The Foundation for Blended and Online Learning is an independent charitable educational organization. Mission is To empower students through personalized learning by advancing the availability and quality of blended and online learning opportunities and outcomes.
One of the biggest obstacles to change—and to empowering change agents—in online education involves the level of misinformation currently inundating teachers, parents, administrators, and policymakers. It’s not an easy challenge to solve, and it requires a broad perspective.
This is why I’m proud to serve on the Advisory Board of the Foundation for Blended and Online Learning, where we’re building a resource library and educator network that provide a critical perspective on what is and isn’t working without pushing a self-serving agenda. Through our teacher grants and original research, we aim to break down online education’s greatest barrier: lasting adoption.
This is an obstacle that we know intimately well at my startup, Comprendio, as it’s our sole focus. Because of it, we’re familiar with the myths circulating about blended and online learning. Many of are based on a flawed understanding about technology-enabled, personalized educational methodologies and the cultural changes necessary to help them make a lasting impact. Here are three of these false beliefs:
“Online learning isolates students from educators and peers, and is a poor substitute for face-to-face interactions.”
The truth is that students report having more social interaction with their peers than they would in a traditional classroom setting. Blended and online learning programs connect a single classroom to many others across the country and around the world. Also, students who were previously isolated by fear of approaching a teacher for assistance in front of classmates now have access to other, potentially less intimidating ways of getting the support they need via email and private messaging.
“Online learning replaces teachers with technology and dehumanizes the educational experience.”
False. Blended and online programs enable teachers to have more direct and personalized interaction with students. Educators are no longer tied up with direct instruction and classroom management—they are free to become collaborators and facilitators in a child’s learning and development of critical thinking skills. And teachers can more easily provide targeted support to students with learning disabilities or other special needs.
“Online programs are less rigorous than traditional classroom methods.”
There are no intrinsic differences between the level of difficulty a student encounters in online learning or face-to-face instruction. In fact, it’s entirely possible a student will find online education more challenging, and thus more rewarding, than the traditional classroom learning experience. Having access to a larger array of engaging content stimulates independent scholarship and self-directed learning—students in online programs truly take ownership of their educational journey.
I’ve seen firsthand how these myths and many others come into existence when stakeholders and educators invest in edtech solutions without understanding the capabilities and limitations of the technology. A lack of solid planning and the failure to set clear expectations and milestones leads to poor implementations, miscommunicated advantages and insufficient training. This lack of knowledge often becomes systemic—trickling down from administrators to teachers to students.
The good news is that these myths can be busted. Classroom teachers are best positioned to solve this problem, but need as much help as possible to get them from ideation to realization. It’s key to provide early stage coaching and support for classroom innovators.
FBOL’s Innovative Educator grant program does exactly that. We identify and support school and classroom leaders developing practices or programs to overcome achievement gaps, drive engagement, and personalize learning for their students. The lessons learned through this process are then shared throughout our network, amplifying the power of a single grant to benefit many schools.
Connecting the Dots
FBOL’s programs and original research provides a critical perspective on what’s working and what needs to be improved in online education. We ensure that the information about blended and online learning is aligned and not overwhelming, creating a common understanding of what personalized learning is and what it is not. This is incredibly critical as edtech companies innovate and look to provide value to classroom teachers in connecting the blended and online learning ecosystem, from initial service providers to classroom implementation.
It’s my mission to ensure that all students have access to high quality personalized learning options. Technology can help us get there faster and bridge the divide that too many students still face.
The innovative use of technology allows educators to reconfigure the traditional K-12 classroom and redesign schools to create personalized learning solutions that better serve all students.
As a board member at the Foundation for Blended and Online Learning (FBOL) and as COO of Getting Smart, I am thrilled to work with a network of impact-oriented schools and educators across the U.S. in helping to guide the evolution of schools, and with it, the future of learning.
Technology Greatly Enhances Learning Flexibility
Blended and online education allows students to learn at their own pace and on terms that are far more flexible than the pedagogical methods of the past permitted. My own academic journey was aided by the availability of flexible, technology-enabled courses. And just as I have benefitted from the creative use of technology in education, I want to ensure that current and future generations of students have similar opportunities available to them.
Educational philanthropy has a pivotal role to play in increasing the access students have to the latest high quality edtech tools. At FBOL, our Innovative Educator grants are awarded to classroom leaders who are experimenting with inventive practices and programs to overcome achievement gaps through tech-enabled personalized learning. And our scholarships recognize the achievements of students who have graduated from public and charter schools who embrace technology to improve educational experiences and outcomes.
