Blended Learning: Surviving and Thriving in a New Education Landscape

The 2020-2021 school year started unlike any other. Some schools pushed back start dates, others opted to go fully online, and still others implemented a blended learning system to aid in social distancing. As the school year continues, more and more schools are phasing students back into the classroom, and many have introduced a blended or hybrid learning environment as part of those plans.

What is blended learning?

Blended learning, sometimes called hybrid learning, is not new. The idea of blending classroom instruction with some form of online learning has been around for about as long as the internet has been widely available in homes. But until recently, the blend of in-person and online learning has leaned heavily toward the face-to-face portion—teachers might, for example, assign a video or online assignment for homework to supplement what was learned in the classroom.

Enter COVID-19. When the pandemic led to nationwide school closings, teachers and administrators scrambled to shift to virtual schooling—with very mixed results.

If purely online learning produces poor outcomes for many students, and if in-person instruction at normal capacity is unsafe, what’s the solution?

Many schools have settled on some form of blended learning as the best answer. Some students will attend school in-person a few days a week and complete online work from home the rest of the week. Others will attend half days, or one week on and one week off.

Whatever the form, blended learning combines synchronous learning (live interactive teaching) and asynchronous learning (independent online work). Keep reading to learn how to make the best of blended learning to survive and thrive no matter what the school year brings.

Benefits of blended learning

Many students prefer blended learning to the traditional classroom experience. Blended learning has many benefits:

  • Promotes independence
  • Allows students to take greater control of their learning
  • Improves motivation
  • Encourages development of practical skills like organization and time management
  • Reduces classroom distractions

Drawbacks of blended learning

Still, blended learning certainly has its challenges:

  • Requires a lot of self-discipline
  • Students may be easily distracted at home
  • Lack of day-to-day consistency can be challenging for students who thrive on routine
  • Constant change in setting requires organization to keep track of supplies/assignments

Strategies for blended learning success

The trick to success in a blended learning environment is being able to take advantage of the best of both in-person and virtual learning. Here are some strategies to help you not just survive the shift to blended learning, but to really thrive.

Get organized

Blended learning requires that students routinely change learning environments—from home to school and back again. In at least one way, this can be hugely beneficial: studies show that studying the same information in more than one location helps with memory and recall. But in other ways, this can be a challenge—especially for less than organized students. It’s easy to forget something important at school, and if your blended learning schedule means you won’t be back in the classroom for days at a time, forgetting your notebook becomes a much bigger problem than it would be during a normal 5-day school week.

  • Establish a “must have” checklist for leaving home and school. Computer? Check. Notebook? Check. Lunch? Check.
  • Experiment with organization tactics until you develop a system that works for you. We discuss some strategies for this in the free webinar Secrets of a Successful Semester.
  • Back everything up to cloud storage. The beauty of blended learning is that a lot of it is digital—take advantage by constantly saving things to a cloud storage platform so that it can be accessed from any device.

Master the art of time management

A lot of students struggle with the asynchronous piece of digital learning. Learning at home requires more self-discipline and MUCH better time management skills. For high school students, this is compounded by the many demands on their time both within and outside of their school hours. We have tips for balancing priorities during high school here.

Create incentives to improve focus

Building the self-discipline to stay focused even when working independently takes time…and treats.

Students can train themselves to stay focused through a system of rewards. For example, consider the Pomodoro Technique, a time management strategy that incorporates short bursts of intense focus punctuated by frequent breaks. Put the phone away and eliminate all distractions for twenty or thirty minutes. Then take a five or ten minute break where the phone comes back out. A few rounds of Candy Crush or a few minutes scrolling through Instagram will serve as a reward for that burst of hard work. Over time, it will become easier and easier to focus.

Even better: research shows that the brain can only process so much information at one time. By using an approach that rewards brief periods of studying with short breaks, students not only improve focus but also improve the learning process!

Ask for help

Although blended learning certainly brings students and teachers closer than they were under an all-digital framework, there is still greater distance than students are generally used to. Teachers are less likely to pick up on a student’s struggles right away, and students may find fewer opportunities to ask for help. But asking for help is an important strategy for success in a blended environment!

Students and parents need to be ready to reach out to teachers whenever help is needed. If a student experiences a longer-term struggle with a particular skill or subject, consistent support in the form of regular tutoring may be the solution. Peer study groups can also offer support (and much needed socialization) for subjects a student struggles in.

If there is an academic challenge, asking for help early makes a solution much easier. Don’t wait!

Build great study skills

Strong study skills are always important for academic success, but since a blended learning environment requires more independent learning than a traditional classroom approach, strong study skills are more important than ever. Experiment with strategies to help you study smarter, not harder. By developing a study approach that really works for you, you can ensure long-term success. Check out the webinar Be Ready for a New (and Different) School Year to learn about critical study skills. We’ve also compiled a series of scientifically proven study skills that can help you maximize study gains:

Seek out safe social opportunities

Schools that implement blended learning often reduce or eliminate many social opportunities, from recess and lunch breaks to extracurricular groups and team sports. This lack of socialization can make academic success all the more difficult to achieve. What’s more, high school students still need to pursue extracurricular interests as part of the road to college. Students need to seek out safe social opportunities, both for their emotional health and for their long-term success. Check out this article about extracurricular opportunities during COVID-19 for some ideas.

Change perspective

Finally, consider a change in perspective. Rather than mourning what may have been lost this year, embrace the opportunities that a blended learning environment can offer. Think of it as the best of both worlds: the opportunity for in-person instruction and socially distanced socialization AND the chance to learn and grow independently and develop the soft skills that will help students succeed through college and beyond.

COLLEGE ROADMAP

FRESHMAN

Remember: your grades this year count towards college admissions!

Focus on building the study skills you need to excel in your classes

Explore extracurricular opportunities that can be shifted online if necessary

SOPHOMORE

Cancelled extracurriculars? Explore ways to shift them online!

Do a self-inventory: what were you biggest challenges last year, and how can you address them now?

Maintain a focus on strong grades

Assume you’ll need good SAT/ACT scores when it’s time to apply to college—start your test prep now

JUNIOR

Seek leadership positions in extracurriculars—and if your extracurriculars are cancelled, lead the charge to shift them online

Identify the study skills and time management skills you need to work on the most and create a plan to build those skills

Assume you’ll need good SAT/ACT scores next year and start prepping now

SENIOR

Don’t let the combination of senior year and blended learning throw you off—good grades are still important!

Remember: AP exams count for just as much this year as they have in the past. Keep sharp study habits to be ready this spring.