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.