I believe that students who have access to blended and online programs develop habits that inspire them to become lifelong learners—not just good students.
My work in learning design has given me an in-depth perspective on how the effective adoption of technology can shape the classroom of the future. I know the current level of personalization that learning technologies permit will pale in comparison to the innovations ahead of us; we’ll develop assessment instruments that enable us to access an unprecedented level of information about academic proficiencies and weaknesses, which can be represented and analyzed more efficiently than today. Tools also will be created that allow for more meaningful interactions between educators and students regarding academic progress, social and emotional learning, and overall success outcomes.
Technology Breaks Down Barriers and Borders
Increased interaction will be a core component of the future classroom. Children in blended and online learning programs already benefit from top-rate educational materials that students in more traditional schools may not be able to access. As technology moves beyond being merely a vehicle for content distribution, however, something amazing is happening: we’re creating an extended learning community where students can benefit from the curiosity and ingenuity of their peers—no matter how far apart they may be from one another.
Imagine a student at a big-city school collaborating on a history projects with another child who is located in a more remote setting. Or the 4th-grader who aspires to be an astronaut getting feedback on her science fair entry from a NASA engineer. And the integration of state-of-the-art technologies such as VR and AR into the classroom will take learning to an even higher level. What if an elementary school art class no longer had to settle for reading about the rich cultural treasures at the Metropolitan Museum of Art? What if they could virtually tour the ancient city of Petra, and afterwards discuss it with students based in Jordan? Technologies such as these will allow those children to access immersive educational experiences from thousands of miles away—experiences that were the stuff of science fiction just a few decades ago.
That said, I’m excited about what the future holds. I’m confident that the innovative use of technology in our K-12 schools and classrooms will further increase engagement and play a key role in fostering student equity. It’s an honor for me to contribute to the mission of FBOL, and I look forward to seeing the impact our scholarship recipients and grantees will make on both education and industry.
Our 2016 Student Scholarship Program recipients represent every corner of the country. From big cities to small towns, they attended a variety of schools and are exploring a wide range of academic, professional, and personal interests. A common trait we found among many of them, however, is a fondness for studying in their pajamas (just as is true of their brick-and-mortar peers). While we don’t count “pajama appropriate” chief among the benefits of online learning, we must admit that there is some appeal there.
While online students can choose to take classes in their pajamas, they still have to get their work completed. PJs or jacket and tie, it’s up to them to make it happen. Self-discipline and initiative are required to succeed in an online learning environment. The characteristics that support achievement in an online school often lead to significant personal and academic growth, and are life skills they will carry forever.
2016 scholarship recipient Ericka Woods shares this in a video clip below.
We are so proud to support Ericka’s future aspirations, which include getting her purple pride on at Northwestern University. She also offers some good advice for up and coming high school students: “Don’t stress out too much. Do what you can do. Do what you like to do. I promise you it will pay off in the end.” Northwestern is lucky to have you, Ericka!
Please share with your network via Twitter using: @NorthwesternU @K12Learn @FoundationBOL #onlinelearning
Ericka Woods | Chicago Virtual Charter School | Chicago, IL
Last month, the foundation announced that thirty-one recent graduates from a variety of online and blended high school programs would be recipients of post-secondary financial support through our 2016 Student Scholarship Program. Scholarship recipients represent more than twenty-one states around the country, attended a mix of traditional public, public charter, and private schools, and have plans to matriculate to a wide range of 2-year, 4-year, and vocational schools to continue their personalized educational journeys.
As our executive director, Amy Valentine, stated in remarks at a Washington, DC reception celebrating the scholarship winners:
It is a privilege to recognize the incredible achievements of our first cohort of scholarship winners and to support their future academic pursuits. Having taken the road less traveled through online and blended learning opportunities, these young scholars are poised to tackle the next phase of their schooling with focus and determination.
We are proud to share with you a video featuring a number of our 2016 scholars, in their own words:
As a former Arizona State Senator, longtime advocate for children, families, and education, and as a mother, I know the important role that parents play in embracing school choice that supports whole child development. And as a board member at the Foundation for Blended and Online Learning, I believe an essential part of school choice is the ability for parents to opt into educational methodologies that better suit the specific needs of their children.
Why emphasize whole child development? It overcomes the limitations of traditional and standardized classroom learning. It promotes better retention of knowledge and skills through creative engagement. It goes beyond the academic needs of a child toward cultivating their entire social emotional well-being.
As a result, students achieve a higher degree of success, and experience improved long-term outcomes.
