Three years ago, I had the privilege to host a gifted twelve year-old student named Nizar in one of my classes. Nizar was in his first year and immediately demonstrated a broad knowledge and deep understanding in my course (world history). The first test results confirmed my presumption of Nizar’s remarkable talents. His test was interchangeable with the correction model. So I tried to challenge Nizar, by enrolling him in a MOOC at Wessely college about Alexander the Great. Motivated by ambition, Nizar studied for nine weeks on his own. In the end, he completed the MOOC with outstanding results. This was quite a big thing back in 2014. The media was all over ‘the wonderboy’. The minister congratulated him personally. Thanks to Nizar’s achievement, the blessings of blended learning models became more widespread with the greater public in my country.
Blended learning gives me the opportunity to differentiate between the individual needs of my students. It provides self-supported learning opportunities for students like Nizar, while it enables me to plan time for individual coaching remedial teaching for other students. Technology proves helpful to support a more individualized approach in education. Yet, we need to be careful to confuse technology with actual teaching. Blended learning is not about just adding video’s and personalized content in the classroom. In any sound pedagogy, the teacher formulates the learning goals and monitors the learning process, while managing the classroom. The teacher motivates, inspires. We should never allow Google and Microsoft to dehumanize any of these components.
This perspective is reflected in a Harvard study on the HarvardX Blended Learning module. The study demonstrates how students tended to conflate the teaching approach with the blended format, responding more to the teaching itself than to how specific online or blended elements worked. Students appreciated the quality of the HarvardX materials, and most found them interesting and engaging. Students valued the increased flexibility and ability to learn at their own pace, but still wanted in-person interactions with faculty and among themselves. The most common student complaint was that online learning opportunities were often redundant with in-class components, as faculty experimented with how to best use class time and encourage participation. In-class activities worked best when they were well-structured, such as when students were given discussion questions, problem sets, or worksheets in advance. In any setting, students cut corners to save time, earn participation points, or get through required assignments or assessments. Many adopted efficiency strategies while watching the online lessons, causing some to integrate the materials in less-than-meaningful ways.
While blended learning modules can be of great help for kids like Nizar, I believe personalized technology will only be of added value when it is incorporated in well-structured classroom pedagogies. Students will always appreciate inter-human contact: meaningful collaboration with peers and a teacher who knows how to challenge them.