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John Merrow cautiously supports blended learning

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September 26, 2012 03:36 pm

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In his weekly blog Take Note, John Merrow, veteran education reporter for PBS and NPR and president of Learning Matters, a media production company, looks at the good, bad and the ugly of blended learning.

Merrow supports blended learning – a new educational methodology that incorporates technology with traditional classroom instruction, when skilled, dedicated teachers are at the helm of implementation.

“For blended learning to soar, teachers cannot be controlling the action, and they don’t have to,” Merrow notes. “They aren’t walking away, of course, but they are mentoring and monitoring and coaching, and sometimes instructing.”

The Alliance is also a fan of blended learning. In our “Culture Shift” report, we broaden the definition to say we believe blended learning occurs any time a student learns, at least in part, at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home and, at least in part, through online delivery with some element of student control over time, place, path and/or pace.

As the practice of blended learning grows, however, Merrow’s endorsement becomes increasingly cautious, and he warns against what he sees as its three largest obstacles: faddishness, greed and limited vision.

Faddishness: Blended learning is quickly becoming the next big thing in education, and as instructors jump on the bandwagon, Merrow fears the concept will become vague and undefined. Teachers are the focal point of blended learning, and for it to succeed, they must be skilled and able to implement it. Merrow advises, “…be skeptical when you hear educators endorse blended learning; ask a lot of questions.”

Greed: Marketers for technology products and innovators will want to capitalize on blended learning as it grows. Merrow sees a future where educators are pitched new technology products that are “perfect for blended learning.” The focus should be on teachers and teaching, not gadgets.

Limited vision: “My biggest fear is that blended learning is going to turn out to be just another crash and burn disappointment,” Merrow says. “This will happen unless its adherents also participate in a serious conversation about the goals of schooling.” To combat this, educators utilizing blended learning must be an example to others, able provide examples of students obtaining goals through these innovative means that are the cornerstones of blended education.
“Education needs to ‘measure what counts,’ and the blended learning community has to be part of that conversation about what really matters.”

For a complete understanding of Merrow’s fears on blended learning, see the full blog post, “Blended Learning, But To What End?”

To learn more about how digital learning can help drive student gains while also providing valuable professional learning opportunities for teachers, see the Alliance’s publications on the subject at https://all4ed.org/publication_material/DataTechRch.

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