Monthly Archives: February 2013

Our Approach to Blended Learning

I was fortunate enough this past week to attend the Ontario Education Research Symposium. This annual event shares the latest in education research, reform approaches and innovations in education.

The keynote address on the final day, delivered via Skype, was from Michael Horn, co-founder of the Innosight Institute.The presentation focused on disruptive innovations in education, and specifically shared several models being adopted for blended learning.

This started me to reflecting on the Ontario approach to blended learning. . I think there is universal agreement that blended learning is something we need to explore and incorporate into our classrooms to meet the needs of this generation of learners. My concern is the the Ontario approach requires teacher to “uses the tools of the provincial learning management system (LMS) to teach and support learning in a face-to-face class”. My question is why?

The Ontario outline, much like the work from the Innosight Institute, goes on to give what I think is a pretty strong definition of what blended learning is. My concern is that I can do all of these things without the “provincial learning management system”. So, am I still “doing” blended learning?

When I use Edmodo, Schoology, any number of blog and wiki services, my board SharePoint platform, or even a different LMS, am I still “doing” blended learning? Of course I am. So why are we promoting, or working to implement, a single platform for this rather than a philosophy with multiple approaches and entry points? Why are we trying to turn what Horn describes as “a disruptive innovation” into the standard implementation of a platform or program? To me, this is a 20th century implementation (everyone do the same) hoping for 21st century outcomes (innovation and creativity). There is so much more nuance and refinement to an effective blended learning model than simply implementing use of an LMS. While everyone using the same tools and approach undoubtedly has benefits for widening the scope of the implementation, I would question if the depth of understanding is there that makes it truly effective.

To be clear, I have nothing against our platform, which is good at what it does, but rather I have a fear that linking the concept of blended learning to one specific platform is a recipe for conformity and limitation rather than innovation and empowerment. My contention is why does the definition of blended learning require one certain LMS (one which is arguably not even the best one out there)? As someone who spends every day supporting schools with the effective use of technology in the classroom, I’d far rather my conversation be framed in the concepts of blended learning and the various forms and entry points that has than what it looks like within one platform. We spend so much time encouraging our students to use the right tool for the right job, are we affording our educators this same support and freedom?