Covid-19 has seen schools switch to blended learning through necessity – but it is fast becoming the preferred option for many parents.
As schools reopened to students following the first stage of the pandemic, many moved to a combination of in-person and remote teaching as a temporary measure.
But just as many employees are now opting for a hybrid model of combining working from home with working from the office, so many parents would now choose blended learning for the classrooms of the future.
More than three quarters of parents (78%) want to see want to see desktops or laptops incorporated into classroom learning, and almost half (47%) want to see schools adopt blended learning even when the pandemic is over.
Teachers are even more enthusiastic about blended learning, with 54% in favor of a permanent shift to combining an online approach with traditional classroom teaching, according to a survey for tech multinational Lenovo.
The most obvious application of blended learning is when children are unable to be in school but are otherwise healthy.
New York has already announced that K-12 students will be expected to log-in when school is cancelled, following the success of remote learning.
But there is much more to hybrid learning than snow days. One of the big advantages of incorporating technology as part of their teaching is that it makes it easier for teachers to monitor keep track of an individual child’s progress, says Brett Wigdortz.
“It helps teachers keep track of where different children are on the learning journey,” says Wigdortz, founder of the U.K.’s Teach First, a teacher training program modelled on Teach for America.
“Teachers can keep track of which children understand which concepts and where they need to double down.”
He anticipates a much greater use of applications such as HegartyMaths, a subscription tool created by a former U.K. Teacher of the Year and nominee for the Varkey Foundation’s Global Teacher Prize.
Short of an AI revolution, this is not going to make teachers superfluous, but the experience of the last 16 months has made them more confident in using technology to supplement their teaching.
“[Education technology] is not going to totally upend everything, but it will be an additional arrow in teachers’ bows,” says Wigdortz, whose latest venture is the childcare start-up tiney.
“The most difficult thing for teachers is to differentiate the children in the classroom,” he adds. “Great teachers can tell you exactly where each of 30 children are, but tech can really help teachers in that task.
“They can use tech to get a much more nuanced understanding of where every child is on the learning journey. They can really see the evidence.”
But even contemplating hybrid learning would not be possible without another, more prosaic, part of the puzzle coming together.
The last 16 months has seen a rapid increase in the proportion of children who now have access to a device suitable for learning, thanks in part to government programs. According to one survey, nine in 10 teachers said there was one school-issued device for every middle and high school student, compared with two thirds pre-pandemic.
“We have put technology into the students’ hands, and we have done it at a much earlier age [than previously],” said Matt Cole, head of Americas for ed tech giant Promethean, when we spoke earlier this year.
If nothing else, this provides a strong argument for continuing with hybrid learning when in-person classes become the norm.
But, as Cole put it in a recent article, there are much stronger arguments, namely the greater insight that the use of tech affords to both teachers and parents.
And even when the pandemic is abated, classrooms will not go back to the way things were, according to Dr Elise Ecoff, group education director of the world’s largest international schools group, Nord Anglia Education.
She argued that the pandemic had created new opportunities for education, opening doors to widespread use of tech that had previously remained stubbornly closed.
As well as giving teachers more scope to check understanding, blended learning gives students more opportunities to revisit material.
This seems to be backed up by the survey, which found that six in 10 (59%) of U.K. teachers said the way education is delivered had been changed for the better by the pandemic.
Almost half (48%) said this was because the shift to remote learning had enabled students to work at their own pace and made it easy to revisit topics.
Almost a third of teachers (31%) and four in 10 parents (39%) said children’s independent learning skills had improved as a result of the remote learning experience, according to Lenovo’s survey of 500 U.K. teachers and 2,000 parents of school-age children.
“The rapid adoption of remote learning has accelerated digital transformation at warp speed,” said Rich Henderson, Lenovo’s global education solutions director.
“As a result, schools and the ed tech industry need to utilise key learnings from the pandemic to maximise the capabilities of technology and improve online learning.”
The pandemic may have turned education upside down, but it seems it has created both the appetite and the utensils for change, all the ingredients for a radical shift in the way children learn.