Blended and Hybrid Environments are Driving the New Global Movement in Education

Today’s global employers are searching for employees that have specific skills. Those skills may not be the same needed in 10 years though. In 2009, the US Department of Labor estimated 65% of today’s school children would eventually be employed in jobs that have yet to be created. The number is far higher today. The influx of technology is what has changed the shape of education forever. For this reason, schools must create opportunities for students to engage in higher level thinking skills and experience 21st century skills while using technology.   Most schools are emphasizing 21st century skills to be taught to their students. It is in almost every mission statement. According to a study done by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (2016), employers want leadership skills as the prime attribute of future employees. The ability to work in teams is second on the list with 78.9% looking for the skill. This is followed closely by 70% who want good written communication skills and 70% want employees to have problem solving skills.

Career Readiness Survey
Career Readiness Survey

In 2002, the National Education Association (NEA) worked to develop a “Framework for 21st Century Learning” which encompassed over 18 different skills including the ones employers want. Those skills were eventually whittled down to what has become the “Four Cs” (2016). The skills needed for future employment are encompassed in the “Four Cs” of collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and communication. This was also the charge from President Barack Obama in his speech on education delivered in 2006 and again in 2011. Obama said, “I’m calling on our nation’s governors and state education chiefs to develop standards and assessments that don’t simply measure whether students can fill in a bubble on the test, but whether they possess 21st century skills like problem-solving and critical-thinking and entrepreneurship and creativity” (CBS News, 2009). Today’s students and schools must be prepared for the challenges they will face in the future. “The new social contract says that only people who have knowledge and skills to negotiate constant change and reinvent themselves for new situations will succeed” (Trillig and Fadel, 2009). Schools are therefore changing to a more hybrid or blended model to compete with this global, technology integrated, market.

These changes have happened at a rapid pace due to the influx of technology. According to Ami Albernez (2015), physical technology arriving in schools totaled 13.2 million, which is 33% more, that the previous year.   That pace is staggering. Having access to technology is helping to enrich education, but the focus cannot be on the actual technology. In 2010, the top five most important skills that were identified in educational technology were: Collaboration, Web 2.0 tools, Learning design, Mobile learning, Social networking, and the learning environment weren’t until number seven (Hicks, 2015). In 2011, just one year later, mobile learning became the number one educational technology trend. In four short years, the trends of educational technology have shifted completely. The top of the list in 2015 is a culture of innovation followed by collaboration, access to assessments, OER (Online Educational Resources), blended learning and redesigning learning spaces (Hicks, 2015). All of which influence education and its physical space. Other influences on educational spaces have been the influx of “maker spaces, fab labs, design studios, and other experiential spaces, which encourage creativity and collaboration” (Duffy, 2014, para. 5). Duffy went on to say that “if we prepare our students for the Digital Era and for the types of experiences that they will have in college and beyond, giving students exposure to high-quality virtual learning makes good sense” (2014, para. 7).

The virtual space is also being influenced and “flattened.” Friedman’s book The World is Flat (2005) is a metaphor for leveling the playing field in terms of commerce. Friedman explained why the world was becoming flat. “Several technological and political forces have converged and that has produced a global, web-enabled playing field that allows for multiple forms of collaboration without regard to geography or distance or soon, even language” (2005 interview). Because of this influx in technology and the access to global collaboration, this also opens up education and the educational possibilities. Vander Ark (2012) explains the learning revolution is being fueled by “expanding access to broadband, cheap mobile devices, and powerful new tools. It is increasingly possible for anyone to learn almost anywhere. That allows us and forces us to reinvent delivery of public education” (p. 677). In addition, the competition from the growth of homeschooling options, cyber charter school options, MOOCs, workplace learning, distance education, and online learning resources also forces public education to change.

