Is All Blended Learning Personalized Learning?
Living in the information age, with all the power of technology at our fingertips, has impacted the daily learning experience in our schools and classrooms. We now have the opportunity to offer every child a first-class, student-centered education through personalized learning. However, it seems that there are issues in how educators define this progressive, anytime/anywhere methodology for learning. There is no shortage of buzzwords in education, and currently two terms are trending: blended learning and personalized learning. The terms are often used interchangeably or without thorough understanding. They both promise to use technology to deliver instruction to meet the unique needs of students, but when various descriptions and words are used interchangeably, there is a problem that could impact implementation in a negative way. We are on the brink of transforming how we educate our future citizens with the use of technology, but it is important for educators to have a common understanding of these terms and methodologies so that we can learn from each other.
The co-founder of CompetencyWorks, Chris Sturgis, identified a language challenge. “It’s vital to differentiate these terms to calibrate the field’s understanding and bring cohesion to the field, while creating shared meaning on the various new learning models in development. Making sense of these key terms and understanding how they fit together frames the field’s understanding and supports the shift to next generation learning models and new school designs.”
So how are blended learning and personalized learning related? I assert that not all blended learning is personalized learning. Blended learning combines online and onsite learning opportunities. Students learn through delivery of content and instruction through digital tools and online with some element of student control over time, place, path, or pace. While still attending a traditional school building, face-to-face classroom methods are combined with technology-based activities. Blended learning uses technology to help students master the content and learn skills. It allows teachers to organize to get the most out of their planning and instructional time and can also streamline costs with the use of online content delivery such as offered by Khan Academy.
Traditionally, blended learning models include one or more of the following models: station rotation model, lab rotation model, flex model, and individual rotation model. As a national leader in blended learning technology, Education Elements believes that “successful blended learning occurs when technology and teaching inform each other: material becomes dynamic when it reaches learners of varying learning styles.” With this idea that through the use of technology, teachers can reach and engage learners and therefore customize the learning experience, it is no wonder that blended learning is often confused with personalized learning. I have observed that though blended learning is efficient with data generating instructional tools targeting students strengths and challenges, it is not always personalized.
The Center for Collaborative Education sees students at the center of their learning when defining personalized learning. Personalized learning tailors the educational experience for every student by embracing individual strengths, needs, interests, and culture, and elevating student voice and choice to raise engagement and achievement. Personalized learning takes place within the context of educational equity, providing culturally responsive learning environments and equitable educational opportunities for all students. For personalized learning to be truly student centered, it must be authentic, flexible, student-driven, and competency-based. Students should engage in standards-aligned work that is project- and community-based learning, with multiple opportunities to demonstrate what they know and are able to do. Students exercise voice and choice in their learning and co-create personal academic profiles and learning plans focused on student interests, aspirations, and learning challenges.
Time and space and teacher roles adapt to the needs of students through the use of technology and flexible structures, rather than being a fixed one-size-fits-all experience. Students move at their optimal pace and receive credit when they demonstrate mastery of competencies, or learning targets, at each new level. Personalized learning also addresses the affective side of learning by addressing the dispositions necessary for learning. With a focus on equity, identity, and concern for others, students develop the attitudes and habits necessary for academic growth and preparation for life in a global society.
Personalized learning is a very promising approach to 21st century teaching and learning. It targets teaching to not only the varying levels and paces that students learn, but also addresses their interests and passions. Allowing for student voice and choice and providing opportunities for flexible, authentic, student-centered, competency-based learning is what sets personalized learning apart from blended learning. I challenge educators to go beyond the blended instructional methods of flipping the classroom or creating a station rotation model to truly understanding learner profiles and personalizing the learning experience.
Dr. Ramona Treviño serves as senior director for district and school design at the Center for Collaborative Education in Boston, Massachusetts, leading the Massachusetts Personalized Network. She has successfully served as both an executive leader and campus principal in a variety of settings with diverse populations. She led the lower school at the Graded American School in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and served as chief academic officer for the Austin Independent School District. She was the founding principal and the CEO of the University of Texas Elementary School and served as an elementary school principal in the Austin School District. Prior to her work as an administrator, she worked as a special education teacher for the Department of Defense Dependent Schools (DoDDS) and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. She completed her B.S. from Wheelock College in Boston, and her M.Ed. and Ph.D. from the Educational Administration Department at the University of Texas. She served the University’s College of Education as a clinical professor and was named a fellow in the U.T. Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, coordinating the Urban Education Project.