How to get started with blended learning

How to get started with blended learning

Experts say don't buy devices without first making a plan
A math lesson using ST Math is part of the new blended learning program at Ketcham Elementary School in the District of Columbia Public Schools.

Administrators often get excited about the possibilities for technology and personal devices to enhance learning. But education technology experts offer a warning: Don’t buy devices without a plan for how they will enhance learning.

Administrators must decide on specific learning goals that can be achieved through blended learning. Then they must choose a qualified staff team to create a model for delivering that instruction. The last step is figuring out what devices and software they want to purchase.

“Blended learning is not just buying a tablet for every student,” says Susan Patrick, president and CEO of iNACOL. “It’s about using technology as a delivery system to create a shift in the instructional model that gives students more controls and flexibility, and allows for that instructional change toward personalization to take place.”

Often, districts start using blended learning to reignite learning and achievement for students at the extreme ends of the academic spectrum, such as gifted, or credit recovery students, says Gregg Levin, senior vice president of institutional business at K12 Inc., an online course provider.

Districts also use blended programs to cover curriculum or teaching gaps, such as offering an online course for electives or languages that only a few students are interested in, Levin says.

“Start small, prove what works, and over time expand into the rest of the district,” Levin says.

The blended approach requires an initial investment in technology and professional development, but may eventually save schools money. A 2012 report from the nonprofit Thomas B. Fordham Institute found that overall, per-pupil costs for blended models are significantly lower than the $10,000 national average for traditional schools. Costs range from an estimated $7,600 to $10,200 per pupil in blended schools, the report states.

Districts are often finding funding through federal grants, and local and national foundations.

“The majority of districts getting started are looking at how to shift around existing resources,” Patrick says. “You have to think about restructuring budgets to give teachers the tools they need, and students the learning experiences they need.”