A recent article from Brookings focusing on the impact of technology on learners within a blended learning model confirmed some important reminders for all educators. As the name suggests, blended learning combines both traditional and web-based learning experiences; it’s sometimes referred to as hybrid learning. Some schools nationwide have been experimenting with hybrid courses for several reasons, some of which are driven by economics—more than a few administrators have figured out that it’s possible to significantly increase faculty loads and faculty-to-student ratios in online courses, thereby saving the institution considerable money in the short term. But, what is the long-term impact on such practice? How are key indicators such as retention rates, graduation rates, student progress, and student satisfaction impacted under such a model? Not-So-Subtle Hint: This would be a great dissertation research topic for doctoral candidates.
The takeaway is this: It’s not what you use; it’s how you use it that matters.
In other words, simply having technology in a classroom or within a course does not guarantee that students will learn, nor will it reduce the dropout rate. Convenience factors and cutting-edge technology tools in and of themselves just aren’t enough to drive learning. In fact, programs that are strictly online can facilitate feelings of isolation and dissatisfaction among many students. However, for many students, web-based courses have great appeal and can be a good choice for those who are self-motivated, mature, organized, and who work well asynchronously.
Conversely, programs or courses that are facilitated strictly in face-to-face, traditional learning environments without any technology is also not guaranteed to elevate student learning, attendance, satisfaction, or success. Simply sitting in a classroom listening to an instructor serve as the “great imparter of knowledge” has not served most students well over the years, particularly as they seek jobs that require collaboration, problem solving, risk taking, and the like. The quality of instruction really does matter, which is why it’s essential to have a highly-qualified, caring, compassionate teacher in every class who is regularly monitoring each student’s progress and is there to provide appropriate support whenever and however needed. The old acronym WIT—Whatever It Takes—seems appropriate here: Educators should do whatever it takes to ensure that every student is given superb learning opportunities each and every day.
As I have written many times, we simply must continue to focus on how our teachers are prepared and how to support them throughout their career. One way to start would be with a framework such as the one I have been developing—one that is workforce-driven and informed by the very “best of the best” educators and school leaders. I am happy to work with higher education institutions, alternative certification programs, and P-12 school districts to help them build models of academic excellence in areas such as educator preparation and building effective learning models for students.
Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation and academic quality assurance. She currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher licensure, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC.