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Opportunity in Crisis: Making the Most of Blended Learning After the Pandemic

June 15, 2022
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The intersection between academics and economics has always existed. The pandemic and its consequences, like the great resignation and teacher shortage, brought home how tight that connection is. Our guest on the latest episode of The Education Insider, Michael Spencer, lives at that intersection. He’s the CEO and founder of Global Expansion Strategies, a company that guides education vendors looking to enter international markets.

Spencer said that the renewed spotlight on the relationship between education and business is not an anomaly. It’s a trend we can expect to see continuing for a few reasons:

  • More edtech startups will go international because of the economic benefits.
  • Blended and hybrid learning will continue to be a primary learning model across the globe.
  • Blended and hybrid learning that includes individualized learning plans for students and that is highly managed by companies will become more widespread, again because of the economic benefits; and
  • More brick-and-mortar public schools here in the U.S. are starting to launch their own virtual schools.

Here’s what that means for you.

The Benefits of Going International

There are benefits to going international for edtech companies. It’s as true for startups as it is for well-established providers. Schools outside the U.S. face many of the same challenges we have here. That includes a need for high-quality blended learning solutions.

Another benefit of international schools is the increased flexibility they offer. Since there are many different types of schools, there may be systems outside the country that are better suited to your technology. With different (or fewer) regulations, getting buyers in an international market can be easier. It can help you get real users and funding more quickly than in the U.S.

“The biggest demographics of schools here in the United States are the public schools, and so you have issues associated with budget cycles, budget constraints, and an assortment of other challenges that we all know. There are challenges in the international space,” Spencer explained, but working with private schools “tends to make things a little bit easier when approaching them and introducing technologies. Now you have to make sure that there's a need for the technologies obviously.”

Economic Benefits of Blended Learning

There are also economic benefits to blended learning right here at home. This is true for both schools and edtech companies — as long as they do it right. Perhaps the most obvious benefit for schools is that blended learning does not require a teacher on site.

Spencer notes that schools had to pivot to remote learning within a week at the beginning of the pandemic. That hurried and improvised deployment leads to less than ideal outcomes. The weaknesses of distance learning were quickly and starkly evident. But in the second year, they also began to see the strengths of distance learning more quickly than they might have under a more traditional and controlled rollout.

“Many of these education institutions now are realizing that there are ongoing benefits to both blended and hybrid models,” Spencer explained, “that being if students can do a lot of their curriculum online in a fully virtual environment sprinkled in with some supplemental curriculum,” the teacher can guide students from their own home.

Similarly, blended learning allows students to spend less (or more!) time on campus as well. Blended learning could allow students who progress quickly to have a four-day school week while their peers continue attending for the traditional five days each week.

“We all know that there are varying degrees of learners out there slow, fast,” said Spencer.

“For those that have the ability to learn at a faster pace, we can then provide them with a shorter week.”

It could also allow students who learn slower to extend the school day or week beyond the hours and days it normally lasts. We already see schools around the country doing something similar to mitigate lost instructional time from interruptions like snow days or the schedules of student-athletes.

Blended learning could even help schools to retain teachers by reducing their work burden. People have been resigning across various industries since the beginning of the pandemic and education is no exception. Teachers are stressed out and overwhelmed because they’ve been asked to take so much more on and do an already challenging job under even more difficult circumstances.

“A lot of these teachers aren't leaving, because they hate their job. It's because they're being asked to do too much already,” Spencer said. But if edtech providers “can help school districts do [blended learning well], it should actually help retain teachers and help teachers be more impactful.”

Blended learning can also open up all kinds of new public/private partnerships for the benefit of students.

“We now have global operators, including two here in the United States, that are going to be deploying a business finance and management, internet marketing, and digital analytics course to high school students in private schools,” Spencer said. “It’s one hour of instruction every week for eight weeks and then the remaining eight weeks are an actual internship with a Fortune 500 company like Deloitte, Google, or eBay, and they can all do that from either their school or their home. They don’t have to get on a bus to go anywhere.”

How to Do Blended Learning Right

“I think blended or hybrid learning has been used quite freely over the past decade with no clear definition,” Spencer said, “but what really is going to determine the success of any implementation, be it blended, hybrid, or combination of thereof, at any education institution is the experience that can provide all the tools, resources, and guidance to implement models that drive student outcomes.”

To do blended learning right, companies should:

  • Be able to train school staff and deploy and manage the technology;
  • Create individualized learning plans for students with varied interests or who learn at different paces;
  • Drive student outcomes or risk offering blended presenting in place of learning;
  • Start with the question, “What’s the optimal outcome for this particular institution? What’s optimal for this specific student?”
  • Offer both asynchronous and synchronous learning to fit multiple student need profiles; and
  • Keep students engaged or offset remote learning with more synchronous learning.

I think any successful model is, is going to have to be determined by what is the optimum outcome of the education institution.  If the education institution is to, provide, blended learning models whereby.

“I think there's going to be, to some degree, the need for asynchronous and synchronous learning,” Spencer said.

“And it's going to be determined based on those students who are in the model and what their specific needs are. Not every student has the ability to learn at the same pace, and so when we configure these blended learning models, we need to make sure that they can be developed such that each individual student has an individualized learning plan consisting of synchronous and asynchronous learning."

Albert Einstein once said that in the midst of every crisis there is an opportunity. As the pandemic winds down, schools are finding that the tools they used to weather that emergency have given them an opportunity to redefine the way learning happens in and out of their buildings in ways they couldn’t have dreamed of just a few years ago. Make sure you’re in a position to help them make the most of that opportunity.

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