Blended Learning | Digital Curriculum
Top 5 Blended Learning Best Practices
For nearly 10 years, Bri has focused on creating content to address the questions and concerns educators have about teaching classes, preparing students for certifications, and making the most of the AES curriculum system.
Blended learning is one of the most popular and effective ways to teach, especially in career and technical education.
By combining elements of lecture, personal pacing, and digital education, blended learning provides a unique student experience that empowers them to succeed.
So what can you do to use blended learning strategies in your classroom? Follow these five blended learning best practices to get started:
- Incorporate blended learning into your syllabus
- Surround yourself with a VIP team
- Help students succeed with blended learning
- Work with student absences
- Good blended learning starts with you
Best Practice 1: Incorporate Blended Learning Into Your Syllabus
To use blended learning, start by reviewing your current curriculum.
You may find that some lessons work best as they are, but you could improve others with digital tools or curriculum resources.
In fact, that’s one of the most common ways teachers incorporate blended learning best practices into an existing syllabus. So what steps should you take to review your curriculum?
Augment Traditional Instruction with Digital Resources
Check your syllabus for areas where you lecture or students work at their desks. Some topics just beg for multimedia or interactive elements to help students learn.
In a health science class, you can use a video to show how blood moves through the body. For information technology, you can use diagrams to show the networking layout of a company’s Internet access.
Both of these examples express complex ideas. But they become much easier to learn when students can see or interact with them.
By using multimedia like video, images, narration, games, and animations, students are more engaged with their education, which improves their long-term retention.
Automatically Grade Assessments When You Can
Assessments are another area of your syllabus where you can incorporate blended learning strategies.
In this example, students take self-paced quizzes and tests on a computer. Then, as they finish, the software automatically grades them and reports those grades to you.
That makes your life easier while allowing students to assess their knowledge on their own time. That typically yields higher grades, better retention, and happier students.
This is why automatic grading is one of the most popular ways to incorporate blended learning in your classroom — it benefits everyone at the same time. Automatic grading makes it easier for your students to succeed — not to mention it’s a huge time saver for you!
Add Variety with New Tools
Third, you can add blended learning into your syllabus by seeing where your students work together on projects.
How do they approach group projects? Do they collaborate well? Do they need additional tools?
As you answer these questions, you can introduce digital resources like Google Apps to help students work together more efficiently.
That’ll help them organize their ideas and move forward with a project — even when they’re not in class!
Teach Some Lessons Yourself
While it may be tempting to totally revamp every single lesson you have, blended learning is more than using digital tools. Think about how your students practice hands-on skills such as checking blood pressure.
The classroom is a great place to introduce new skills with you teaching by example. You can then observe their practice and make recommendations for improvement.
Students can definitely practice skills outside of the classroom, but introduction, review, and evaluation work best under your direction.
Still, you don’t need to teach every single skill in your syllabus by watching your students like a hawk. Once you identify which activities you can teach digitally and which you can teach personally, you have a recipe for blended learning that can keep students engaged and on-task.
But reworking your syllabus is only the beginning. If you really want to use blended learning strategies, you need more than a schedule. You need the support of a team dedicated to seeing your students succeed.
Best Practice 2: Surround Yourself with a VIP Team
Many CTE teachers who use blended learning strategies feel like they are going it alone. That’s why it’s so important to surround yourself with a team of VIPs.
So how do you create your VIP team?
Your team can be as big as you want. But every team needs at least six essential VIPs to create a successful blended learning classroom.
VIP #1: A School or District Technician
If you want to teach with blended learning, you need backup from someone with in-depth digital knowledge.
This will be the person who you contact when the internet doesn’t work, passwords aren’t right, and programs don’t run. They’ll have the knowledge, tools, and expertise to get you back up and running with minimal downtime.
In other words, be sure to make friends with your school’s information technology expert!
VIP #2: Another CTE Teacher
Find at least one other teacher in your building who uses blended learning. Even if this teacher doesn't use the same curriculum as you, they can give you tips, ideas, and support.
We recommend asking questions, especially when you’re just starting with blended learning.
Some of the best questions to ask fellow teachers include:
- How do you balance in-class and out-of-class work?
- When do you use computer-based learning, and when do you use direct instruction?
- How do you deal with problems like absent students and incomplete work?
Having other teachers at your side will help you streamline your classroom more effectively than if you were going it alone.
VIP #3: An Administrator
It’s crucial that you keep an administrator in the loop about your goals, expectations, and thoughts on a blended learning environment.
Administrators hold the keys to funding, resources, and other support channels. It may take some time for you and an admin to get on the same page, but it’s worth the effort.
Building these relationships lets administrators empower you so you can empower your students. When you and your administrator work in sync on blended learning, there’s no limit to what you can achieve!
VIP #4: Your Curriculum
Before you say “My curriculum isn’t a person,” let’s clarify. “VIP” can also mean Very Important Part in terms of blended learning.
Your curriculum is your roadmap for your upcoming classes. It shows you what to cover when and how to do it.
This makes your curriculum essential. Without it, you might stumble your way through the marking period without any concrete goals to achieve.
But with a blended curriculum at your disposal, you can follow the outline to get the best possible results in your classroom.
VIP #5: Your Class
Your students are the key beneficiaries of your blended learning classroom.
If your students don’t connect with your teaching style, they won’t learn. When you build your blended learning course, they have to be at the forefront.
Will students work best with more digital materials, or should you have a lot of lectures?