School choice is vital in empowering our children to develop holistically, rather than aiming to become merely good students or high achievers. When parents support school choice, they become advocates for the overall well being of society, not just for their own children. Students who have access to schools that provide flexible learning arrangements obtain more than an education: they gain crucial social skills and critical thinking abilities that enable them to grow into engaged citizens.
A key part of school choice is the availability of blended and online learning options. The innovative use of technology in both physical and virtual classrooms allows educators to provide a customized curriculum that better fits the needs of individual students. It enables schools to adapt to any requirements a student may have for an adjusted pace of learning, address the safety concerns of parents, and provide students with physical disabilities or mental health issues with equal access to a high-quality education.
I am pleased to support FBOL’s mission to advance and improve the availability and quality of blended and online educational opportunities, and see this as a natural extension of my lifelong commitment to advocacy through public service. Through our Student Scholarship Program, Innovative Educator Grants and original research, we promote the right of parents to make school choices that create better futures for their children—not just better classrooms.
A significant gap in K-12 educational options exists in our country, as evidenced by the disparities in curricula and resources currently offered by schools across America.
Geographic location should not, however, impede the access that students have to a variety of disciplines and types of learning methodologies that best suit their educational needs. We need to increase equity in educational opportunities for all students, including those from outside major metropolitan areas.
As U.S. Secretary of Education, it was my duty to raise national standards of educational excellence. I believe in parental choice in schooling options, which began with my strong support for charter schools when serving as Superintendent of the Houston Independent School District. Key to the success of charter schools is the broad powers they are granted to make decisions regarding textbooks and other learning materials, and blended and online learning are natural extensions of this mission: to ensure that no child is left behind through innovative education.
The Foundation for Blended and Online Learning team believes that equal learning opportunities should be available to K-12 students from anywhere—including rural areas. In 2017, 16 of the 30 recent high school graduates we awarded scholarships to hailed from small towns in Arkansas, Idaho, and West Virginia. Each of these students completed a program of study that includes blended or fully online courses.
These programs have the potential to close the opportunity gaps that persist for historically underserved students. The thoughtful integration of technology enables schools outside of major metropolitan areas to provide access to the best teachers in high-demand subjects as well as top-rate curriculum and content. As a result, high school students from rural areas can now embark upon a more level playing field in their post-secondary education and professional pursuits.
But in order to succeed in this mission, we need to involve educators just as much as students. To that end, our Innovative Educator Program provides grants to support teachers in developing practices or programs that overcome achievement gaps, drive engagement, and personalize learning for their students.
I am privileged to serve on the board of the Foundation for Blended and Online Learning, and to support its mission to advance and improve the availability and quality of blended and online educational opportunities for students and teachers.
Despite the growth of online and blended learning—and even though digital learning has been offered in schools for decades—several myths surrounding its benefits and challenges persist. Educators who are experienced with digital learning understand most of these myths to be incorrect, but they persist in the media among both advocates and critics. This post attempts to dispel six of the most common misconceptions, adding a dose of reality to each. Read on to see if you’ve heard (or have bought into) any of the following ideas, or feel free to share your own in the comments section below.
Myth #1 Digital learning is exploding, and private companies are driving the adoption of online and blended learning.
Reality Digital learning is growing, but not ‘exploding,’ and is being driven just as much by innovative schools, districts, and states as by private providers.
Good data is hard to find, which is why the ‘exploding’ narrative is so often accepted without challenge. But a recent NCES report suggests that only 21% of US high schools offer online courses, which hardly seems like the outcome of fast growth two decades after online courses were first introduced. Similarly, the population of students attending fully online schools appea rs to be somewhere around 500,000, and growing at single-digit rates.
Private providers supply a mix of online courses, teachers, content, and technology. But the large majority of online and blended learning is in schools operated through traditional structures, or in nonprofit charter schools.
Myth #2 Teachers are being replaced by technology.
Reality There is no sign that technology is replacing or will never replace teachers, despite its advances. In Evergreen’s 17 years of working in this field, we have seen no sustainable, scalable examples of education technology without teachers being extensively involved in critical roles.
Myth #3 Students are comfortable with technology and want to learn with it.
Reality Their ‘comfort’ with technology isn’t always educationally appropriate.
Students overall tend to be comfortable with technology, but often they are not familiar with how to use technology for learning. It’s one thing to watch videos on your tablet; it’s another to learn from that video, to take notes, to stop it and practice math problems, or ponder ideas.
Schools implementing digital learning usually find they must orient students to learning with technology. And it’s not just the standard concerns about appropriate use—which aren’t primarily a digital learning issue—it’s about how to really engage and learn.
