Get inspired about the future of education when you unleash the creative power of the students you already know.
The power of student-centered learning.
Shelley Wright, a teacher in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada, talks about the moment she discovered student-centered learning and how it changed her life—and the lives of her students.
Blended learning is formal, personalized education enhanced by technology to give learners a voice and choice in their mastery-based education, in a flexible physical place at a pace partially determined by data and feedback.
Voice: Every student has input into their education, starting at the earliest levels, including assessment criteria and interest areas, and even policy.
Choice: Learning isn’t restricted to one teacher’s pedagogy. Teachers give learners options for activities, assignments, content, and leadership.
Place: Learning activity isn’t limited to one physical location and happens both online and offline and no longer requires rows of desks.
Pace: Teachers enable self-directed, mastery-based learning with individualized learning velocity.
Personalized, mastery-based, student-led… it’s a lot to figure out, with so many definitions out there. Throughout this guide and in the world of education, you’ll encounter these and other popular terms that describe the latest pedagogical philosophies.
Leading experts agree on certain shared principles: student voice and choice, student agency, and customized content and flexible instruction to capitalize on each student's strengths and needs.
Student-centered blended learning includes all the components defined below, to one degree or another. It begins with—and always includes—personalized learning.
Personalization: Education is paced to learning needs and specific interests of different learners. In a fully personalized environment, learning objectives, content, methods, and pace will vary. Personalization encompasses differentiation and individualization.
Individualization: Individualized education is paced to learning needs of different learners. The goals are the same for all students, but each can progress at a speed according to their needs.
Differentiation: Differentiated learning is tailored to learning practices of different learners. Goals are the same for all students, but methods of instruction vary according to evidence-based choices for each student.
Student-led: Students lead one another in learning. A single student can lead a small group or tutor another student for a component of a learning activity. Students can self-select the leader, or teachers can choose.
Mastery- or competency-based education: In mastery-based learning, students demonstrate their knowledge and skills before they progress to the next level.
Read about the bright and exciting future of Blended Learning (and how you can be part of it) on the EdBlog.
The degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their education.
Generally speaking, the concept of “student engagement” is predicated on the belief that learning improves when students are inquisitive, interested, or inspired, and that learning tends to suffer when students are bored, dispassionate, disaffected, or otherwise “disengaged.”
Stronger student engagement or improved student engagement are common instructional objectives expressed by educators.
- The Glossary of Education Reform
What if students controlled their own learning? Australian school principal Peter Hutton asks “how did we let learning get so bad?” and explores an innovative, radical solution where students have a voice in everything to do with their education.
What separates a good blended learning program from a bad one?
We think blended learning is great—but not all programs are created equal. Rebecca Recco explores the good, the bad and the ugly of blended learning.
Like a gym circuit, students move through activities stationed throughout the classroom (or classrooms) during one or more class periods, with at least one activity involving instruction via technology.
Learners work through some or all of the classroom centers, but their progress is based on an individualized program determined by the teacher based on information from a technology-driven assessment tool.
Learners, in a computer lab, work on individualized, online tasks. Teachers use data from the lab session to inspire further instruction to individuals or the whole group.
Before face-to-face interaction (often outside regular school hours), students absorb the core lesson from an online source. During class time, students apply their learning with teacher and peer support.
What does assessment look like in blended learning?
If every student’s learning is customized, how do we know how each student is doing?
For the past 150 years, assessment has been a summative test of a narrow set of reading and math skills. A typical test, though, can only measure bits and pieces of knowledge in isolation. That’s one way to score students on a specific set of standards, but it doesn’t capture how well students understand the material. Summative assessment is reliable and efficient, but only for relatively superficial knowledge.
Worse still, “high stakes” testing reduces motivation and learning, narrows curricula, and usually doesn’t reflect a student’s performance in the real world.
Moving away from the traditional teacher-led classroom means changing how we assess student learning, and it’s challenging.
Twenty-first-century education results can’t be tested at a mass scale and can’t be assessed cheaply by machines. But, when combined with traditional testing, more-involved assessment models give students and teachers a much clearer picture of crucial strengths and weaknesses.
