Beyond the buzz: far from a quality blended learning environment
The “blended” or “blended” learning model has quickly become a buzzword in education over the past 12 months. Although the specific definitions vary, the terms generally refer to a greater adoption of technology in the classroom or a model where some students attend classes in person, while others join the lesson virtually from their homes.
There is a perception that, given how quickly technology has been adopted to facilitate home schooling and minimize disruption during the pandemic, blended learning is here to stay. But it is important to recognize that this is a temporary solution born of necessity, not of natural evolution. We are a long way from the widespread adoption of technology in schools and even further from its frictionless integration with traditional ways of learning without significantly disrupting a child’s education.
“We are a long way from the widespread adoption of technology in schools and even further from its frictionless fusion with traditional ways of learning without significantly disrupting a child’s education.”
There are a number of issues that need to be addressed before blended learning becomes a reality – from systemic to practical.
Support payments for parents
As the UK experienced its first shutdown in March 2020, kitchen tables and lounges across the country have become makeshift classrooms. A child’s need for a device and connectivity took priority over that of a parent. There was great pressure on parents to not only be able to provide a device if they could, but also to replicate a traditional classroom environment – while juggling working from home and home schooling for their children. As a father of two, I can personally attest to the challenge of all of this.
For parents to play a more active and long-term role in a child’s education, there must be broader systemic changes that take into account how parents or guardians are employed, paid and supported in terms of child care and mental health. During the first weeks of confinement, ONS research found that women provided an average of three hours 18 minutes of child care per day, compared to just two hours for men. This gap has widened considerably when caring for young children. With such gender disparities and insufficient financial and social support, there are a myriad of challenges ahead before long-term home schooling becomes a viable option for families in the UK.
Insufficient training of teachers
As the nation celebrated them from afar, teachers faced multiple challenges during the pandemic. The main thing was to adapt and master new technologies. In many cases, the now popular online education platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Google Classroom only debuted during the pandemic, so teachers lacked the training and skills to fully exploit the potential of the tools.
Consider for a moment the amount of training teachers have to undertake throughout the year through INSET days, which are already expensive. Ross Morrison McGill did an excellent job of determining the approximate cost of the training and found that a single Wednesday afternoon for CPD training would equate to a financial cost of £ 52,500 per secondary school per year.
Combine traditional teacher training with increasing digital skills and the scale of the challenge becomes clearer. The use of technology in the classroom is not new, but when it arrives early or without adequate accompanying training, swathes of technology end up accumulating dust in storage cabinets as tools did not match the existing curriculum or lesson plans.
“The use of technology in the classroom is not new, but when it arrives early or without adequate accompanying training, parts of the technology end up accumulating dust in storage cabinets, as the tools did not match existing curriculum or lesson plans ”
A combination of a lack of technical skills, a change in teaching style, and a curriculum not suited to a digital environment – inside and outside the classroom – will have huge ramifications for children’s overall academic performance in the long run.
This means that teachers need to be sufficiently supported with the right tools and skills if they are to introduce new learning methods into the post-pandemic classroom.
It has been widely reported during the various lockdowns that students on the wrong side of the digital divide find it difficult to keep up with their peers due to lack of access to devices. A report of The National Foundation for Educational Research showed that leaders in UK’s most disadvantaged schools estimate that only 30% of their students engaged in schoolwork during the lockdown, compared to 49% in less disadvantaged schools. One of the main reasons was the lack of access to the technology necessary for them to learn at home.
The problem of digital exclusion is particularly damaging for those in lower socio-economic groups who are often the most vulnerable and has been shown to impact everything from behavioral issues to future career opportunities.
If there are initiatives such as Ukie’s technological commitment, which asks companies to donate technologies that could benefit schools, they cannot go further. Even with these projects, a hybrid model cannot become mainstream as long as it still excludes certain groups. The first priority must be to level the playing field in terms of resources and access to technology for all students.
How technology can help
But all is not catastrophic – while we may not be ready for a full-fledged blended learning environment, it’s important to recognize that distance learning has opened up a number of opportunities for students. children and allowed a more active and personal role for parents and teachers. . While access to edtech remains a problem for many children at school and at home, according to a Oxford Study, 75% of parents reported an overall increase in the time spent in front of their children’s screens on the first lock. This presents an exciting opportunity to standardize digital learning for children in a small but effective way.
Our experience has shown that the key to involving children is to reflect the experiences and environments they already know. As screen time increases in their personal lives, it makes sense to combine learning and entertainment to help kids develop new skills, from literacy to coding. This is particularly powerful because numerous studies have shown the importance and effectiveness of learning through play and the benefits range from improving language and communication skills to creativity and problem solving.
As different stakeholders attempt to influence systemic change by lobbying educational agencies and government to improve child care, increase access to technology, and improve the existing curriculum, others in the educational space should focus on meeting children where they are. By tapping into their existing habits, passions, and environments and creating enjoyable learning experiences there, we can begin to reimagine what learning is like. These small steps are the start of a long road, but if we are successful, they could pave the way for a new and innovative model of education that works for the good of every child.
You might also like: “Immersive technology can prepare young people for the post-pandemic world of work”