Myth #4 Cheating is easy in an online class. Online learning is easy.
Reality Online is one modality of learning that can be harder, easier, or the same level of difficulty as face-to-face instruction. There is nothing inherently easier or harder about online learning, face-to-face instruction, or blended learning.
Some online and blended learning programs have received reputations for being easy, especially some credit recovery programs. But making these easier than they should be serves nobody well, including students.
Cheating is easier in an online class if the assessments are based on answers that are easily found in Google searches. If that’s the case, it’s a failure of good instructional design, not a failure of online learning.
Myth #5 Taking online courses in high school will negatively impact my college application.
Reality This is becoming an outdated view as an increasing number of colleges offer their own online course and so many post-secondary institutions want students who can stand out and contribute in a variety of educational environments.
Students’ experience with online coursework demonstrates that; it also shows that they’ve committed to learning by challenging themselves through non-traditional courses.
Myth #6 Digital learning will save money.
Reality This is a fairly common view—but the evidence doesn’t support it, or at least it is mixed.
This is partly because the initial investments are expensive. Computers, learning management systems, digital content, and initial professional development are all expensive., and all have upkeep costs.
But most importantly, remember how teachers are central to digital learning? Well, teachers also happen to be a major cost of education. In fact, people—teachers and administrators, but mostly teachers—represent the main cost, because they aren’t ‘scalable’—and they shouldn’t be.
Yes, there may be cost savings in some online and blended programs. But anyone who begins such a program with a main goal of saving money in the absence of goals related to improving student outcomes is likely to hurt student performance in the short run, and lose money in the long run.
By all accounts, we live in an exciting time for American K-12 education.
Are there major challenges? Absolutely. Do we face real inequities inside and outside the classroom? Yes, in many instances, we do. Are some students underperforming? Yes. Are some schools under-providing? Again, yes. Are governmental policies falling short? In some cases, yes.
After reading that, you may wonder why I’m so optimistic. You see, it’s my belief that we’ve never before been poised for the kind of greatness that is achievable now.
Teachers and students have access to extraordinary tools that are shifting the way they teach and learn; school leaders across the country are designing and implementing new models and methods. They’re looking at architecture and infrastructure first, and are asking how these can serve the stakeholders involved, rather than the other way around.
Parents and communities are seeking help, and are organizing among themselves to provide supports of their own when it comes to school choice and voicing their children’s educational needs. There’s a greater sense of connection between the institution of education, and the individuals who ought to benefit from it.
That’s where the Foundation for Blended and Online Learning comes in. It’s my privilege to lead the board of an organization that is supporting talented, forward-thinking students, as well as innovative educators on the ground — the folks who are changing the face of students’ experiences not because it’s required. They do this because it is transformative, and it reaches the student who is struggling; the student who has been bullied; the student with health issues; the student who can’t wait to move ahead faster; the student who is studying in a second or third language.
The proposals they submit are a means of articulating their pedagogical dreams; fulfilling them, where possible, is the job of the Foundation—and what inspiring work it is!
From a student perspective, we’re reaching those in small rural towns and in major metropolitan areas. We’ve supported students from so many walks of life, who have taught us—each in their own unique way—how blended and online programs have offered the kind of personalized experience that they couldn’t have gotten from a traditional school environment. They have actively set their lives on new and exciting trajectories.
The impact that the Foundation has already made across 29 states leads me to believe that we’re on the crest of a broader movement; an effort that will encourage more flexible access to instruction through a variety of media, while serving the diverse needs of the largest possible student population.
Join us on our journey toward a brighter future for every student. Keep in touch with the team on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, and share our programs and research with your colleagues. We’ll be grateful to have you with us!
The start of a new school year is a big milestone that parents and their students have marked over the past two months. For some, this transition hasn’t involved a school bus or a celebratory drop-off. The first day of school for a full time online student doesn’t require transportation of any kind, or even a journey beyond their living room. A growing number of K-12 students across the United States have embraced online learning programs that allow them to study at their own pace and offer the flexibility to explore their talents and passions while continuing their education, Others have begun to experience blended learning programs that combine face-to-face instruction with online learning to provide a more personalized academic path.
In these environments, students are moving at their own pace, applying contemporary technology skills and accessing courses that may not be readily available within their local districts. Their reasons for doing so are as diverse as their individual profiles, and in many cases, involve some overlap. A few examples include:
Pace: Some students may have been struggling academically in a traditional setting, while others felt they simply weren’t challenged enough by existing curricula;
Future-focused: Some students wanted to earn college credits more easily during high school, while others desired to combine studies toward a trade or vocation;
Safety: Some students may have had a difficult experience with bullying, and wanted to learn in a more welcoming environment, while others may live in dangerous areas and wanted to avoid in-school violence.