Should you assign homework online, or do students have limited computer access outside of school?
No matter how great your new syllabus looks on paper, it has to get results in the classroom!
VIP #6: You
You are the most important VIP when making blended learning work in your classroom.
Your attitude, hard work, and focus will determine the ultimate success of blended learning. Remember that you are the person in the best position to know what your students need and how to provided the resources that will help them succeed!
Best Practice 3: Help Students Succeed with Blended Learning Strategies
In CTE, you teach a diverse group of students with different strengths and knowledge.
So how does blended learning help your students all succeed in the classroom?
Provide Flexible Deadlines for Self-Paced Learning
Blended learning strategies require you to set firm deadlines that are achievable for most — or all — of your students.
Can they complete a unit each week? Do they need more flexible deadlines? Should you give them smaller touchstones to achieve a larger goal over time?
When you structure your deadlines according to your students’ abilities, they’ll have the time to learn at a pace that works best for them.
That means they can prep for assessments and major exams much more effectively than if they rushed, missed information, and had to worry about keeping up with other students.
Give Time Estimates for Self-Paced Lessons
Most digital curriculum systems come with time estimates for lessons and activities.
But no one knows your students better than you do. These estimates work best as a guide since they’re based on the “average” student.
Some students will get through the lessons more quickly than others. Others may lag behind and get stuck on a difficult concept. Either way, you can set deadlines that accommodate these needs while still challenging your students.
Best of all, deadlines encourage your students to practice time management and prepare for the end of a unit. No matter how you spin it, deadlines help students learn!
Communication Is Key
When you set deadlines, it’s also important to lay out your expectations for students when it comes to the work they’ll accomplish.
If you want them to get all the way through a unit, let them know. Or tell them ahead of time if you only expect them to finish one or two lessons.
Most importantly, establish stopping points so students don’t feel like they need to work ahead. These hard stops will give students the mental downtime they need to fully absorb the information they’ve acquired.
But if you want students to accomplish something before a deadline, they need to know all the details as to what. They may even need reminders as they work through the materials!
Be Flexible But Not a Pushover
Everyone has reasons why they miss deadlines. If a student can’t make a deadline, it’s important to communicate with them before determining whether to penalize them.
(See Best Practice 4 to learn how to work around student absences).
Some students have legitimate reasons. Others might fabricate a clever excuse. Regardless, it’s important you at least hear students out when they run into issues with deadlines.
Don’t bend on every deadline, though. Students are quick to push boundaries when they think you’ll break! Being flexible is about having a good balance between leniency and saying “No.”
You’re the teacher, so your judgment is best when it comes to giving extra time.
Listen and Adjust When Necessary
When you add blended learning to your CTE curriculum, it’s important to track your students’ progress.
Are they meeting deadlines? Are they learning from the materials as well as you expected?
If you find that they’re not progressing as you’d like, it’s time to rethink your approach.
Don’t be afraid to make adjustments midway through the semester. If your current curriculum isn’t working, try reworking your digital lessons, changing lectures around, or even reverting your or original curriculum.
You can always try again fresh next marking period!
Best Practice 4: Work with Student Absences
Students will miss classes. Whether they’re on vacation or out for a sick day, you have to figure out how to deal with absent students.
Rather than scramble each time, another best practice is to use blended learning to plan ahead!
Add Makeup Days to Your Curriculum
Since you know student absences will happen, build make-up days into your schedule.
Some teachers have makeup days every week, and others may only have them once per month. Still others may only have one or two makeup days in a marking period!
It really depends on your student population and how often they are absent.
If you want to use makeup days in your curriculum, you can try these common strategies:
- Every Friday
- Every other Wednesday
- From-home work only
It’s smart to skip Mondays when you add makeup days to your schedule. Most students are still in weekend mode when Mondays roll around, and that makes it a challenge to make up work, lessons, and tests.
Let Students Work from Home
The best part about blended learning is its versatility.
With a comprehensive curriculum system, students can work ahead on lessons when they’re not in class. That means even if they’re sick, they can keep up with classwork so they don’t have to play catch-up.
Read More: 9 Ways Digital Curriculum Can Be Used for Distance Learning
That makes class more convenient for students, and it means you don’t have to spend your free time monitoring makeup work.
Some of the most common home-learning assignments include:
- Digital curriculum accessed via the internet
- Textbook readings
- Discussion questions
- Long-term projects
- Writing assignments
If you have some type of work that can only be made up in the classroom, have the student focus on that when they are back. Then outside of the classroom, they can catch up on the other work. In other words, it’s yet another win-win for you and your student.
Best Practice 5: Effective Blended Learning Starts with You
This is the most important best practice on this list. For blended learning to be successful in any classroom, it starts with you!
While you may not be in front of the classroom often, you still watch and coach students. You facilitate every situation. A good teacher is the most critical part of student success with blended learning, just like in any other teaching format.
The bottom line is that you know your classroom and your students better than anyone. Use these blended learning best practices along with your own expertise to create a great blended learning experience!
Get Started with Blended Learning Today!
At Applied Educational Systems, we understand the importance of using blended learning strategies to maximize engagement in your classroom. That's why we create comprehensive curriculum solutions for teachers like you.
We offer programs for health science, business education, computer applications, and career readiness. With each program, you get an ideal blended learning tool that’s quick, easy, and effective.
Want to bring blended learning into your classroom? Start with our guide on the four best strategies for a blended classroom!