Brad's Blog

To blend or flip?

To blend or flip?

Tuesday 18th October 2016

The terms Blended Learning and Flipped Learning both originated in the USA but within the UK it would appear that Blended Learning is increasingly being adopted as the preferred term to describe the application of online learning. Feltag avoids both terms and simply refers to the application of 'digital technologies'. It is difficult to know how far schools and colleges adopting the term 'Blended learning' do so to reflect a pedagogical preference. Whereas Blended Learning starts in the classroom and is completed and/or extended online Flipped Learning starts online and is completed and extended in the classroom. Both models have significant implications for the role of the teacher, what to learn, how to learn and crucially the relationship between what happens in the classroom and what happens online.

Whether Blended or Flipped there needs to be a coherent underpinning pedagogy and vision that guides the introduction of online learning and promotes some consistency of approach between different staff and ensures that 'stretch and challenge' applies online just as much as in the classroom. Without clear guidance handouts and worksheets that were once completed in the classroom may simply be placed online and timetabling our learners into a learning centre to complete them may be less than stimulating. Online learning must be considered within the framework of the full curriculum so that it is integrated rather than a 'bolt-on'. Some of the key considerations are as follows:

ILP - The ILP is the primary focus and we need to ensure a more holistic capture of information about each learner and to set targets in relation to personal and skills development just as much as qualification goals. We are developing the whole person.

Mentor - the role of the mentor or Personal Tutor is crucial to monitor progress, to coach how to learn, promote online safety and in particular to intervene rapidly when targets are missed.

Skills - skills are just important as knowledge in the 21st Century economy and so beyond targeting a 'good pass' in English and Maths, colleges and schools need to define the significant generic and vocationally specific employability skills and consider how the development of those skills will be integrated across the online and classroom learning experiences. Consider conducting a 'digital skills' survey as part of initial assessment procedures against competence in applying Microsoft Office software and/or Apple equivalents and ensure lessons and online learning activities provide opportunities to promote and build. Also don't neglect opportunities for learners to develop confidence in public speaking and effective presentations.

Virtual Learning Environment - provide learners with the 'big picture' context so that they can see and appreciate the significant learning goals and relevant course/exam standards. Guide their research and learning by posing regular key questions ( rather than objectives) and establish a hierarchy of questions from pass level to distinction level topic by topic. Specify and make links to the recommended resources to explore and find the answers and encourage open-ended research. Ensure access to a Q&A forum or a social media application whereby learners can post questions and collaborate online. Teachers need to 'let go' of the curriculum and enter into more of a coaching role that focuses on the progress being made by each individual with online support and challenge as appropriate.

Open Space - Time to end the mindset of learning happening within a timetabled set of lessons. The VLE and internet are open 24 hours per day and 7 days per week and learning can be anytime and anywhere i.e. in the canteen, corridor, at home, in the workplace, in Starbucks. Monitor logins and set clear targets for learners to login and to complete week to week study targets. Encourage Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and identify useful Apps and websites. Remember it is not lessons that need to be transferred online but learning.

Lessons applying learning - Lesson time is often taken-up with the presentation of basic factual information that can easily be accessed online. Teachers need to identify topic by topic and place online the 'core learning' requirements and reserve valuable lesson time for regular 'higher order' individual, paired and group tasks to explore and apply the online information with teacher support.

Challenge - every significant topic within a programme should feature extension and/or challenge tasks open to all to have a go at to raise aspirations and to promote high standards. Ensure a prize for completion!

Citizenship - a catch all term for personal development goals, awareness of British values, equality and diversity, safeguarding. Essentially awareness raising and the promotion of good citizenship across the curriculum.

All of these factors are important in order to develop a learner centred curriculum that over time will operate more and more online. The development of online learning is not simply about lifting tasks out of a lesson and placing them online for completion but rather the wider transformation of teaching and learning away from listening, watching and copying into exploring, questioning and creating. Teachers will need to adjust to more of a coaching role and many learners will need support to adjust from being passive recipients of information into active participants in their own learning. Finally, Blended or Flipped learning is perhaps not the issue. The real issue is that the choice is understood within an agreed and shared pedagogy with high quality standards to ensure that all learners are well prepared for life and employment in the fast-moving technology dependent 21st Century economy.