You are here

Sponsored Content

Using blended learning to engage students and improve outcomes

A District Administration Web Seminar Digest • Originally Presented October 18, 2011

Blended learning, which incorporates the best elements of online and face-to-face instruction, allows educators to personalize learning for every student. Determining the best mix of online and face-to-face instruction is the key to building a successful program, but the same mix isn’t appropriate for all students. Panelists Gregg Levin, vice president of school solutions for K12, and Heather Hiebsch, principal/director, PSD Global Academy, Fort Collins, CO, offer ideas on how to use blended learning models to meet students’ needs.

The online and blended learning explosion

Gregg Levin
Vice President,
School Solutions, K12

A recent International Association of K12 Online Learning survey reinforced what we all know: Online learning is exploding. In the past decade, the type of growth we’ve experienced is significant. Online learning is growing by 46% a year and the growth is accelerating even faster among partners who have been with us for more than a year. Once a district starts and develops a comfort level, they quickly understand the advantages and opportunities and find new ways to apply it across the district.

We look at online and blended learning through two lenses: one is the school district and the other through the family. First we look at the challenges faced by the school district and the family and then determine how online learning can provide solutions.

Not surprisingly, on the district front, those challenges range from the need to improve performance and prepare more students for college to the necessity to stretch budget dollars. Fewer teachers also mean school administrators must find ways to augment smaller staffs and reduce overcrowding in classrooms. At home, families look for an individualized pro-gram with more options, greater communication with teachers and flexibility in scheduling. For families dealing with bullying or security issues, online learning can be a safer environment where students focus on learning.

Students today are much more plugged in and used to doing a lot of things online and are looking for a similar experience in the classroom.

In 2010, roughly a third of the nation’s schools were offering online learning. But that number has probably increased significantly this year. A number of districts are also moving to expand to full- time online learning.

K12 is fortunate to offer a broad spectrum of offerings from a fully managed, full-time program where we recruit and enroll the students, provide the teaching staff, and administer the program and all services. Or, we can provide a more targeted solution, including reading and math remediation, credit recovery and more.

A number of partners start with us in a more targeted approach and then quickly expand.

Planning steps and questions for your blended learning deployment

Heather Hiebsch
PSD Global Academy,
Ft. Collins, CO

I am passionate about this topic. Our mission is to provide a global education in a local community. And I think this blended learning approach with both online and face-to-face is a great way to engage kids and get them connected to their community.

There are four categories under the online-learning umbrella.

• Tech-assisted classrooms. Almost all our classrooms have some kind of technology in place.
• Blended curriculum. This could be a traditional class with an online component, such as homework given online.
• Blended schedules. This is where students have some courses they take fully online but they come to school for enrichment and collaborative activities.
• Fully online school. This is where everything is delivered online. At PSD Global, we started off fully online, but last year, we added blended schedules, and next year, we are planning to add blended coursework.

If you are thinking of launching a program, approach it as you would a good lesson plan. Start with your objectives and design backwards. Ask yourself why you want to start an online program. Some of the most common reasons include serving students who are in your district but not attending your schools, recovering revenue lost by bringing more students into district, providing new educational options, meeting a growing demand in the community for flexible scheduling, creating a method for credit recovery or just because “my boss told me to.”

The next step is to establish a team and determine who should be involved. At the top of that list is the district leadership. You will not get far without their buy-in. Because you will have expenses, you need accounting to be integrally involved.

And because of the technology that will be implemented and supported, you definitely want the IT department and the managers of your student information systems on the team.

Remember, even if these students aren’t in the classroom, they are part of your district and need to be in your SIS system. Other important team members include curriculum, HR, Special Education and ESL.

Once your team is onboard, you will have a lot of questions to answer.

• Who will be the project manager, which is a critical role.
• What is the timeline expected to be?
• What kind of start-up expenses will you incur?
• What type of online learning will you offer? Will you create it yourself or purchase it from a vendor? Do you have the skills you need in house or will you need a consultant?
• Will your teachers be provided by a vendor or will they be local teachers? If they are local and part of your district, do you have the professional development skills to help them meet the very different needs of online students?
• How will you evaluate and provide quality control over the program? How will you observe online teaching and evaluate staff?

You will have to deal with some misconceptions, including why you need on-campus facilities for students who learn online, and potentially dispel the notion that online learning is just a place for dropouts.

PSD Global Academy has 170 K-12 students with seven teachers and a staff of four including an administrator, counselor, office manager and office/classroom assistant. Teachers are local except for specialized teachers who are provided by K12 Aventa.

We offer home-based programs and a blended option where they take online courses at home but come on campus for enrichment electives and collaborative projects. All students can participate in any campus extra-curricular activities so they can feel they are part of the school community.

Parents like the blended options because students become more engaged with their school. That contributes significantly to the success of the online learning piece, as well.

To view this web seminar in its entirety go to