Kathryn Kelly
Special to the Bonanza

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August 23, 2012
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Is blended learning the future of local education?

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — The future of education is … right here in Incline Village. It’s called blended learning, and the concept is so new its definition is only a year old:

“Blended learning is 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.” — Innosight Institute, May 2011

Far more than simply “online” or computer-based instruction (commonly known as CBI), blended learning uses technology to deliver content individualized to that student’s needs and abilities, leaving the face-to-face teacher to do what they do best — teach, one on one or in small groups, to reinforce the content that has been delivered in a manner best suited to that student’s learning abilities.

Blended learning reinforces that there is no substitution for a great teacher — who could ever replace Milton Hyams? — and instead leverages their talents. Through tracking such time-consuming tasks as attendance, pop quizzes and posting grades, technology frees a gifted teacher up to make the best use of their considerable skills to teach and improve satisfaction on the job, too.

In a small community such as Incline, blended learning means students have access to unusual courses such as electrical engineering, genetics, oceanography, critical writing, Mandarin, or many other courses that may not be available in traditional school or indeed anywhere in the state. Incline students grades 6-12 this year have taken forensics, AP Statistics, archaeology, mechanical engineering, personal finance, and a host of other courses for high school credit at the eLearning Cafe that they would not have been able to take otherwise, using online texts that are updated as quickly as new discoveries are made.

That’s an important edge in a time of diminishing school budgets and increased competition at top colleges. As local college counselor Nancy Handel puts it, ”It is always best for the student to challenge themselves with the most rigorous course opportunity available to them and to demonstrate initiative in seeking out an inspiring course plan, even when those courses may not be available at their home high school.”

How do colleges look at blended courses? Colleges know that all online and blended content providers are not alike, just as high schools are not alike. Colleges know and appreciate the value of well-designed curricula provided by the likes of APEX, Edison, and K12.

They know the difference between CBI courses that are not much more than scanned textbooks online, and well-designed content that ensures mastery of the subject before the student is allowed to proceed to the next topic. WCSD now notes on the student’s transcript from which provider the student took the blended class, rather than merely noting CBI or COR (for correspondence) as was the practice until recently. That’s great news for college applicants.

But blended learning is not for everyone. Blended learning works well for students who need more time to work through material without feeling left behind at the end of each class, because they can learn at their own pace and repeat material a second or third time if need be. It works well for highly motivated students who grasp concepts quickly and tend to be bored in class if not challenged enough.

It is well suited to competitive athletes, students whose families travel a great deal, students who are recovering from illness and can’t attend regular class with strictly regulated seat-time requirements. It benefits students who have difficulty learning in a traditional school environment for any of a variety of reasons. It is typically not for students who require constant supervision, as there is an element of self-discipline involved in being in control of your academic career.

That said, many students who flounder in a traditional academic environment find they thrive when they are able to have more control over their education. Last year’s special needs student becomes this year’s honor roll student and secures a place in college, as happened to one IHS graduate this year, thanks to the blended learning opportunities encouraged by Principal Cooper.

For those of us who got a great education in a considerably more traditional academic environment and wonder why it seems so hard to achieve that today, I would offer only this: It’s a new world, full of more information than we will ever be able to completely assimilate, and we need new and different tools to succeed.

Our kids are inundated with more information and distractions than ever in human history, and traditional methods of teaching traditional material no longer guarantee a successful career. So let’s welcome the exciting discoveries in neuroscience and technology, and use them to help our students succeed in a world we could never have dreamed of.

— Kathryn E. Kelly, DrPH, is founder and CLO of the eLearning Cafe in Incline Village.

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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Aug 23, 2012 12:09PM Published Aug 23, 2012 12:09PM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.