The Overriding Issue: Are Blended Learning Advocates the Primary Obstacle to Change?

By Steve Eskow
Editor, Hybrid vs. Virtual Issues

[Note: Earlier today (25 Aug. 2010), Steve Eskow posted the comment below in the ongoing discussion on Harry Keller‘s Technological Literacy: The Key to Education Reform,. -js]

Jim, this summary statement of yours cuts to the heart of the matter:

…“cramming” the latest disruptive technology (e.g., free, user friendly, yet powerful non-enterprise social networking media) into traditional classroom structures won’t work.

If you are right, some of our writers here who are searching for ways to “blend” learning, to bring the new technologies into the classroom, or somehow attach them to a classroom-organized curriculum and pedagogy, are part of the resistance-to-change movement, although they would bristle at this idea.

Although we are seemingly all apostles of the new ICT, we are really of at least two camps, the Blenders, who think the new technologies and the old classroom can coexist, and the Leavers, who think the new technologies will compound our educational problems until we face up to this clash of technologies issue.

Is there some way we can focus attention on this issue as the overriding one?

61 Responses

  1. Steve, I’ve been dancing around this idea for too long and have never had the guts to pose it directly. I think we’ve got the tiger by the tail this time.

    In my opinion, yes, the Blenders are the ones who’ve taken the air out of the tires so that change will stay put in classrooms. They’ve defined change so that the base is the classroom. They’ve defined “online” so that it actually means classroom-based learning.

    Until they become Leavers, they won’t realize that they’re part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

    As long as they continue to define change as technology brought into the classroom to incrementally extend the walls into the virtual world, they will be driving forward with handbrakes pulled all the way up.

    And the worst part of this scenario is the cost — the tremendous cost of not only sustaining the traditional classroom but also the increasingly expensive technology (interactive whiteboards, for example) and support services that are inserted to turn the old into something new.

    It’s like placing a Dodge NASCAR engine in the bed of a wagon that’s pulled by a dozen horses. You can fire up the 750 hp monster but the wagon won’t move any faster.

    No matter how much we crank up the traditional classroom, it’s still stuck in the same time and space. -js

  2. I wouldn’t characterize this situation with such a stark dichotomy. Somewhere between “Blenders” and “Leavers” are “Changers.” This third class recognizes the problem Jim suggests with the “Blenders,” that they are driving with the handbrakes pulled all of the way up. Furthermore, they recognize that you cannot simply leave the second-largest market (education) in the country, that trying to move millions of students overnight into some brave new world simply won’t work. Having moved my own home (with somewhere between four and ten rooms) several times, I would say it’s like trying to move a 1,000-room home in a day.

    The Changers work both sides of the aisle with the expectation that someday convergence will happen. Keep pushing technology literacy into traditional schools. Keep building (likely virtually) those alternative means of learning.

    Unless those who use classroom-based learning understand technology, they’ll never be able to leave that paradigm. Worse, they won’t even be able to use technologies that can be used there in the interim.

    As one who is in both camps as a vendor, I see both sides and work with them collaboratively. For example, my clients include about a dozen online schools of all sizes and over 40 NYC traditional schools in addition to lots of others. I find all sorts in both areas.

    You should realize that online schools often ignore technology, except what’s absolutely necessary to stay in business. Many classroom-based institutions embrace it outside of the box.

    Here are a couple of quick examples.

    One classroom school has assigned online science labs as homework. They’ve taken a step away from the classroom, the place where science labs, virtual or not, usually take place. Their reward: 32% more students passing their state science exam.

    An online school had excellent results with online science labs blended with modest hands-on experiences but decided to abandon them for completely kit-based hands-on experiences even though the latter were much more expensive and provided less depth of science learning.

    The path to a new world of learning will take many turns, have many forks, and contain dark and muddy patches. We must work both from within and without the existing structure to enable positive change.

    Understand that many of the Blenders are really renegades at heart and simply have chosen to remain where they believe they can do the most good. Others simply must be educated.

    Many of the Leavers have left for reasons that have little to do with the revolution that must happen. Some of the Leaver enablers have no interest except profit.

    These all are reasons why this forum is so important and why many more educators should be following and participating in this discussion.

    There’s no royal road to geometry or to new education paradigms.

    • Harry, those whose concern with education begins with its status as the nation’s “second-largest market” have a problem that the rest of us don’t have–and that problem may turn them,as you suggest, into “Changers.”