Flexibility: Some students may have outside interests that require more flexibility than a traditional school day allows, while others may be coping with challenging life changes and need.
Health: Some students may have a physical disability and find alternative learning environments more accommodating, while others may have mental health issues that make alternative programs a better option.
As illustrated by the variety of reasons students select these programs, there is no ‘typical’ online or blended learning student. In many ways, blended and online programs are encouraging individual agency, as students manage their own learning experiences — while laying a critical foundation for student equity by providing more avenues for growth. As the opportunities expand, taking a closer look at how these alternative options are designed to meet students’ needs will help us to better understand how these populations can be better served.
In partnership with Evergreen Education, the Foundation for Blended and Online Learning has produced a report, Why Do Students Choose Blended and Online Schools?, which examines the motivations behind students’ decisions to opt into an alternative approach to traditional K-12 education. In it, you’ll find case studies from online and blended schools, including some that are part of a district portfolio and some that operate independently of the traditional system. The insights shared within the report, coupled with in-depth school stories from schools throughout the country offer parents, administrators, teachers, and students a clearer picture of how blended and online learning is evolving to support all learners.
As Amy Valentine, Executive Director of the Foundation for Blended and Online Learning, has described the project:
“In gathering the data and conclusions contained within this report, we have gone directly to the source to discover which aspects of blended and online learning models are attractive to students and where gaps remain. Our goal is to help education leaders, policymakers, learning designers, and educators understand more clearly the motivation behind one area of school choice our students and their parents make. Keeping student and parent voices central to the conversations that states, districts, and schools are having about the future of teaching and learning is essential to not only meeting the needs of a new generation of students, but to ensuring that ‘school’ serves all students.”
Would you like to know more about the kinds of K-12 students who study via blended or online learning programs? Check out our YouTube channel, which features student videos with personal stories from our latest cohort of scholarship recipients.
The Impact of Receiving an Innovative Educator Grant
Similar to our students’ educational journeys, our professional paths can often take surprising turns. My career in education began 15 years ago as a librarian; since that time, I have worked as a teacher from elementary through 12th grade, served as a school administrator, earned a master’s degree, am completing my Ed.D, and have fallen in love with blended and project-based learning. Today, I am a fourth grade teacher and Blended Learning Coach at Saint Dominic Academy in Lewiston, Maine.
In 2016, I was lucky enough to come across The Foundation for Blended and Online Learning in a web search, and decided to apply for an Innovative Educator Grant to get blended and online learning going in Catholic schools in Maine. Of course I would want to start with my own school to create a replicable model.
After submitting my application, I put the grant on the back burner figuring that I’d be one of many individuals who’d conceivably be qualified recipients. You could imagine my excitement when I received the letter informing me that I was one of those selected for the 2016 grant — more than that, I had received the full asking amount of $10,000 to begin my journey into the implementation of blended and online learning!
That moment of realization that you now have the means to make changes for the better for many, many others is an incredibly powerful one. I can still recall staring at the words on the page in happy disbelief.
What happened afterward is a story I love to share. The Foundation’s grant has had a huge impact on myself as an educator, my students, and my school community. With the funds, Saint Dominic Academy was able to upgrade its infrastructure, establish a professional development program, and add necessary hardware (including Chromebooks and 3D printers) to get our school moving into the 21st Century. This has allowed our teachers to ensure that each student receives individualized and personal instruction so they can grow at the learning level most suitable for them.
The Foundation for Blended and Online Learning has not only been instrumental for the success of implementing blended learning at my school, but their efforts to ensure students have access to technology and personalized learning can be witnessed across the country. If you’re looking to better yourself as an educator or to support your school, I urge you to consider applying for a scholarship or grant through the Foundation.
While those of faith recognize that only God knows what the future will bring, I know that due to the support of The Foundation for Blended and Online Learning, the students at Saint Dominic Academy will be able to continue to grow and learn through individualized curriculum enhanced with the best instruction — both face-to-face and online. This grant has also empowered me and my colleagues to begin to create a model of blended learning which will be able to be shared across the state.
If you’d like to find out more about blended learning at Saint Dominic Academy or how the Foundation for Blended and Online Learning has supported our school, please feel free to contact me directly. Our experience is proof of the impact that is possible through this incredible organization.
Perter Servidio is a Fourth Grade teacher and Blended Learning Coach at Saint Dominic Academy in Lewiston, ME.