Blended learning develops 21st century skills

The pervasive use of computers and the Internet in daily activities has brought about cultural changes to society perhaps more profound than the changes made over a century ago with the Industrial Revolution. How people gather and share information, and the speed at which this is done, makes obsolete the classrooms of just 10 years ago.

Innovations such as the smartphone and cloud computing, not that long ago, were science fiction fantasies. Students sitting in a classroom today are preparing for jobs that have not yet been created. It is difficult to develop targeted vocational training programs for not-yet-existing technologies. Schools can best prepare students for college and career by adopting a blended learning model to ensure students develop the essential 21st-century skills of creativity, critical thinking, problem solving and information evaluation and management.

What is blended learning?

Blended learning is not a new concept, but its meaning has evolved with developments in technology. Essentially, blended learning means a teacher harnesses different methods of delivering information and instruction to students. In the past this has meant field trips, use of film strip projectors, tape recorders and overhead projectors to augment lectures and textbook readings.

With the growth of the Internet came the ability to offer online courses, which provide greater flexibility and often allow students to individualize a program and pace learning to accommodate individual learning styles. The drawback of Internet classes is the loss of personal contact with an instructor and classmates. Social constructivism, the learning theory that people construct knowledge through social interactions with others, requires some face-to-face time for optimal learning. The new blended learning classroom model combines the needed personal interactions with the benefits of online learning.

What does blended learning look like?

In blended learning classrooms, students access and share information through online forums, class created glossaries, blogs and wikis. Students may investigate subject matter by engaging in a WebQuest or by playing online educational games. Some course management systems, computer software that supports online learning, allow students to take quizzes with immediate feedback to reinforce learning. Teachers in these classrooms may utilize Internet videos and podcasts as supplementary materials. These activities are combined with more traditional forms of learning such as direct instruction from the teacher, and assigned readings from textbooks.

What is the role of the teacher in a blended learning classroom?

The blended learning model moves the teacher away from the lecture podium into the arena of the students where the teacher becomes a facilitator rather than an lecturer. With computer programs and websites distributing information, the teacher is freed to move through the classroom and assist students individually. Planning for a blended learning classroom is more labor-intensive than traditional lesson planning; teachers must gather and synthesize multiple sources for instruction, but the time spent in planning allows the teacher to focus on students unique needs once they are gathered in the classroom. In a flipped classroom, students may complete online lessons as homework and use time in class to work on problems and projects with the teacher, and classmates, readily available to provide assistance and advice.

How blended learning promotes 21st century skills?

In the blended learning classroom, students become proficient in the use of technology and learn how to locate and evaluate the worth of information accessed on the Internet. Students are often arranged in groups to tackle problems and projects, mimicking teamwork activities required in the workplace. Because much of the learning is self-paced, students will gain confidence in their ability to learn and gain insight into their own strengths and weaknesses when confronted with a task.

The blended learning classroom engages students on a greater level than traditional classroom models. It employs a diversity of methods to provide greater learning opportunities for the visual, kinesthetic, and auditory learners. It gives students a sense of autonomy and self-efficacy as they proceed through self-paced lessons, teaching them to take the initiative in problem solving and innovation. These are life lessons that will benefit students, and society, well into the future.

Bio:Daniel Robinson is a writer with a passion for research, technology, and education. When he’s not spending his time online researching for a project, he likes to sit down with a good book and a cup of coffee.

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