Let’s Talk Blended Learning

Many schools are going to a “blended learning” model. This model, including its history, is something that most teachers who work exclusively in face-to-face classrooms are unaware of, untrained in, and unenthusiastic about. None of that is surprising, given that it is not included in most teacher training programs and they are receiving basically no instruction on how to effectively implement it. (To say nothing of teachers currently struggling to make their own way through the pandemic, including struggling financially, physically, and emotionally, along with their students.)

So here’s a crash course in blended learning.

Let’s start with some history. The term blended learning, and the various associated ways of teaching and facilitating, didn’t suddenly appear in 2020 along with COVID and murder hornets. Instead, blended learning is generally understood to have originated with distance learning and Sir Isaac Pitman in the 1840’s with a learn by mail program. There is a long list of events since then to get us where we are now, with the Department of Education and school districts telling teachers to “just do blended learning.”

The current focus on blended learning appears to be suggesting an unnamed mixture of in-person and digital learning. It is often unclear if the people talking mean synchronous or asynchronous learning platforms or some other kind of digital interaction. Real blended learning specialists take a much more nuanced perspective of the potential options. It’s unfortunate that the current conversations are mostly rushed, limited versions of a nuanced approach that can be an incredibly impactful tool in a learning toolbox.

In order to boil down the answer of the massive question, “Sure, but how do I DO blended learning” to a blog-post-friendly answer (as opposed to a college-semester answer which is usually more my speed), here’s what I’ve got for you:

  • Every platform (in person, video conferencing, asynchronous learning management system, etc.) has the potential to do some things really well – even better than all the others – and some things not very well at all – very badly even. Teachers and facilitators know and understand the pros and cons of the in person “platform” really well. We can learn just as much about how to be interactive and engaging on the other platforms.
  • The trick to implementing really effective blended learning on a really short time frame is finding as much expert advice on which content is best on which platform and how to do it well. Or just taking some wild guesses because there’s not much expert advice out there on this. (We can help with this if you’re looking for someone to consult on the specifics of your program.)
  • Ideally you will find, not just work arounds for a given platform (because you are being forced to teach in an unfamiliar setting), but which lessons/topics really excel and shine within which platforms.
  • Being able to choose which platform you use to teach which content on could even be seen as a perk rather than a drawback. For example, this is a document that outlines some of the pros and cons of synchronous and asynchronous platforms. When you have a choice between platforms for conveying piece of content or exploring a kind of activity, there is always a better choice. There is always a choice that more completely fits the needs of the learner.
  • Unless, of course, you’re just being required to teach everything in two different ways (in person and digitally). This is effectively turning every single prep into two preps, doubling an already intense workload in an already intense time. If this is what’s happening in your work, know that it is an inappropriate demand. Wildly, pedagogically, inhumanly inappropriate. I am sorry it is what you are experiencing. There is no way to make this any better.

As teachers and facilitators, our role is to find ways to reach our students and our participants.

As teachers and facilitators of sexuality, our role is to ensure that we reach our students through creative, personal, medically accurate, currently relevant, and concrete learning moments.

None of this has changed with the advent of mass adaptation of blended learning. Rather, our tools to achieve this have expanded. Even if we never wanted or asked for or know exactly what to do with that expansion.

Our field, sexuality education, has worked hard to make ourselves heard so that young people can access to information that is within their basic human rights to have. We will rally and do it again, this time with online and blended learning.

Are you interested in continuing the conversation with us? We have an ongoing series on how to teach sex ed online – come learn more!