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A Step-by-Step Guide to Communicating Your Blended Learning Goals

by Kira Keane on July 24 2015

Devices? Check. Software? Check. Communications Plan? Woops.

Like many of you, I make the rounds of edTech conferences looking for golden nuggets of wisdom about how to successfully implement blended learning in schools. Case studies, lessons learned, best practices...these are what I hunt for and I’ve discovered a new theme that many of us have overlooked: communications.

At conferences like SXSWedu, iNACOL and the Future Ready summits, I have heard districts leaders repeatedly say they wish they would have communicated about their blended learning efforts earlier and more effectively with their key stakeholders. I recently read that Summit CEO Diane Tavenner said she's realized they need to "double or triple" their communications efforts with parents and the community.

When school leaders launch blended learning initiatives they think about devices, software, (hopefully) student learning goals...but communications planning? Not so much and not enough.

Why is communications planning happening too little too late?

Many school districts lack communications expertise and capacity. The largest districts may have a public information office, or a communications director, but the majority of mid- and small-scale districts manage communications tasks with existing staff, many of whom lack communications expertise. As technology and the Internet have revolutionized how we receive and process information, communications is happening anywhere, anytime, and among multiple interested parties. It can be a lot of work to manage communications and, unless there is a crisis, many districts allow communications planning to be a “nice to have,” not a “need to have.”

It is clear to me that too many districts who are adopting blended learning do not think about communications planning early enough in the process, and there are few (free) tools available to help them. As more schools shift to blended learning, district leaders are recognizing the need for communications assistance to build understanding and support for their implementation efforts.

Communications Planning for Blended Learning: Step-By Step Guide

Over the past several months, I have reviewed existing communications tools, interviewed communications and blended learning experts, and discussed communications needs with education leaders and school districts. The result is a free step-by-step guide that helps district leaders understand the importance of, and how to develop, a blended learning communications plan.
The guide is intended for district leaders, whose commitment to communications as a district priority is crucial for success. However, the guide includes many tips and links to additional resources that others (communications directors, technology officers, principals, and teachers) may find useful.

I encourage you to use this guide to customize a blended learning communications strategy for your unique district. Please share with me what works, what doesn’t, and what is missing, so I can develop a more comprehensive version of the guide in the future.

A summary of the communications planning steps follows:

Step 1. Communications vs. Engagement
Communications should not be just one-way, from you to your audiences. Work to create two-way conversations that build true engagement with your stakeholders.

Step 2. Communications Goals
Establish clear communications goals that are deeply connected to your blended learning goals and your district’s overall strategic plan for student learning. Districts often fall into the trap of talking more about the technology than the transformation of teaching and learning that occurs with blended learning. Your communications goals should focus primarily on building understanding and support for blended learning’s role in achieving your district’s definition of student success.

Step 3. Communications Resources
Assess your district’s communications capacity and identify existing communications resources, as well as gaps in your capabilities and/or expertise. This process can be as deeply thorough or as high-level as you have time for, but the important step is to know what communications tools and resources you have at your disposal to execute your blended learning communications plan.

Step 4. Stakeholder Audiences (Identify, Know, Reach)
Identify and understand your key audiences, what they care about, and how best to reach them. Stakeholders include school leaders, teachers, parents, community members, and students.

Step 5. Key Messengers
Although the Superintendent is the official “messenger” for the district, identifying and preparing other trusted messengers to deliver key messages about your blended learning program is essential. For example, according to a recent PDK/Gallup poll, teachers and principals are the most trusted messengers for parents.

Step 6. Key Messages

Articulating a clear message that captures the core reason behind your blended learning program is enormously helpful in building understanding and support for your efforts. Segmenting these messages by audience will ensure the information you are sharing is the most compelling.
Review The Learning Accelerator’s Blended Learning Messaging Guide for sample messages targeted to key audiences.

Step 7. Storytelling
One of the most powerful ways to communicate your key messages is through storytelling. Think about ways to deliver your key messages through visuals, video and vivid language. Using real-life characters (students and teachers) and a compelling plot will translate your messages into an inspiring story that your audiences will remember and respond to.

Step 8. Timeline
As you develop your communications strategy, be sure to link the communications timeline to your blended learning implementation timeline. Overlay your calendar of implementation events with your communications milestones, activities, and tasks. And start early!

Step 9. Issue Spotting
Engaging with your stakeholders is an ongoing effort and it pays to try to spot issues ahead of time that may be of growing concern. Implementing blended learning could cause apprehension for certain audiences and districts should continuously survey the landscape to be prepared to address emerging fears or misunderstandings.

Step 10. Success Metrics
How you determine if your communications efforts are succeeding depends on what goals you set in your strategy in Step 2. If parent or community awareness was a goal, consider doing a survey at the beginning of your implementation efforts and again periodically thereafter to gauge effectiveness. Similarly, a teacher “listening tour” at the beginning and mid-way points of your implementation efforts can highlight communications successes or problems.

Download Communications Planning for Blended Learning: Step-By-Step Guide

About the Author

This blog was originally published on EdSurge on 07/18/15. Kira Keane is a Partner at The Learning Accelerator. Email comments to [email protected], and follow Kira @keanekira.