on slowly I turn, step by step …

Blended learning or connected learning … That is the question!

Sometimes I read things that speak to me!  Ideas that seem so transformational!  These big transformational ideas tumble around in the cavern that is my head and try to grab hold of one of the slippery sides, but … alas … they eventually fall out of my noggin onto the vast heap of potentially transformational ideas that have died without having made any true long-lasting change.

At other times, I read things and they’re just things.  These ideas don’t make a lot of noise at first. They just kind of hang around … And hang around … And hang around … Eventually, you come to realize that they’ve taken up residence in your head and they’re beginning to rearrange the furniture and put up new curtains.  All of the sudden, you find yourself thinking about old information in all new ways.

A week or two ago I read one of those quiet pieces that seems to just be hanging around in my head.  Justin Reich over at the Education Week Ed Tech Researcher blog posted Connected Learning Versus Blended Learning: New Terms, Old Debate.  His basic premise is that much of the push for education technology reform is focused on the development of “connected learning” environments, yet the aims of this movement are very often conflated with “blended learning” which is a very different paradigm.  According to Reich,

“Blended Learning generally takes the position that the curriculum of schooling is fine, that schools are the proper institutions of education, and structures of instruction are inefficient. Blended Learning advocates argue that students can move more quickly through a prescribed curriculum when supported by digital tools that allow for computers to do some of the work of teachers:delivering instruction, grading assessments, identifying student learning needs, and fulfilling them with a combination of human and computer instruction.”

Reich explains that by contrast,

“Advocates of Connected Learning hold more radical beliefs about the inadequacy of fundamental structures of schooling and learning. Connected Learning advocates argue that universal curriculum is a dated concept for an era of infinite subspecialties and a deeper understanding of learner variation. They argue that understanding learning through the activities of schools is far too limited a canvas for the age of lifelong and lifewide learning. They argue that technologies are not best suited to optimizing student pathways through a prescribed curriculum, but for connecting learners with mentors, peers, and resources for learning experiences that tap into students interests and passions and span from school to home to library to cultural institutions to informal learning spaces.”

The distinction that he draws is one that I had to let bounce around and live in my head for a while.  Now that they’re well into the redecorating and remodeling process I think that I’m coming to look at the way that we’re trying to integrate technology here in very different ways.

We’ve had two nationally renowned educational technology speakers address our faculty in the last few years.  Both Alan November and Tom Vander Ark talked to our faculty about the need for change in general and the need for technology integration specifically and both were good speakers in their own ways.  I think, though, that our faculty as a whole found it a challenge to embrace the paradigms both espoused because the connected learning paradigm is so vastly different than the paradigm that currently dominates among our faculty. I think in the minds of many on our faculty, they were … “OUT THERE!!!”

What I wonder now is “Where do we go from here?”

Is it reasonable to expect a teacher to go from a heavily prescribed curriculum paradigm to a connected learning paradigm in one fell swoop?  Is the transition from a traditional paradigm, to a blended learning paradigm, to a connected learning paradigm like the Piaget’s stages of development in that one has to move through the stages in order or can you skip developmental steps (here that would be blended learning) along the way?

By conflating blended learning and connected learning in our professional development offerings, I think the muddled picture has made change seem impossibly confusing and, therefore, fear inducing.

We need to take a step back, take a breath, and get ourselves sorted out or we’ll never overcome the inertia borne of fear.

Slowly we’ll turn, step by step …


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