Blending for beginners

‘I’m really a scientist. I follow recipes exactly – until I decide not to. And then I’ll follow something else exactly. I may decide I could turn this peach tart into a plum tart, but if I’m following a recipe, I follow it exactly.’  Ina Garten

So, we’ve got all the ingredients.  We’ve got teachers with great ideas and lots of classroom experience.  We’ve got a pedagogically sound product to help students learn English online.  We have classrooms and students have access to internet computers.  Now what?  Where’s the recipe for us to follow?

Unfortunately, there is no perfect recipe for us all.  We’ve all been in the situation where we have 2 classes of the same level but we can’t prepare the same thing for both because we know that some activities that are roaring successes with one class can be total disaster with the other, and vice versa.  Any collection of individuals of different ages, life stages, personal situations, goals, moods, preferences will have its own unique set of values and reactions that we as teachers have to address every day so a one-recipe-fits-all approach won’t work.

But all is not lost.  There are some basics to think about when embarking on Blended Learning.

1.Know your learners. 

What do they want? What do they need?  How do they learn best?  How do they not learn?  How much time do they have outside of class?  Use this knowledge to decide what and how much to focus on with them.

2. Be clear on your learning objectives. 

What will the learners be able to do by the end of the lesson or the end of the time they spend on a unit?  Are these appropriate to your learners?  Do your learners have their own objectives for each session?  Use your objectives to inform your decisions about what work to focus on most.

3. Class time is prime time.

Being in class is not just time to ‘get through’ the material but your chance to focus on what your learners need most, whether that’s interaction or grammar or writing skills.  Use the online work to sufficiently prepare students for prime time work so they get the most out of it and make sure they consolidate the language and skills when they work online afterwards.

4. Online work is not just ‘homework.’

Students feel that homework is just practice of what they’ve done in class or finishing off something there wasn’t time to do in class.  Learning happens online too and this needs to be planned to make sure you are asking students to do the right preparation or consolidation activities for them personally and for the activities you have planned for class time.

5. Blend the learning. 

Students shouldn’t feel that they are engaging in two different learning experiences.  They should feel they are participating in two aspects of one experience.  Link up the two sides by by having logical links from one into the other.  This needs to be planned.  Set up online activities in class.  Refer to them afterwards in class.  Congratulate learners on a job well done or encourage further exploration e.g. of an idea under discussion in a forum.  If you’ve checked your student progress scores and have decided to do some extra work on the present perfect, explain this to them.  Let them ask you questions about it.

6. Train your learners. 

Our students all have facebook accounts and share photos and blog and tweet and send emails and instant messages so it won’t take them long to figure out what buttons to press to make things happen in the LMS.  They probably won’t be so quick to pick up how to use the material online in the way that’s most effective for them.  You will need to show them how to manage their time, to self edit and evaluate, to identify and work on their own areas of weakness, to make useful records of language…and the list goes on…  Spend time at the beginnning of the course raising their awareness of these issues and challenge them to come up with their own solutions.  Revisit these ideas throughout the course too so they don’t lose momentum.

That’s probably enough to get you started.  So while there’s no specific recipe necessarily, there are some ingredients you can’t do without.  How do the points above match up with your experience so far.  What do you think you’ll put into practice straight away?  Do let us know…