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What is the educator’s role in measuring blended learning success?

by Saro Mohammed on Dec 14, 2016


At this year’s iNACOL symposium, there was increasing consensus around the idea that understanding the effectiveness of blended and personalized learning in different contexts can no longer be put off into the future or left to researchers and think tanks alone. Several speakers agreed that we need these answers today and a broad group of stakeholders, including educators, must play a critical role.

This is why The Learning Accelerator (TLA) recently released the Measurement Agenda for Blended Learning. It includes several objectives for learning about, disseminating, creating competency in, and implementing evidence-based practices in blended learning. We developed these objectives for multiple stakeholder groups, including edTech developers, educators, researchers, policymakers, and funders. My previous post focused on the contribution that edTech developers can make, and future posts will focus on other stakeholder groups. This post answers the question, “What do educators have to contribute to understanding the effectiveness of blended learning?”

Remember The Big Disconnect?

As I’ve discussed in previous blog posts, there is a disconnection between what we call the “evidence” cycle, in which researchers learn about the practices that are most likely to be most effective for most students; and the “implementation” cycle, in which educators and others are charged with enacting practices to support students’ learning. Because of this, there is one group of people who understands very well which instructional strategies are least risky and most likely to lead to high performance, and another, distinct group of people who are tasked with supporting students to achieve their full potential. The less these groups communicate, the less each group is able to accomplish their goals and objectives, and teaching and learning suffers. In an ideal world, there would be one unified, complete cycle -- evidence would inform implementation, and implementation would in turn inform the generation of new evidence relevant to practice.

EvidenceCycle-ImplementationCycle

EvidenceImplementationCycle

 

The Critical Role of Educators

Educators cannot unify these cycles on their own, however, they play a critical role as their individual contribution to the greater effort is not only important, but truly necessary.

The fact is, evidence about blended learning exists within implementation. Without implementation, there is no evidence. So, educators are crucial stewards of our ability to understand if, when, and how implementation is effective. Educators can take specific steps, which are described below, but in general more open communication and patience can take us a long way. Rigorous evidence takes time, so we should set our expectations accordingly, understanding that we all need to work together with a sense of urgency in order to generate and implement the evidence our teachers and students need.

Educators can use two approaches to drive improved understanding of if, how, and when blended learning is effective:

  1. Take an evidence-based approach to instructional design and implementation -- educators interested in implementing blended learning should proceed, not wait for perfect evidence of impact. However, they should implement in an evidence-based way, by drawing on the existing evidence about learning sciences, instructional design, personalized learning, and learning for mastery.

  2. Allow measurement of their implementation, both for improvement and to add to the evidence base -- educators should open up their learning environments to enable measurement of blended learning implementation.

Four High-Impact Ways for Educators to Contribute

Educators have an important role to play in ensuring that evidence is flowing in both directions, from research to practice and from practice to research, so that we can better understand evidence-based practices in blended learning. The educator objectives included in our Measurement Agenda outline the knowledge and skills necessary for educators to effectively implement evidence-based practices and to contribute data from their practice in the generation of new evidence.

Specifically, the Measurement Agenda outlines four high-impact ways for educators to contribute:

  1. In order to advance our learning measurement agenda, we call on educators to take a data-driven approach to implementation, and use a practitioner-as-researcher framework for understanding what is and isn’t working for teaching and learning in their own classroom. Educators can in fact, with the right supports, and in partnership with other stakeholders, draw on different research designs, measures, and methods in order to increase the level of confidence they have in their own findings (internal validity); answer more sophisticated questions about cause and effect (rigor); and generate findings that are applicable to broader classrooms and contexts (external validity).

  2. For evidence to be disseminated in meaningful ways, we challenge educators to consume research in various forms, from various sources, and interpret this evidence appropriately as it applies to their own students, teachers, and contexts in order to advance understanding of if, when, and how blending learning is effectively implemented. Again, this cannot occur in a vacuum, but we believe that the system should develop this expectation of educators so that we all know that we are doing what is best for students.

  3. We suggest that educators must acquire unique (and novel) competencies in order to apply the relevant evidence-base when developing, implementing, and measuring their own blended learning to maximize the potential for enacting effective teaching and learning; and also to make data-based decisions for improvement.

  4. And finally, we propose that the implementation of evidence-based practices requires educators to continue measuring their blended learning on an ongoing basis and make appropriate adjustments as necessary. In addition, educators are encouraged to share their findings outside of their own context, and participate in measurement activities that can support causal claims and be more broadly applied to varying teaching and learning contexts.

If you are an educator interested in contributing to our shared understanding of blended learning effectiveness, all of the specific objectives required to achieve the goals above are included in detail in our Blended Learning Measurement Agenda for Educators.

What’s Next?

As mentioned above, educators are necessary, but not sufficient, stakeholders to advance our understanding of blended learning effectiveness. Our next post focuses on another equally important group: researchers. Further, the Measurement Agenda also includes specific, detailed objectives for edTech developers, administrators and policymakers, and funders - this work applies to all of these groups, and all are necessary to complete this work. Implementing evidence-based practices requires these multiple stakeholders to take coordinated action utilizing a breadth of knowledge and skills traditionally associated with very different roles and responsibilities. We recognize the magnitude of the task, but we know that together, it can be accomplished.

Join Us!

If you are a member of any of these stakeholder groups, and are interested in learning more about how you can contribute, please stay tuned for future blog posts, or visit our Blended Learning Measurement Agenda landing page for more information. If you are engaged in work that illustrates or aligns with objectives outlined in our Measurement Agenda, please let me know @edresearchworks, #BLMeasurement or email me saro.mohammed@learningaccelerator.org


Saro

Saro Mohammed is a Partner at The Learning Accelerator. Email comments to saro.mohammed@learningaccelerator.org, and follow Saro @edresearchworks.