Going Back to School to Learn About Blended Learning

Recently I was invited by the Natick, Mass. public schools to attend an Apple Distinguished Schools Day where Natick shared its blended learning approach with other schools and districts. As an online learning tool, Listen Current fits well into blended learning, but I wanted to learn more about how schools are adopting it and how we as a company can be more attractive to schools using blended learning.

First, a quick definition: According to the Online Learning Consortium blended learning means “a portion of the traditional face-to-face instruction is replaced by web-based online learning.”

What attracted Natick to blended learning was the personalized approach. For Natick Assistant Superintendent Anna Nolin, the approach needed to be “student-centered, reflect students’ voices and choices” and arm them with college- and career-ready skills.

Natick created innovation teams to solve the challenging problems in their classrooms by evaluating innovative practices and tools. This is where new ed-tech companies can come into the picture. Most of the new companies in the ed-tech space are completely online, which makes them well poised for schools turning to blended learning. Listen Current was part of that evaluation and is now being used in Natick middle schools.

There are whole companies devoted to helping schools become blended. Education Elements offers personalized learning consulting services and can help schools walk through the process. And companies like Knewton are targeting schools taking a personalized approach.

From the perspective of administrators, working with startups gives you direct access to the creators of the product who want and need help improving it. Startups like mine are always looking for more feedback. So when schools are testing out blended learning they should think about testing out the latest products. They are likely to give you a low to no cost, flexible solution.

Natick’s blended learning transition has been going on for seven years and the results so far have been impressive. A survey found that teachers and students report that using computers more deeply improves their education. What ed-tech company wouldn’t want to be a part of that? And what school wouldn’t want the best, most engaging tools for their students?

Many schools are requiring that by graduation a high school student must have taken at least one online course in preparation for college. So that means more blended learning .

What will the future of blended learning look like for Natick? Portability, community learning, data visualization, learning hubs and learning options.

I thought I understood how blended and flipped learning is impacting schools around the country. But one thing I learned while attending the Apple Distinguished Schools Day in Natick is that blended learning means they no longer use substitute teachers. If a teacher is absent, they are required to have their lesson in place and it will be digitally administered to their students. That’s an interesting by-product of more online learning.

Starting an ed-tech company at this exciting time of change in classrooms can sometimes feel like a roller coaster. As schools are figuring out their new educational models, we companies are figuring out the best way to fit into the new models. It’s a ride we’re taking together.

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