As technology tools and resources continue to grow at a breakneck speed, the concept of blended learning that integrates in-person learning and technology has become more mainstream. In fact, it’s what drives the national nonprofit organization The Learning Accelerator. The organization focuses on identifying the greatest barriers facing school districts trying to implement blended learning, and develops free, shareable solutions open to everyone. Now, the nonprofit is launching innovative projects to improve access to actionable knowledge about exciting blended learning work that’s being done around the nation.
Launched five years ago, The Learning Accelerator focuses on transforming K-12 education by supporting and developing high-quality blended learning in schools around the United States. In line with their mission and values, the organization’s content, tools and resources are free and open to share and modify for educators as they need.
Early on, The Learning Accelerator identified the greatest barriers to blended learning as: Internet connectivity, human capital, ed tech device purchasing, measurement and communications. Based on their findings, they have either funded existing organizations addressing those barriers, or launched new nonprofits or tools to address them firsthand.
After such great success, The Learning Accelerator conducted a national study in 2015 to get an updated perspective on the greatest blended learning challenges districts and schools face. Their findings pointed to something new: Teachers and educators now have a pressing need for specific examples of how to actually implement blended learning practices in the classroom.
In response, the organization has launched an open resource website called Blended & Personalized Learning At Work, which now profiles 12 schools located in California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, New York, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Texas. The schools were selected as a way to represent different regions, ranges of system types and diverse student bodies across the nation. The site shares the blended learning work that each school is doing through videos, audio records and screencasts.
Beth Rabbitt, CEO of The Learning Accelerator, explained that while there are plenty of great ideas and access to technology today, there is a huge need to help educators and districts connect with each other to share these best practices in action.
“It’s like going in your backyard and seeing your neighbors eating dinner and trying to learn to cook based on what you see,” she said. “We wanted to lift the hood on the practices that were happening in classrooms and districts and show, this is what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. So people can learn and make decisions.”
While blended learning needs tend to fluctuate based on region, staff and student population, the organization found schools across the board tend to face similar challenges when it comes to professional development for staff and effectively using personalized learning. “We believe open education resources help districts move away from expensive propriety tools, but what we’re hearing is that practitioners are having to dedicate a lot of time vetting and planning out personalized work. So we’re focused on how we can help them learn how to use [personalized learning] tools more effectively in a blended learning network,” Rabbitt said.
In an effort to support professional development for educators interested in blended learning, the organization is expected to launch a new free website called the Learning Commons, where educators can access resources shared by 11 professional learning organizations, including BetterLesson and Blended Learning Universe. Expected to launch in late February, the site is designed to be a free, one-stop shop that educators and districts can easily access and share for blended learning ideas and best practices. While login credentials are not required, users will also have the ability to save “playlists” of their favorite resources to easily access and share as they like.
According to Rabbitt, open, accessible resources like these are critical when it comes to successfully implementing blended learning in our schools.
“We see this as an equity issue,” she said. “The systems out there that have been creating innovative approaches have done a tremendous job. The problem is the knowledge getting created doesn’t get to benefit those students and classrooms where they haven’t been in that early camp. They’re about identifying and understanding students’ needs, and how to meet those needs within a social context. Unless we make that knowledge as open as possible, we won’t be able to meet those kids where they need it the most.”