Thursday, April 14, 2016

Blended Learning Offers Promise as a Strategy for Re-engaging Students

Blended learning programs, which combine in-person and online or virtual instruction and support, have emerged as a promising way to meet the needs of young adults looking for an alternative on-ramp to a high school diploma, according to a report entitled “Blended Learning Offers Promise as a Strategy for Re-engaging Students,” released by the Center for Promise, the Boston University-based research institute for America’s Promise Alliance.

Underwritten by Penn Foster, the report, will be presented by Dr. Jonathan Zaff, executive director of Center for Promise, and Kevin Bauman, senior director of strategic alliances and partnerships of Penn Foster, later this week in Boston at the annual meeting of the National School Boards Association.

The report demonstrates that blended learning takes many forms, but that the principal characteristic of good practice is simple: Learning environments are best tailored to the individual student as opposed to a one-size-fits-all learning environment.

“Blended learning has the potential to combine the best of face-to-face instruction, such as interaction with and support from highly qualified educators, with the customizable capabilities of online learning, including control over pace and expertly developed content and tools,” said Dr. Zaff. “Still, it is important to note that blended learning is not the only solution to the educational needs of young people, and variation in the quality of its use and implementation may inhibit its great potential.”

The Center for Promise report defines blended learning, speaks to its role in student re-engagement, reviews the relevant literature on the topic, and provides an overview of program examples from a variety of settings across the U.S. With this foundation in place, the report then pivots to several key findings aimed at identifying promising practices for how blended learning can work best. These findings are:

  • Blended learning strategies should align with the needs of re-engaged youths;
  • Blended learning can support more comprehensive re-engagement efforts;
  • Teachers and other staff are essential, but technology can augment their effectiveness; and
  • Program planning, implementation and quality assurance are key to student success.

The Center for Promise recommends that additional research is needed to better understand blended learning’s efficacy in adequately preparing high school graduates for successful transitions to post-secondary education, training and/or employment.

The Center for Promise report recognizes that when a student disengages from high school and makes the decision to leave before achieving a diploma, it is likely that the educational environment and/or the student’s personal life posed barriers to graduation.  However, the Center for Promise concludes on a hopeful note: “The literature and programs discussed in this report indicate that blended learning has the potential to address many of the challenges that re-engaged students face by providing personalized, flexible and supportive educational options.”

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