Blended & Online Learning: Meeting Students Where They Are, As They Are

By Jeff Renard

Countless numbers of students, in Vermont and elsewhere, fall through the educational system each year as they attempt to conform to the limitations of traditional schools. Their struggle to persist is often through no fault of their own. Location, life circumstances, and physical and emotional issues are far bigger and more common barriers than any problems with attitude, discipline, or motivation.

Our students want to succeed: we just need to give them the platform upon which to do so. And it needs to be built on a foundation of personalized learning.

Every student deserves to have a school experience that takes their specific needs into account. As Director of the Vermont Virtual Learning Cooperative (VTVLC), I have witnessed firsthand many examples of how blended and online learning is uniquely positioned to provide equitable access to education.

Empowering All Students to Succeed

Here’s one of them: this year, VTVLC enrolled a high school student who was thought to be autistic. In actuality, the student suffers from apraxia. This motor speech disorder makes it difficult for the student to communicate. He was seen as unable to learn in a traditional classroom, and was given menial tasks, such as tracing letters, as an ‘equitable’ learning option.

In the online course the student was enrolled in, it quickly became apparent that not only was he extremely intelligent, but he also had a great sense of humor. As a presenter at our online and blended learning conference, he demonstrated how excited he was to have the opportunity to learn and be equal to his peers. In the online classroom, no one judged him. Speaking through his adaptive technology tablet, he was able to share how he enjoyed working with other students and being called ‘smart’ for the first time.

Had this student remained in the traditional school system, he may well have fallen through the cracks. Online learning opened a whole new world to him. VTVLC’s on-demand courses gave him the power to dictate the pace of his learning, instead of requiring him to conform to the ‘one size fits all’’ learning schedule of a traditional school. But more importantly, freedom from the social pressures of a classroom enabled him to bring his best self to learn each day.

Bringing More Options to Rural Communities

I have also witnessed how online learning enables educators to meet students where they are as well as taking into account who they are. Case in point: Isabella McCallum of Cabot, Vermont, a town of 1,400 in a rural area. Her high school had a total student body of 45 and the limited resources to match; it was simply unable to offer the courses that she wanted to take in order to further her postsecondary ambitions. But online classes facilitated by VTVLC allowed Isabella to take a number of advanced level subjects her school had neither the means nor personnel to offer.

And through Isabella, I became aware of the Foundation for Blended and Online Learning—in addition to her connection with VTVLC, she is a 2017 Student Scholarship Program recipient.

This program’s mission to expand equity to educational opportunities drew me to the importance of the work that is being done by FBOL as it directly supports what VTVLC is all about. That’s why we’re pleased to be strategic partners with FBOL in meeting students wherever they are, regardless of their needs or constraints.

Jeff Renard is Director of the Vermont Virtual Learning Cooperative, the State of Vermont’s online public education organization.