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Making sense of blended learning

The principles of successful digital integration into classroom instruction are at work in Wade King Elementary School

Blended learning, a combination of online and in-person instruction, is gaining traction around the country. For many administrators, however, there remain many questions about what blended learning actually means and how best to implement this model. In this web seminar, originally broadcast on October 24, 2012, John Bailey, executive director of Digital Learning Now!, outlined the trends and key elements of effective blended learning. And Analisa Ficklin, principal of Wade King Elementary School in the Bellingham (Wash.) Public Schools, described how the school is implementing Rosetta Stone to enhance their dual-language curriculum in a blended learning environment.

John Bailey
Executive Director
Digital Learning Now!

Interest in digital and blended learning is growing, thanks to some major trends that educators and policy makers are dealing with: Tight education budgets, a digital generation of students in a system that is outdated, and the opportunities presented by the fundamental changes due to the Common Core requirements.

Digital learning addresses these issues in several ways.

  • We have a suite of tools that can personalize education. We can meet every student where they are at, and help take them where they need to be. Technology can help us match the right curriculum at the right time.
  • Digital learning can expand access to quality courses, materials, and teachers. You can be a rural student in a rural school and be freed from geographic limitations. With online courses and content, we can bring the best and brightest to the student no matter where they are.
  • Technology is capturing the imagination of education reformers, business leaders and school leaders. They are seeing new models of learning that can take place anywhere, and that’s where blended learning comes in. It is combining the best of online learning with the best of what happens face-to-face in the school.

Digital Learning Now! works with state policymakers to help them develop a vision of what is possible with these models. We also work with leaders to try to help to accelerate the development of online learning, and help get past old limitations and barriers. Blended learning is a formal education program in which a student learns, at least in part, through online delivery of content and instruction, and where the student has some element of control over the time, place and pace of that learning. Part of that instruction also happens in a physical and supervised location.

There are four dimensions of change brought by blended learning: Time is no longer restricted; place is no longer restricted to a classroom, breaking down the idea that there are specific places where you learn; paths to learning are different for all students and can be constructed that way; and students are able to take in information at a pace and level that is most comfortable for them.

Those dimensions are in practice at Wade King Elementary School.

Analisa Ficklin
Wade King Elementary School
Bellingham (Wash.) Public Schools

When our school opened four years ago, it was with the intent to seek authorization as an International Baccalaureate (IB) World School. The Primary Years Program (PYP) is one of several that the IB organization has designed as a framework for its schools.

Our mission statement addresses several elements that are essential to that program. It is to “develop knowledgeable, skilled, compassionate, principled, and action-oriented young people through a rigorous program of inquiry. King students will become internationally minded individuals who help create a better world.”

We focus on the social and emotional growth of our students, not just academics. The words “knowledgeable, skilled, compassionate, principled” are part of the Learner Profile and they describe the type of learner we aim to develop in our school. The idea of being “action-oriented” is another element of the PYP. We believe that deep learning leads students to take action and address problems they see in the world around them. Being internationally minded is woven through all aspects of the PYP. It is also a key component of our language policy.

A dual language requirement is a key requirement at all IB schools. In addition to our native English, we have chosen to teach Mandarin Chinese. We selected Chinese because it is a language growing in use and influence. When we started, however, we did not have any Chinese speakers on staff and we didn’t have the budget to hire any. So, along with utilizing community volunteers, Rosetta Stone software became the backbone of our Chinese language program.

We now have a part-time certified Chinese teacher, but even with having a teacher, we fall far short of being able to provide the 1,200 to 1,500 hours of instruction necessary for proficiency. So we continued to use Rosetta Stone, and over time, we came to see it as an integral part of an effective blended learning program. Students spend about 40 minutes each week in a class with a native Chinese speaker and 30 minutes in a lab with Rosetta Stone software. Students and their families also have access to Rosetta Stone at home.

Although there are many advantages to our face-to-face instruction, including integrating Chinese with other classroom programs and lessons, there are a number of additional benefits to the online instruction through Rosetta Stone. Students work at their own pace and their progress is documented within the program. We are also able to expose students to multiple speakers of the language. Rosetta Stone also provides a rich visual component, with images that support the language learning, but also help to develop cultural understanding.

The ability to increase the amount of time we can spend learning the language is an important piece and also gives us the potential to reach families and staff, as well. Some of the challenges we’re facing include budget limitations, time constraints, shifting student needs, different levels of student proficiency and finding ways to integrate language study into all our curriculum. But, blended learning is helping us address these challenges.

Our future plans to grow and refine our Chinese program involve increasing at-home learning using Rosetta Stone, not only for students but also for families; to identify more volunteer opportunities in the community; to use technology to increase integration of Chinese in all classrooms; and to develop connections with sister schools, using technology tools like videoconferencing to expose students to classrooms in other cultures.

All these areas connect to our mission, and all are components of a blended learning approach. Some key factors we’ve identified that ensure blended learning success are:

  • Start with a vision of what you want to accomplish.
  • Set aside time to plan.
  • Identify key players and gain their support.
  • Engage families and get their support.
  • Track results and refine the program as necessary.
  • Be prepared for setbacks.
  • Don’t get discouraged. Blended learning is a work in progress.

To view this web seminar in its entirety, visit