Technology might actually have a negative effect on student learning. Or, more specifically, using technology in the classroom isn’t a guarantee that students will become better readers or develop stronger math skills, or go on to graduate. Brookings looked closely at achievement data and concluded what many educators have already understood:
Teachers matter. High quality instruction matters. Technology tools help, but only as supplements to support and enhance instruction.
One method that’s become popular these days is blended learning. There are many approaches to teaching and learning, but the blended learning model makes a lot of sense for students in 21st Century schools. With blended learning, students receive face-to-face instruction from their teacher(s), which is then supplemented by some type of technology-based or online learning. This approach is sometimes referred to as hybrid learning, but the two really are not necessarily the same. Sometimes, hybrid learning represents a mixture of on-site instruction and field-based experiences and could even be part of an apprenticeship model. Technology certainly plays an integral role within a hybrid model when students complete on-site simulations such as in a healthcare field experience, or gain practice working on a computerized numerical controlled (CNC) machine as part of an apprenticeship.
Using Blended Learning in School
Sometimes using labels as personalized learning, blended learning, hybrid learning, and others, elementary school officials are starting to rely heavily on technology to boost students’ learning. When used as a supplement or an extension to teacher instruction, it can be an effective tool. Parents report their students are more eager to attend school and they seem more excited about learning. This increases daily attendance rates which in many states, supports the funding schools receive each year.
High schools and universities have also been experimenting with infusing technology into instruction for several reasons. For example, technology can be a great way for small or rural schools to provide their students with a teacher who has expertise in a foreign language or some other specialty that would otherwise be unavailable to them. Likewise, advanced learners often benefit from taking online courses for college credit while still in high school.
However, the adoption of blended learning is sometimes driven by economics—with an eye on the bottom line, administrators have figured out that it’s possible to increase teaching loads when inverting the ratio between on-site and web-based instruction, thereby saving the institution considerable money in the short term. A typical classroom can hold approximately 25-30 students, but an online classroom could theoretically hold an unlimited number. In a school that’s operating on a razor-thin budget, an administrator could easily determine that it costs less to hire one teacher as opposed to three or four and temporarily choose to place ethical practice on a shelf. It doesn’t take long, however, for the impact of those poor choices to be realized and the practice is quickly abandoned.
Setting the Stage for an Effective Blended Learning Experience
Front-Load a Successful Outcome: Designing effective blended learning experiences that involve online instruction require up-front work. It’s relatively quick and easy to build an online course but it’s essential to create one that will provide a substantive, meaningful learning experience for students. This means that special attention must be given to curriculum development, instructional methods, assessment design, user-friendly learning platforms, and of course, faculty training. Powerful online teaching and learning doesn’t just happen by itself, which is why many institutions have elected to partner with Quality Matters, a non-profit quality assurance organization that guides schools in their web-based instruction development.
Professional Development is Essential: Effective instruction doesn’t just happen. Teachers must be properly trained in using technology effectively within the blended learning model, and due to the nature of constant change within the field this training must be ongoing. Schools of education must prepare future elementary and secondary teachers to use current technology as instructional tools, and then once in service, school districts must take on the responsibility of providing high-quality professional development, peer coaching, and mentoring to ensure that technology tools are being used effectively. Likewise, while their faculty members hold advanced degrees and are experts within their fields, colleges and universities must also provide high-quality professional development to support excellence in teaching and learning.
As evidenced by the data, Brookings concluded:
It’s not what technology you use; it’s how you use it that matters.
In other words, simply having technology in a classroom does not guarantee that students will learn. Cutting-edge technology tools in and of themselves just aren’t enough to drive achievement. However, when used to supplement high-quality direct instruction, the use of web-based applications and courses can be effective for many students.
Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as accreditation, competency-based education, and teacher/school leader prep programs design. Roberta also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com).