Laura Vanderkam, a bestselling career and business author, has just written Blended Learning: A Wise Giver’s Guide to Supporting Tech-Assisted Teaching. Published by the Philanthropy Roundtable, the short book is intended as a guide for potential donors. Its publication is a sign of the times, showing the strong and growing interest by philanthropists in supporting technology in schools.
I asked Vanderkam for some of her wisdom. Here’s a Q&A.
Blended Learning Benefits
“Blended learning means using technology to make teaching more effective. Ideally, kids learn at their own pace, and teachers get enough data from ed tech products to let them assume more of a tutoring role — tailoring lessons to each child.
Without technology, it is very hard to differentiate within a classroom. You can have children working two grade levels ahead and two grade levels behind — a four year gap — trying to learn right next to each other. If you teach to the middle, one kid is bored and the other is frustrated. Technology promises to change this. It personalizes everything it touches.
In traditional education, the feedback loop is sluggish. Kids only find out days later how they did on tests (because grading them is so laborious for teachers), and then they seldom get a chance to go back and learn from their mistakes. Contrast this to a video game, where you can see instantly if you didn’t do something right. When you have adaptive software, tailored right to a child’s level, he’ll master skills as the program tells him what he did right and wrong, and gives him a chance to practice the skills he needs help with. Plus, teachers can see instantly if children understood a lesson or not.
One major upside with blended learning is that there’s a lot less grading. But beyond that, one of the key drivers of happiness at work is a sense of making progress. Data from ed tech programs can show instantly if your kids understood a lesson or not.
Class Size Matters?
Good blended learning programs tend to create small classes within big classes. 48 kids (or more) can be working on computers, but teachers will pull, say, 8 of them out to work on a lesson together. Are those kids in a 48-student classroom, or in an 8-student classroom? In a way, they’re in both.
It might be helpful to think of innovation in terms of “restaurants” and “food trucks.” Restaurants are capital intensive and hard to change. Food trucks, on the other hand, are cheap and easily retooled if something doesn’t work out. If a district is interested in blended learning, one approach is to send a few equivalents of food trucks out into schools. Try some pilot programs in a few math classes (which tend to be the most straightforward — and with some of the most developed software
). See what you learn, then expand the program based on those results. “