      If technological literacy is the key to educational reform one of the first canons of that literacy might be this: improving education through “blending” is difficult, since the technologies of the classroom and the technologies of the new media are not designed to work easily together in the cause of learning.

      If that is so, at the very least we ought to change our styles of technological evangelism to emphasize the difficulty of achieving substantive improvement in learning by mixing he classroom and the computer. And perhaps we ought to stop beating up on classroom teachers for “resisting change”.

      I was, like most of us here , a classroom teacher. And if I had to combine the lecture hall and the 600-square foot classroom with the new technologies because some prophet of the new insisted that my students would learn more through some sort of blend I would be one of those resisting change.

      • Hi Steve,

        It’s a tough situation out there. No dispute on that point.

        The blackboard did transform education. Technology can cause radical change. Random technology injected into classrooms by uninformed Blenders creates randomness (aka chaos).

        People can bail out all they want, but they must bail to somewhere. The non-classroom nirvana has not appeared in my opinion.

        What do we do in the meantime? I’m for working on both fronts. Transform our classrooms while seeking outside-classroom ways to learn better. Doing labs as homework moves a typically synchronous in-class activity to an asynchronous outside activity. It’s not the solution to all of our ills, but it does take a step in the right direction.

  3. “Trying to move millions of students overnight into some brave new world simply won’t work.” -Harry

    Harry, but what if those millions — of students and teachers — are already in the brave new world?

    “You should realize that online schools often ignore technology, except what’s absolutely necessary to stay in business. Many classroom-based institutions embrace it outside of the box.” -Harry

    Harry, those who are actually immersed in completely online learning are using the technology that works for them — and much of that is actually quite simple, text-based and asynchronous. They don’t need a lot of expensive gadgets to open windows to the virtual world because they’re already there.

    Furthermore, the insistence on synchronous communication is a carryover from traditional F2F instruction. In the virtual learning environment, it goes against the grain of any time. The tremendous expense and effort that goes into dragging this old real-time feature into the new medium simply doesn’t make sense.

    Finally, walking the middle ground is always appealing, but if it means no change, then it doesn’t work.

    The point is to stop fooling ourselves. If some really want to keep the traditional classroom, then they ought to keep it. But they shouldn’t claim that they’re at the forefront of changing education via the latest technology when they’re simply staying put and using tech to strengthen their grip on the way things have always been.

    The insidious side to this moonwalking is that huge chunks of the technology budget are used to support it in the name of change. Whatever’s left is doled out to the Leavers — those who are actually teaching and learning in the virtual learning environment. -js

    • I have to admit being focused on K-12 education where these students are in classrooms all day. The massive inertia comes from parents, school administrators, school boards, el al. Despite the technically savvy young generation, many are not ready for online education in its current form.

      With regard to the technology employed, i also was not clear that I was speaking of institutions rather than individuals. Don’t know if that fact would change your comment or not.

      I am totally in favor of asynchronous learning. Synchronous learning was, for me, horrible. Also for my son.

      Here are some obvious (to me) potential benefits of asynchronous learning (realization depends on instructor):

      1. Differentiated learning becomes easier if software supports it.
      2. Student-centered learning becomes much easier.
      3. Mastery learning can really be done.
      — On this point, note that some students do well in subject A and not so well in subject B. They can spend more time on B and less on A and still achieve mastery. Software can support this feature too.
      4. All students participate, not just the hand-raisers.
      5. Student dialog among themselves can help all learn more fully.

      Working the middle ground does not equate to advocating for improving both sides in order go create change that works for all students. I don’t see a middle ground. I see classrooms and non-classrooms. Neither is perfect. Improving both does mean taking an average between them.

      • “I have to admit being focused on K-12 education where these students are in classrooms all day.” -Harry

        Harry, thanks for the clarification. All of my comments are actually meant for college-level students. My apologies. I should’ve been clearer.

        I wouldn’t advocate completely virtual learning for K-9 or 10. Perhaps it ought to be an option for 11th and 12th graders who can manage the responsibility. But I’m not sure.

        In K-12, I’d still try to place the dollars for technology in tools and infrastructure that would give students skills that they could use outside of class. Netbooks or iPads seem like a great way to give them tools for independent learning, especially if the entire school campus is a hot zone.