One of the recent changes in assessment is student involvement. Students are learning to self regulate and understand how they learn. They’re co-creators of their education, and that means they contribute to evaluation criteria.
Assessment itself is part of the education of an independent, lifelong learner who can:
In a blended learning classroom, progress is typically measured by four assessment models: diagnostic, interim, formative, and summative. Each assessment model has similar goals:
But each offers different data sets for evaluation purposes and should be used at different times.
A pretest to identify strengths and gaps in skills, ability, and knowledge. The data tells students how much they know and helps teachers differentiate instruction.
Also called a benchmark assessment, an interim assessment is a standardized test given at intervals as students master a topic. Students gain insight into their progress, and it guides teachers’ choices of future instruction.
Informal check-ins for immediate, actionable insight, formative assessments are usually easy to implement and come in many formats. Technology in the classroom means teachers are gathering data all the time, which plays a critical role in blended learning.
Summative assessments are the ones that make older students “pull an all-nighter” and are usually high stakes, such as finals and university entrance exams. They measure student achievement in a concrete way.
In addition to becoming a willing, life-long learner, teachers will need at least some essential technology. Because learning objectives drive the use of educational technology, let’s talk about what you need technology to do.
Student-centered, personalized learning is just that: personal. Teachers create an accurate picture of who each student is as a learner.
Myriad diagnostic assessments, from multiple choice to concept maps to discussion boards, can provide data for a learner profile. Understanding student dispositions and interests helps teachers design their classroom and multi-modal curriculum delivery.
Learner profiles, including “hard” assessment data, are also made available to the student, giving them the information they need to contribute their own personal and academic learning goals and preferred pathways. Profiles build self-awareness, helping students understand how they learn. Students can also upload evidence of learning to demonstrate mastery.
Take another look at the fundamental blended learning models. Is there one that suits your situation best? Would a combination of models work better for you? Each model requires varying degrees of technology. Match the model to objective, and also to the available tech resources and content.
Each model affords varying degrees of student flexibility, autonomy, and agency. Before you start designing your classroom, answer two critical questions: What do you want the student to control? What do you want your role to be? For example, if you want to encourage student agency, offer as many locations and learning modes as possible.
Don’t forget to look around and imagine your classroom as a community that reflects the real world and embraces diversity.
Lessons are more meaningful when you, as the instructor, create the content. You establish a relationship between you and your students, which makes the learning experience feel more personal. In section two of this guide, we learned that the student-teacher relationship is of primary importance for engagement and motivation.
Enhancing conventional materials is less about changing the material and more about increasing opportunities for interaction and learning. Any lesson can be enhanced through small tweaks by incorporating technology creatively. A series of notes can include links to resources for further reading. A list of definitions can become a randomized quiz. A hands-on lab can be recorded.
Think about how texts can be more exciting and effective with embedded videos or checks for understanding. Imagine what your students might discover when they work on digital assignments in groups instead of individually.
Increasing the opportunities for students to interact with their lessons will increase their engagement and, in turn, their performance. The use of video is one way to do this. Just remember—the shorter the video, the better. The longest a video should be is 3-5 minutes so that students do not lose attention.
Also, don’t forget to have fun when picking or making your videos. Fun is infectious and your students will no doubt be more engaged when you show your creativity and humor.
Another great way to make lessons more interactive and increase student comprehension is by including Check for Understanding quizzes throughout your lessons. Formative assessments like these break up the material and help educators and their students gauge depth of understanding instantaneously.
When you are building lessons, try to incorporate both lower level and higher level learning. Consider Bloom’s Taxonomy and think about how you might cover the different levels of learning (that is, Remembering, Understanding, Applying, Analyzing, Evaluating, and Creating) in one lesson.
For example, you could focus your lessons on the lower parts of the taxonomy, such as reading a chapter, and reserve class time to focus on the higher parts, such as group analyses of the subject. This is great for those who practice flipped learning, but may not be the best option for everyone. You’ll decide what works best.
Engagement is crucial. As you design your lessons, imagine ways students will interact with you, each other, and the curriculum.
Variety provides opportunities for diversity and deeper learning. Varying your class activities to hit some of the other points in Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence Theory (Kinesthetic, Natural) can help boost student engagement and improve learning experiences.
