Understanding Blended Learning Through Innovative Professional Development

Opinion | Blended Learning

Understanding Blended Learning Through Innovative Professional Development

By Stepan Mekhitarian     Nov 19, 2016

Understanding Blended Learning Through Innovative Professional Development

As more educators begin to see the tremendous impact blended learning can have on student learning and engagement, school leaders have begun scrambling to train teachers on how to utilize technology to enhance instruction. This has proven to be challenging since many current administrators have limited experience with blended learning given the relative newness of the approach.

There are two common practices used during professional development sessions that are limited in their applicability and effectiveness: First, teachers learn about multiple sites or tools they can use in their classrooms and are given time to experiment with them. Second, teachers discuss instructional practice for application in a traditional classroom, but are then expected to apply it in a blended setting. Neither of these practices melds effective pedagogical practice with educational technology to train teachers on how to offer individualized differentiation and constructivist learning opportunities for students.

Another approach, however, can dramatically impact the effectiveness of blended learning professional development. Follow the steps below to apply a blended approach to professional development while focusing on effective instructional practice:

Start with a pedagogical concept such as questioning or grouping that applies to all teachers.

If your school has access to teacher performance data as it relates to specific pedagogical practices, such as performance reflections using the Danielson Framework, you may consider using it to inform your planning. The objective for professional development should be to improve instructional practice, not to introduce a blended learning resource.

Decide how blended learning can enhance teacher learning during professional development.

As you plan the session, identify an appropriate point in the instruction in which a blended learning tool can be introduced to further advance learning and progress toward the objective. For example, if the professional development session focuses on questioning, you can use an online collaborative site such as Google Docs to have participants work together to construct answers to given questions and then brainstorm ways to increase the rigor of the questions to result in even stronger responses. You can also use Google Forms to anonymously collect questions from participants and then choose from the pool of submissions to use in the activity.

This type of approach focuses on pedagogical practice while simultaneously demonstrating the potential benefits of a blended learning tool. All teachers, regardless of how they use technology, can benefit from this form of professional development. It is not necessary to expose teachers to a wide variety of blended learning tools and resources during each professional development session. In fact, it may be more effective to focus on a smaller set of resources and revisit them in different applications throughout the year to deepen understanding.

Co-plan and co-lead professional development with teachers to build their capacity both as school leaders and as instructional experts.

Reach out to different teachers and utilize their strengths to grow your faculty. This practice creates a natural path to peer observations, where ideas described in professional development can be seen in practice. Be sure to make this opportunity available to a large group of teachers to access diverse teaching styles and various blended learning resources.

My doctoral research study—which included teacher and administrator interviews, a survey, classroom observation, and professional development—revealed an overwhelmingly high demand for blended learning classroom observations: teachers want to see blended learning in action. Moving professional development into the classroom can ensure a seamless transition from theory to practice.

Finally, couple professional development with optional workshops in which teachers who regularly utilize blended learning resources can share their technical expertise with their colleagues.

Teachers who want to learn more about implementing programs or tools they learned about in professional development can attend these weekly or biweekly sessions and get the technical support they need. This approach offers a technical learning opportunity while ensuring a steady focus on pedagogy during onsite professional development.

In a short time, blended learning has broadened our notion of what is possible in the classroom and how students can learn. It pushes the boundaries of innovation by creating opportunities for individualized differentiation and constructivist learning. Professional development should be equally innovative and model best practices.

Harness the power of blended learning to build the capacity of your teachers, which in turn will impact student learning in classrooms throughout your school.

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