Biggest Trends in Blended and Online Learning
In the daily routine of learning in the virtual classroom, teaching at an online school, or parenting a student who attends an online school, we may be unaware of how our experiences are both shaping and being shaped by broader trends in education. At last month’s International Association for K–12 Online Learning (iNACOL) conference, Connections Academy and Nexus Academy teachers and curriculum experts got a chance to put it all into perspective when they joined 2,500 fellow educators, policy makers, and innovators to discuss the latest trends and research in online and blended education.
Drawing from the keynote address, panel discussions, and research findings released at the annual conference, here are the trends and topics we think that Connections Academy families will find the most interesting:
- Across the country, online education options are continuing to evolve and grow. At least 24 states and Washington, DC, have created blended schools where students learn both on-site at a bricks-and-mortar school and online, with some control over the time, place, and pace at which they learn and the method by which they learn. In 2012–13, 30 states operated multidistrict fully online schools that served about 310,000 students. Seven states are now operating course choice programs that give more students in traditional schools access to supplemental online courses. (These figures are from an annual research report released at the conference, “Keeping Pace with K–12 Online and Blended Learning.”)
- Despite this growth, variations in state education policies are creating a disparity in online educational opportunities. In fact, the “Keeping Pace” report warns that this difference “threatens to open a new educational digital divide: one separating students who have access to 21st century learning opportunities and those who do not.” Policies driving these disparities affect a range of things from funding decisions to restrictions on student enrollment and location.
- Innovations in online and blended education are driving the national dialogue and leading to transformational changes in the broader educational landscape. Lessons learned in fully online and blended schools are inspiring:
- A fundamental shift toward a more personalized learning experience for all students. In her keynote address, iNACOL’s President and CEO Susan Patrick described how personalized learning maps and adaptive content and assessments, which are pioneered by online education, are empowering more teachers to personalize instruction for each student. Patrick describes these tools as a kind of real-time GPS that shows teachers where students are and where they need help in order to master subjects.
- A growing emphasis on competency-based learning over “seat time.” As Patrick put it in her keynote speech, the “tyranny of seat time” locks many educators and policy makers into an unproductive way of thinking about accountability, assessment, and student progress. She argues that it makes little sense to measure progress by the number of hours a student spends at a desk. By way of contrast, in competency-based learning, the cornerstone of online education, students advance based on their mastery of the required skills and content. “GPS” educational technology helps make this possible. One sign that this shift is taking hold is that 36 states have recently enacted competency-based education policies or legislation.
- A transformation in the teacher’s role. With more tools at their fingertips, teachers are embracing new roles as coaches, designers, and facilitators of learning. In traditional schools, more teachers are incorporating multimedia resources and tools to enhance learning and to free up time for individualized instruction. In online and blended schools, they’re using the stream of data provided by online assessments and tools to more effectively target their instruction every day.
- The redesign of instructional models and the development of entirely new models. Here are just two examples. In adapting blended-learning models, traditional schools are shifting from lecture-based instruction to student-centered instruction, where students play a more active and interactive role in their own education. In “flipped” classrooms, teachers are reversing the roles of homework and class time. Students watch recorded lectures at home and then do assignments (traditionally thought of as homework) in class, where teachers can spend more time helping each student individually.
While these trends may not be “news” to Connections Academy and Nexus Academy families, we think that it’s useful to take a step back and recognize that what we’re doing every day is influencing the larger conversation about education. Join the conversation and tell us how you think online education is transforming the landscape of education in the U.S.