What Does Blended Learning look like for Educators?

Last night I began my first Coursera MOOC (massively open online course) entitled Blended Learning: Personalizing Education for Students, taught by some of the key folks who are driving this movement. I watched the four short videos for this week, participated in the quizzes and poked around in several of the already active discussion forums. The first homework assignment (which I haven’t done yet, don’t judge me) is to post your own definition of blended learning. While it would be premature to make any meaningful assessment about this particular course, I’m struck by how much of the conversation around blended learning for students is about personalization, self-paced instruction with some component of creating/making, while much of the professional development I’ve seen for educators is not.  While MOOCs have a certain appeal to some, if you don’t learn well from watching video lectures, then you’re pretty much out of luck as self-paced is not the same as personalization.

Earlier this week I participated in a small discussion at the Krause Center for Innovation (KCI) with school leaders, funders and entrepreneurs who are really thinking about blended learning PD for educators. KCI, which has been serving K12 educators since 2000, offers one of the best edtech PD workshops in the country, the MERIT program. While it is not explicitly teaching educators how to manage ‘flex/station/rotation’ blended learning environments, it is empowering educators with the knowledge, confidence and support system to experiment with various tech tools and strategies. KCI also offers some less popular online courses that they themselves admit are not as effective. While KCI has an incredibly effective offline experience if MERIT teachers want to engage online they do so on their own through Twitter and other online communities where educators gather. It seems that most PD opportunities for educators still fall in one camp and have yet to be blended.

During my session at KCI I was introduced to the TPACK Model.
TPACK Model
This visual representation really captures the complexity in developing ‘Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK)’ where teachers seek to understand how their knowledge in the three areas of tech, teaching and content shapes their teaching practice. I think we can all agree that this will not be achieved through teacher PD MOOCs alone, while they may be one valuable piece of the blended learning puzzle.

Gay Krause, Founder of KCI, acknowledged a real shift in thinking amongst school administrators.  Where previously school leaders required convincing, often asking ‘why do we need to this?’, now more often they are asking ‘how can we implement technology effectively?’.  Demand for blended PD exists and is growing.

If the blended learning movement is to truly become mainstream and lead to learning gains for students in schools beyond high-functioning charters (like the 3 highlighted in this MOOC), then we must provide personalized, high-quality blended learning for our educators. And let’s remember the exciting aspect of effectively blending instruction is that it will free up time for students to make stuff; work on projects to stimulate deeper learning. In a recent post from KQED MindShift on empowering educators, they highlight the importance of collaboration and creating opportunities for educators to be makers as well.

For a majority of students their teachers are the gateway to their learning experience, so if we do not adequately prepare and support educators I doubt we’ll see high-quality blended learning really take off.

What do you think? Have you participated in any exceptional blended PD? What has been your experience with PD MOOCs? Please leave your comments below or tweet me @Jessie_Arora.

Are meetups the new classroom?

Coursera, one of the education startups that is fueling the MOOC (massive open online courses) trend, hosted their first meetup yesterday at Flood Park in Menlo Park. (For background, here is a great piece on the evolution of MOOCs and their growing role as a platform for elearning.) The initial idea was to get ~100 students and supporters together to meet the faculty and begin building some offline connections to compliment the online courses. When 500+ people rspv’d in the first week they knew this would be more than a casual backyard BBQ. The final attendee count was closer to 900, with people signing up for the morning or afternoon blocks.

Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, the Stanford professors who founded Coursera, were easily accessible throughout the event and briefly shared how this worked stemmed from a desire for “democratizing higher education, moving it from a privilege of a few to a basic human right.” They are just starting out on this journey, having launched partnerships with several universities and have already had more than 900k students sign up for their classes.

While it is way too early to really say exactly how higher education will be ‘disrupted’ by MOOCs and other online learning startups, it was clear to see the community support and appetite for connecting offline, in the real world. I was pleased to hear the Coursera team talk about their plans to expand these offline events to reach more of their students, a majority of which are outside the US and are not just university students. Prof Koller captured the essence of life-long learners, describing their users as people looking to “expand their minds or improve their communities.”

As online learning systems continue to expand the definition of student, university and school, I think the most intriguing aspect of these shifts is how online tools can foster richer offline exchanges. I see meetups as one form of the classroom of the future, bringing together people who are passionate about learning and sharing around a particular topic, meaningfully blending the experience across the physical and virtual world. This combination of free & high quality online content with targeted offline exchanges is really what is going to change our understanding and expectations of teaching and learning.

I’m curious to see how other online content providers translate their experiences offline, as well as how the community itself will organize to further their learning and deepen the experience.