When you start blending, it’s easy to assume students will be “naturals” in your new learning environment because they have grown up around technology. This is simply not the case, especially if they have never taken a class like yours.
Students are likely to struggle with a few common hurdles:
In the first few days of class, walk your students through your expectations, your tools, and your process. Take at least one day to practice online learning—for example, turning in assignments, taking tests or quizzes, and navigating the material.
Ultimately, as with any instructional model, the goal of blended learning is to improve student learning in a measurable way. This makes assessment a critical piece. Instruction should be driven based on the results of assessments, which is often collected from technology tools. Plan for assessment to demonstrate student growth and learning.
Data-driven teaching is cyclical. You develop your plan based on student profiles. You set up your classroom, create lesson content, and set learning in motion with students.
Then it’s time to analyze data. Did you achieve the learning goals? What’s needed next?
Hidden within your process is a complex set of data actions. Using data as often as possible, and in real-time when possible, is the best place to mine teaching inspiration.
We gleaned information and inspiration from many great sources, even outside our own community of experts. The Learning Accelerator is full of helpful information for your blended learning practice.
Read more about putting students at the center of learning and why this is so revolutionary on the SMART EDBlog.
Technology should solve problems, not create them. If the technology is difficult to learn or use, it’s no good to anyone. A class that is struggling to connect or to use the technology to full advantage is not a place where a lot of learning is going to happen. As part of choosing technology, you need to forecast IT support for teachers and students.
Read about how one school transformed into a national model for remote learning.
Blended learning is about empowering teachers and students, not aggravating them. Technology that works with familiar online resources is valuable. If students are familiar with Google Meet, YouTube or Zoom, for example, there's no need to stop using them.
Read about how one school transformed into a national model for remote learning.
The hub of a classroom and one streamlined, continuous platform for lesson delivery, interactivity and engagement – the right interactive displays can empower teachers with a far reach and meaningful methods for connected learning.
No student left behind: the lessons you teach at the display sync to remote learners everywhere, creating an engaging, unified classroom experience.
Improve understanding: visually guide students through key concepts for better comprehension.
Captivating lesson content: hold attention and bring learning to life as you annotate and highlight lesson content, videos, PDFs, and more.
Active learning: ensure every student has a voice by contributing from a connected device and sees their learning on the teacher display and online in shared workspaces.
The right interactive display makes it possible to create and maintain stability in an ever-evolving educational landscape.
Digital podiums with interactive pen displays can really help teachers communicate more effectively at a distance, improving student comprehension and attention.
Simply connect a computer, and teachers can add notes or illustrations to their live lessons on the touch screen. Students participate more when they see their ideas, questions, and feedback addressed in real-time.
Deliver lessons from anywhere: connect your class in a live remote lesson that holds attention as you guide them through key concepts and annotate lesson content on-screen.
Record lessons: capture your interactive teaching for students to watch on their own time.
A good podium should be compatible with Windows, Mac and Chrome OS devices – so you can quickly connect and start collaborating.
Miss being in front of your students? Keep the continuity of a classroom experience from anywhere with video conferencing on an interactive display. Students can see you at the familiar board and keep the continuity of a classroom experience remotely to better learn and retain information. Attention is captured and imagination fires.
Every pixel counts - see your students clearly: Many display providers make it possible to connect a Windows, iOS or Chrome device for high quality screen sharing using audio and video platforms such as Zoom. High-definition participant galleries help you see and connect with students at a distance.
Build meaningful connections in blended learning environments: Classrooms look different these days, and it can be challenging to build connections with students you’ve never met—maybe haven’t even seen. Connect across any distance with video conferencing for truly engaging learning experiences.
All-inclusive learning environments: Whether they’re remote or in class, teachers and students can interact easily in a large, high-resolution video gallery.
There are many new manipulative tools in the market to help focus student attention while screen sharing with active inking and tools for lessons, documents, and your browser. Tools like magic pens (for flat panels) put a focus on learning. Hold student attention with disappearing ink, spotlight and magnifying super powers. And make bright ideas standout with digital highlighters.
