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Posts Tagged ‘instruction

When most people speak of “blended learning”, they might actually be thinking about blended instruction. (Here are some considerations of blending that focuses on learning.)

There are many ways to blend instruction. Some might involve the modes (off and online), the content (seamless multidisciplinary content), and the pedagogy (direct instruction with x-based learning).

Most would justify blending based on the best possible outcomes. For example, in the case of blended modes, being face-to-face affords immediacy in social learning while still being able to leverage on timely resources online.

Not many might point out the worst of blending, particularly blended instruction. For example, someone might blend boring didactic teaching with YouTube recordings of irrelevant content.

Blending the teaching or learning processes does not necessarily lead to better outcomes. The contextual design of blending is critical. Online strategies and tools might not work as well in a low bandwidth environment, language might be a barrier in one context, and pedagogical expectations might be different in another. Here are examples of each.

When I lead talks, I find out how comfortable my participants are with going online with their phones. Depending on the country, venue, and people, I might resort to low bandwidth texting-like activities and think-pair-share instead of challenging them to watch and recommend YouTube videos.

I have conducted a variety of workshops for equally varied groups. When English is not the common language, I rely on activities and succinct pitstops to get the messages through. When I am with a group more familiar with training instead of teaching, I need not worry about much pedagogical baggage from my learners.

Bloggers, Pinterest boards, and tweets might declare blended learning to be engaging. They might be referring to blended teaching instead. Such an experience is not automatically engaging, and if blending is left only with the one who is teaching, is certainly not empowering.

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As I watched this neuroscientist explaining “the connectome” to five people at five different levels of prior knowledge, I thought of how:

  • This was a great example of how good teachers attempt to personalise instruction.
  • Just about anything can be taught to anyone if you empathise with the learner first.
  • Anything worth teaching should be taught to a wide spectrum of learners.

Personalised teaching is about going to where the learner is first, not trying to pull them where you are or where the curriculum dictates.

If you cannot reach them, you cannot teach them.


Probably the most commonly misunderstood concept of direct instruction (DI) is that it is equivalent to lecturing.

Defined this way, DI is didactic teaching. This is not the most effective way of ensuring that students learn because the focus is on transmission and delivery instead of on reception and processing.

Another way of defining DI is that it is a form of step-by-step instruction so that students learn knowledge and skills. This definition uncovers a missed concept of DI: It is a response to questions from a student following initial instruction or feedback.

Such a definition necessitates the reception and processing by a student and is a more focused form of instruction. The focus refers to the deeper or more specific exploration of a topic. It can also imply that the teacher works with a student one-on-one or in small groups.

The problem with DI as predominantly defined or practised is that it is driven by efficiency instead of effectiveness. It is faster and easier to deliver content as a form of teaching. It is much slower and more difficult to focus on the learner and learning.

Teaching is neat. Learning is messy.

Teaching is neat, but learning is messy. Trying to impose an expert structure on the learner might seem to be the most efficient way to teach. However, this does not encourage the learner to struggle and negotiate meaning.

Put another way, an efficiency-based approach might focus on the cognitive what and how; an effectiveness-based approach focuses on the metacognitive why, so-what, and what-if. We need a balance of both. Unfortunately, too much of teaching is heavy on efficiency.

This is the first part of my week-long focused reflection on flipping.

I posted a rather cryptic tweet in the aftermath of #educampsg and in response to a query on flipping.

I unpack the tweet by illustrating with questions or comments that I get frequently from teachers.

One thing that troubles some teachers is the link between flipping and self-directed learning. They realize that for both flipped classrooms and flipped learning to be successful, students must learn to be more independent and self-motivated. However, they put the cart before the horse when they ask questions like: “Doesn’t flipping only favour students who are self-directed?” or “How do I ensure that students complete pre-class work?”

This sort of thinking presumes that self-directedness must be a prerequisite to flipping. They reason that if their students are not motivated, they will not consume content before class and flipping breaks down at the very first step. Furthermore, since academically strong students tend to be more motivated, teachers often make the assumption that flipping favours such students. Since students are not likely to cooperate or if flipping only seems to benefit a few, teachers reason that it is not worth the effort.

That is not how to approach flipping. I argue that well-designed and skillfully-managed flipping is one way of nurturing self-directed learners.

In a conventionally flipped class, a teacher might find out that only half of his/her class watched a video, completed a webquest, or collected some data beforehand. Flipping breaks down if the teacher opts to deliver content again in class. The students who refused to play their part get their way and the ones who followed instructions feel cheated.

A persistent educator will resist the urge to give in and might instead apply social pressure on those who have not completed their work prior to class. This could mean pursuing the in-class activity that is linked to and builds on the out-of-class activity, e.g., a Flubaroo-graded quiz. Both the teacher and the students who did work beforehand apply pressure on those who did not.

This takes time to work and can be very effective should students be provided access to resources whether at home or in school, and if school leaders and parents support the teacher. The students who do not play ball then run out of reasons to not join in the game.

Now all that said, a learner-centred teacher could also provide leeway to those who did not do the work beforehand but were still able to answer questions, solve problems, or complete tasks acceptably. The students could be quick learners or learn non-linearly by picking up cues and clues in class. This means that having self-directed learners is less of an issue here; the capacity of the teacher to differentiate instruction is.

Flipping is not the end result of having self-directed learners; it is a means to that end. Flipping is not a just a product of teachers who are already skilled in differentiating instruction; it is a means for teachers to learn how to do this.

Yellow´s my T-shirt by Nukamari, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  Nukamari 

Differentiated instruction (DI) is what a teacher attempts to do to students; personal learning is what a student does to help himself or herself.

DI is like how clothing stores offer t-shirts in sizes like small, medium, or large. Teachers who attempt DI and t-shirt stores attempts to provide something that suits almost everyone, but cannot fit everyone just right each time.

Despite this, teachers who attempt to DI because they recognize individual talents and differences are better than those who give in to peddling one-size-fits-all.

That said, educators realize they cannot customize for everyone. So what do they do?

Personal learning is like the learner finding and making clothes to their own size and preferences. Educators show their learners how to do this. They show them how to find, analyze, and evaluate information. They model problem finding and problem solving. They emphasize learning how to learn.

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