Edu Trends Are Converging in Blended Learning

I’m on the long plane ride back from the Yale School of Management Education Leadership Conference (which was excellent), which gave me time to reflect. As I tried to piece all of the elements of the conference together, I realized that a large number of seemingly disparate education trends are converging in blended learning models, at least those that are showing great promise.

Below is a list of 15 that I brainstormed over North Dakota. I’m sure I forgot one or two.

  • Personalization: From an instructional model that struggles to differentiate instruction to models designed explicitly to enable it.
  • Mastery-Based Progression: From progression based on “seat time” to progression based on students demonstrating concept/skill mastery. This trend may ultimately make grade levels obsolete.
  • Blended Instruction: From analog, lecture-based instruction to multiple approaches, including but not limited to teacher and technology-facilitated instruction.
  • Standards: From 50 different sets of mixed quality to the Common Core, which proponents suggest will drive innovation and facilitate scale.
  • Digital Content: From flat, uninspiring and minimally effective to adaptive, engaging and (hopefully) more effective.
  • Formative Assessments: From periodic (every 6-10 weeks), paper-based interim assessments (if that) to high frequency, adaptive and computer-based. The new wave of assessments will include those embedded within digital content and independent from it. there is also increasing momentum toward performance tasks and project-based learning as alternative or complementary assessment tools.
  • Big Data: From limited information on student performance and a teacher-driven, Excel-based analytics to an abundance of data from digital content & assessments. This move to abundance will necessitate the development of learning systems that can make sense of it (see next item).
  • Learning Systems: From proprietary, closed systems to open systems that leverage big data to drive continuous improvement. Adaptive learning engines that organize and recommend modular content from multiple providers are also emerging.
  • Educator Roles: From a one-size-fits all teacher role to specialized roles, with a focus on maximizing educators’ effectiveness and providing targeted support.
  • Procurement: From top-down curriculum purchasing by states and districts to bottom-up adoption by teachers and schools.
  • Devices: From expensive desktops and laptops to cheaper tablets and mobile devices.
  • Internet Connectivity: From limited bandwidth to abundant and inexpensive wireless access.
  • Charter Scale: From slow, cautious growth by a few national charter networks to networks built for sustainability and scale.
  • Rise of Online Schooling Options: From few online programs to increasing numbers of part-time and full-time online options. Innovation that occurs in this market will inevitably transfer into bricks-and-mortar schools.
  • Quality / Accountability: From limited transparency based on proficiency categories to using academic growth as the measure of student, program, product, teacher, school and system performance. Ideally this trend will be driven by a better, more trusted assessment regimen, including but not limited to the new PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments.

I could probably go on, but my point is made by the fact that it was easy to list 15 different trends that are all implicated in the emerging blended learning movement. While this pace of change is exciting, it also makes life challenging for leading edge practitioners who are trying to navigate the ever-evolving landscape.  I wish them well!

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