Watching instructors draw illustrations as they explain a topic provides proven benefits of increased retention and deeper learning when compared to the same explanation using for existing illustrations or remote annotations.
Continue to teach using the tools and workflows you’re used to like pens, inking, touch and gestures instead of being limited to a computer mouse.
Teaching environments are becoming increasingly complex, but you can maintain your tactile workflow of teaching and familiar front-of-room instruction with video conferencing on the right interactive display.
A Learning Management System (LMS) is an overarching approach to deliver blended learning. It should provide all the tools you are likely to use, such as discussion boards, collaborative workspaces, interactive lessons, and game-based learning.
An effective LMS will be flexible enough to serve many students and teachers. Not only will it support students who learn quickly as well as those who need more time to grasp the concept, it will make it easy for teachers to identify who is who.
Let’s look at Happy Valley Elementary, a hypothetical school shifting to blended learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even without a lot of time spent planning, Happy Valley made wise decisions when choosing its LMS. Administrators consulted staff about their needs. That gave them some criteria to use to judge technology. It became clear they were looking for a system that would:
Finding an LMS that delivered all this made the transition to blended learning easier. It also gave teachers the tools to determine the best use of in-class time and which lessons were best delivered online.
Because of the pandemic, we’re now used to seeing our friends and colleagues in a grid. We’re also familiar with what works and what doesn’t.
Web conferencing can be a great way to deliver lessons and promote discussion. But in a blended learning context, it has to support the critical pillars of Pace, Place, Voice and Choice. That makes it easier to consider the array of options.
Back at Happy Valley Elementary, which used web conferencing with its Grade 2 classes. Students were excited to be online, but their interest and focus were short-lived. These problems were heightened when a teacher used screen sharing to present a lesson, causing her to lose “eye-contact” with students. It was as if the students no longer felt they were in a virtual class and many began talking out of turn.
Although an LMS that lets teachers incorporate web conferencing can help solve these problems, there are considerations to remember when taking a stand-alone approach. Look for a system that:
It seems like a new education app is released every day. The pace of innovation creates an overwhelming array of choices.
Select apps that suit your needs. For some, that might be a messaging app that makes it easy to communicate with students and parents. Others might look for a tool that lets teachers create interactive videos. Maybe you’re looking for an app that makes it easy for students to collaborate.
The possibilities are endless, so it’s important to stay focused. Ask yourself basic questions when evaluating an app:
Games and simulations are great tools for capturing student interest and attention. These strengths can lead teachers to regard them as classroom management tools. They're the high-tech equivalent of showing a movie.
It's best to use them sparingly to make sure students don't get bored with them. Use games only when they help students learn. And what happens online should support what's taught in the classroom.
Think of simulations as powerful interactive games. They let students take on roles and play out real world situations, like running for office or working to save an endangered species.
As with games, it’s important that simulations be related to classroom learning. They must also be truly interactive and collaborative so that all students can contribute.
The goal of technology in blended learning is to feel invisible. When tech is used, not as a gimmick, but to enhance the lines between learning online and offline blur. The learning takes precedence over the mode. The SAMR model, developed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura shows the process of successful tech integration.
You don’t have to be “redefining” tasks on day one; it takes time. But the SAMR model provides a “north star” for our technology aspirations.
Kelly Walsh, CIO at The College of Westchester in White Plains, New York, has developed this sample of a lesson changing through the tech SAMR model, (Walsh is also the founder of a worldwide community called EmergingEdTech.)
You can use this framework to take your lesson plans from one level to the next.
Original Assignment: An overview of a location consisting of hand-written material supplemented with compiled cut-and-pasted magazine clippings.
At SMART, we believe in designing flexible, long-term solutions for anywhere learning. As classrooms are disrupted and learning meets a new set of demands, the right technology can support a continuum of learning—igniting connections between students, teachers, and lesson content whether in a classroom, at home, or around the globe.
Blended learning practice isn’t something you define for yourself and accomplish in a day. Blended learning leaves room for endless pedagogical innovation and development. We hope this guide inspires you to innovate in your own practice, and, in turn, contribute to a generation of incredibly bright students, ready to take on the world.