix of both is ideal, but that is hard to find (which is likely why everyone wants folks with 5+ years of experience).

In the end, I guess it's a wash - some folks with degrees are well-rounded, others are too academic. Some folks without degrees aren't focused on the engineering aspect, some are.