Lecture Heavy Learning is Out
Lecture-based education was the norm in middle and high school for a long time. Ever since public school systems became regulated by the states and held applicable to uniform standards, teaching by lecture has been the default approach, and the recent emphasis on standardized testing instead of actual learning has only compounded this. After all, if teachers stand up and speak about the subject for an hour each day, they can ensure that they easily touch on whatever topics and benchmarks the state requires.
Lecture-based education, however, is far from the most effective form of education, especially for students that are at the far ends of the bell curve, that are either gifted or struggling. These students get bored by the lecture, either because they already understand it or because it isn't presented in a format that lets them catch up from falling behind, and as such they lose focus. Lost focus leads to difficulty with assignments, and at times even the most gifted students get C or D grades because the content was presented in a way that wasn't conducive to learning.
Blended Learning is in...But What is it?
Enter blended learning. Along with other learning styles, blended learning seeks to improve upon the traditional lecture model by teaching in a way that is more in tune with how students actually learn. Blended learning, as its name suggests, blends or mixes two different teaching styles. This usually involves mixing face to face interaction between teacher and students with some amount of online content. Blended learning is usually more common in college classrooms than middle or high school, but more and more secondary schools are adopting it as an alternative to traditional lecture-based instruction.
In a blended learning program, both the face to face portion and the online portion vary significantly with the needs of the program. Often the teacher-led portion is a lecture, but other times it's a demonstration or guided problem-solving. The online portion tends to be self-directed more often than not, but sometimes teachers are active in facilitating online activities or simply engage with students as they work to offer assistance. The online portion can be in the classroom and supervised by the teacher or it can be completed independently by the students during a study period or at home after the school day ends. There is also a lot of variation in the ratio of teacher-led instruction to online activity.
What are the Benefits to Blended Learning?
Most middle and high schools tend to favor lecture over more interactive teacher-led activities, but the disparity isn't as wide as it is with colleges and universities. In addition, secondary schools tend to keep the online portion in the classroom and teachers tend to be more engaged during it — walking around the classroom, monitoring the students, helping if necessary. Secondary schools also usually prefer a higher ratio of teacher-led activity to online activity compared to post-secondary institutions.
The benefits of blended learning are very substantial. As hinted at above, mixing teaching approaches tends to keep students more engaged and active in the learning process. Blended learning also helps students develop and improve a familiarity with technology by using it for a variety of purposes including research and interpersonal communication. Finally, blended learning provides a framework for students to study topics that are related to but not specifically covered by the curriculum.
Incorporating online and technology-based activity and learning into a traditional middle or high school classroom has many benefits. It makes students more engaged, builds real-world technology, collaboration, and communication skills, and allows students to incorporate their passions and interests into the classroom. With its increased flexibility and effectiveness compared to traditional lecture-based instruction, blended learning is a fantastic tool for helping kids learn more successfully.