If there’s one thing that a global pandemic has taught us, it’s that remote learning/blended learning in education is not only a great way to keep students engaged while physically separated, but that in some cases, it’s an absolute must. But what exactly is blended learning? Why is it important for educators to better understand? And how, exactly, does one implement it in their own classroom or school?
What is blended learning?
Put simply, blended learning is an educational process that mixes the traditional face-to-face classroom with a virtual program. In most cases, mobile learning involves an aspect of virtual learning as well, wherein some pieces and parts of the traditional classroom setting—the teacher or instructor, the students, or the classroom itself—is physically inaccessible.
Benefits of blended learning
When it comes to blended learning, there may be some negative perceptions out there, but many would be based on the monumental shift we saw in early 2020, where schools and teachers were forced online in a matter of days, without much preparation or planning for such. Still, it is a fact that blended learning offers a number of benefits for both educators and students alike.
No where else has this level of accessibility—regardless of location—been attained than in the virtual classroom. Instead of fighting issues with transportation, times and schedules and other challenges, the primary needs of a virtual student are an internet connection and a mobile-friendly device.
More and more, students (and parents) already have access to a cell phone and/or tablet, due to an increasingly online-connected world. Tapping into this social norm—instead of fighting it—allows teachers an opportunity to meet students where they are, and engage them on a deeper level. Imagine a parent who couldn’t misplace a needed form because it was in a classroom folder in the cloud? What if students could get reminders on their phone about project deadlines or test grades? The result in both cases above—and with many others—is a student body that is more engaged and “plugged in” to what is going on in their educational plan, day by day.
When it comes to individualization, mobile education offers a unique opportunity—that of time and availability between student and teacher, without the added distraction of 20 to 30 other students at the same time. Moreso, micro-learning gets a new boost, as teachers can quiz and test applications along the way, rather than building up to a large test that covers weeks of content. And as an added bonus? Teachers can structure lessons that appeal to students regardless of their learning preferences, providing videos for visual learners, lectures for auditory, and projects for kinesthetic learners, just as in a classroom.
How great would it be if a student could rewind that last lesson you taught and revisit some of the things that had them hung up? On mobile learning, this is as easy as hitting “play” on a recorded lesson. While repetition may seem like a minor benefit—for many students it could be a game-changer in their level of understanding of the topic being discussed.
Mobile or blended education offers a high level of creativity, as teachers can use anything in the world as part of their curriculum. For example, when learning about volume, a baking lesson might make a connection between science and real life more tangible. And instead of talking about insects in class, a blended classroom allows students to go on the hunt for their favorite bug. Whatever the lesson looks like, teachers can develop an entirely new perspective on what can be included in a lesson plan.
Top Tools for blended learning
If you’re looking at boosting your game in mobile learning, or finding tools that help you connect with your students, wherever they are, here are a few of the top tools you’ll want to explore for your virtual classroom:
LMS or direct connection
First, you’ll need a platform. For recorded sessions, you’ll need some sort of Learning Management System (or LMS) to house lessons, quizzes, polls, videos and more. For live teaching, you’ll need something like Zoom or Microsoft Teams, that offer a virtual meeting setting to connect in real time. While many teachers will prefer one over the other, the reality is that using both offers a great opportunity to provide all the information without losing the personal engagement that comes out of the teacher-student relationship.
Regardless of the type of teaching you plan on doing, a webcam is going to be a must—allowing students to see your face and connect with you on a deeper level. Used for both recorded and live teaching, a good webcam will provide a foundational element for your virtual or remote classroom.
While a web camera could do the trick here, having a document camera that can stream its viewpoint is an added bonus. Whether that means projecting your daily schedule online, or broadcasting a science experiment, a document camera can help you provide an up-close look for your students who are joining in from miles away.
While at its simplest level mobile teaching can be done with a laptop and a webcam, there are many other ways to make a virtual classroom more engaging. As an example, using an interactive panel that can be broadcast (via meetings or other software), allows an instructor to simply teach, using the board and all its capabilities in one room, while students join in across the city. Items like these can not only provide a high level of engagement for students, but also keep teachers from feeling disconnected.
Note: When looking for interactive tools, make sure that you are also looking into software requirements and interactions; some offer multiple opportunities for teaching connections, and many require software upgrades or third-party applications.
Whatever your plan or process for teaching in the upcoming months (and years!), creating a mobile-friendly adaptation is something that teachers will have to navigate in the future. Start by creating a plan and a vision—what do you want your virtual classroom to look or act like? How will you keep track of progress? What do your students need most from you? Creating a plan with this focus in mind will not only help you choose the right tools, but will also help you keep in mind why you are making the shift—and better enable you to be able to engage and teach, no matter the physical situation.