The issue, of course, is that our educational system as a whole has not really been transformed to accept the technological trends that have so quickly changed the way the global market does business. In the past, public schools were developed as a part of America’s process of industrialization. Duffy refers to the book, Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology, by Allan Collins and Richard Halverson who describe three eras of education. The first was the Apprenticeship Era, which was in the early nineteenth century. Next came the Universal Schooling Era and the first normal school in 1837. We are in the Lifelong Learning Era now (Duffy, 2014, para. 9). This is where learning takes place anytime, anywhere just as Vander Ark mentioned above. Students have information at their fingertips. With this quick access to online learning, there is strong evidence that schools have begun to incorporate blended, hybrid, and fully online programs either to amplify brick and mortar schools or to develop models that are more directed to personalized learning paths in an online environment. Vander Ark pushes this idea further to “personal digital learning that encourage the entrepreneurs in our schools, embracing a new generation of learning tools and inviting new providers to address unmet needs” (p. 547).

One of those needs is for one to one technology in many classrooms. Alan November, in his book, Who Owns the Learning, cringes when schools use technology as “a thousand-dollar pencil” (2012). This means that the activities and assessments are ones that are just being replaced by a computer, not reinvented by the technology. November suggests in his article (2013) that one-to-one should actually be “one-to-World” instead. As soon as you use this language, “it changes the focus of staff development from technical training to understanding how to design assignments that are more empowering – and engage students in learning communities” (2013).

This is where the SAMR model aligns nicely to education. SAMR is a framework created by Dr. Ruben Puentedura in 2013. SAMR is Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition. This model gives the opportunity for technology to be gradually introduced into the educational environment. According to Oxnevad (2013), “The SAMR model is a useful tool for helping teachers think about their own tech use as they begin to make small shifts in the design and implementation of technology driven learning experiences to achieve the next level” (para. 5). Students need to be exposed to digital technology and learn the skills associated with these levels.

Students are connected by a common culture of digital access. Vander Ark summarizes how different the generations of students are now. He states that “major aspects of students’ lives, social interaction, friendship, and civic activities are mediated by digital tech” already. Don Tapscott coined the phrase “digital-native” in a world where most of the generations are “digital immigrants” (Vander Ark, 2011). Prensky continued that thought when he mentioned as far back as 2001, “Our students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach” (para. 1). This causes a major divide between what happens in a classroom and what happens outside of it. Teachers are not prepared to engage in the personalized learning needs of today’s students. Susan Patrick, president of iNacol, an organization for online and blended learning, speaks to the predictions and changes ahead in K-12 education.

Blended learning continues to dramatically change instructional models by providing real-time, data-driven instruction, and opening-up multiple pathways for students to learn; however, the biggest shift will be driven by education systems moving toward personalization for each student’s unique needs, interests, passions and competency-based pathways (Patrick, 2015).

This personalized learning is the focus of the blended and hybrid models forming in brick and mortar schools. The ability of a digital world opens up the possibilities of customizable curriculum and schedules.

Students today are bringing a whole new set of skills to the classroom, yet the classroom is one where teachers ask students to “power-down” when entering it.   Students are ready to learn – at home, on the bus, in the grocery store, in the community, and students can multi-task in part due to the digital world that surrounds them. Unfortunately today for many students, they are in a state of “passivity” with learning. Learning is done to them, not with them. According to Shibley (2014), the influx of technology has not changed this fact yet. Instead of the possibilities opening up, students sit placidly by while instruction is shown to them, instead of engaging with it. He suggests instead that students take “the driver’s wheel” and lead where the content and activities go. This is a change to an instructor’s role in the classroom. “Instead of the teacher being the only one who works with technology to create learning objects, students become creators of learning objects” (Shibley, 2014).

For these reasons, blended and hybrid environments are driving the new global movement in education. Students will not tolerate the old ways of learning that focus on the industrialized market. Prensky (2005) explains “students certainly don’t have short attention spans for their Internet surfing…they are enraged we are not doing better by them” (para. 2). Young people have the right to expect more of their school experiences. When they venture out into the global market, they will not see rows of desks, stacks of papers, powering down devices at the door, and a “sage on the stage” imparting all knowledge. The job market will be composed of researching, synthesizing, demonstrating knowledge and advocating. The influx of technology should allow this to be more widespread in the classroom. According to Curtis Carson, CEO of SRI International important forces are at play now. He suggests, “these two forces – huge, competitive markets and rapid technological change – are opening up one major new opportunity after another” (Vander Ark, 2011). The work force is looking for technology to play a new role in shaping learning experiences. These should begin in the K-12 spectrum.


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