        In all grade levels, perhaps students ought to be given free time to simply explore the internet independently or with friends. In other words, school would be a much more open place, like mini college campuses, where students have more free time — time that’s freed up by virtual activities.

        This is where blended might work. For example, students would attend only half their F2F class sessions. The other half would be done online in designated social areas on campus. As they advance through the grades, more could be done online, less F2F. Students will still be on campus, but the campus would be a technology friendly social environment. -js

  4. Wow, I find this conversation disturbing. So the Leavers are the elites and the Hybrids are what, the mediocre, the spoil sports? Black and white, no gray? There is no room for transition? There is no room for those who like, and want to be, in a face to face classroom, but have found ways to enhance the educational experience of their students through the use of technology?

    In this situation the middle ground (hybrid) is change.

    • Jan, as you review the evidence, does it suggest that “the middle ground (hybrid)” works: that the investment in adding the costs of the new technologies to the old campus-based pedagogies results in better learning?

      Another question: should our educational future be decided by “those who like, and want to be , in a face to face classroom,” or by what we learn about the benefits and burdens of those ancient structures?

      And:is your “middle ground (hybrid)” really “change”–or is it the newest version of resistance to change?

      • Steve, Yes, the evidence I’ve seen does point to better outcomes for hybrid than for either f2f or fully online. That doesn’t mean I think we should stay there, but it is a good way to transition. I don’t think it is the new resistance to change, but it’s akin to testing the waters before diving in.

        I think we need to move forward regardless of what the “ancients” want, but if we can eventually pull them along then that would be even better since the resisters seem to also be the influencers.

        In the end it’s about the students and what works for them in terms of learning. I’ve read some powerful posts here about the success of hybrid education. For example:

      • Jan, re “evidence,” Steve has brought up this issue of student evals of hybrid vs. completely online classes in previous posts. The problem may be in the survey population. Usually, the pool is made up of students in hybrid classes. If you ask the same question of students in completely online classes, the results may be very different.

        The point is that we may be talking apples and oranges: two different populations. Stats tell us that the population of “traditional” college students who are full-time in on-ground campuses is dwindling. The nontraditional student is becoming the rule rather than the exception.

        You say, “In the end it’s about the students and what works for them in terms of learning.” This is true in the sense that blended approaches work for students who have chosen or are in blended learning environments.

        Re the post you quote — please see Judith McDaniel’s latest article.

        Re straddling as a “transition” between blended and online: It’s clear that this has become best practice and the ideal model for technology in education. Rather than a passage, it’s become a destination. Rather than temporary, it’s become permanent.

        In fact, proponents have done some very imaginative tricks with language to demonstrate that blended is actually “online” when a certain percentage of the on-ground class is taught online. And none of the blended folks have blinked over this creative logic.

        The result is widespread stasis. Simply put, when the change meter is lowered to include the status quo, then, lo and behold, there’s no need to change!

        I’m neither arguing against blended approaches nor for transitioning from blended to online. I believe each has a role for specific populations.

        I am, though, arguing for a clear distinction between blended and completely online, and that we don’t lump them together for governance or funding. The consequence of bundling the two is disastrous for the completely online effort. And one of the reasons is the tremendous cost of the blended model. -js

    • The middle ground is not really change any more than the Leavers have the best of all worlds. The problem we all face is transition. We must move. Where to is not even clear yet.

      I see the road for change being one that attempts to involve as many as possible. The road has not been built. We’re making the maps now.

      F2F is old hat. It’s not necessary although many think it’s absolutely necessary. I’m just not so sure as some that the direction is obvious or set in stone.

      Transitions are difficult. Although I’m leading the charge in one respect, I’m not sure where we’ll end up. I’m taking it one step at a time.

  5. Hi, Jan.

    “Disturbing,” like “disruptive,” may be a good thing when we’re stuck in inertia.

    The intent of the dichotomy isn’t to damn one and praise the other. The purpose is to clarify the direction of technology-related change.

    One group (Blenders) defines change as the use of the latest technology to enhance classroom-based teaching. The other (Leavers) has already made the technological leap out of the on-ground classroom into the virtual environment.

    The Blenders present a wide range of variation in terms of tech adoption, but they have a common element, and that’s the time and place requirement. Students must attend one or more F2F sessions. No matter how you slice it, this requirement runs counter to the anytime-any place advantage of the virtual world.

    One of the consequences is the elimination of a wide range of potential students who are described by Christensen as nonconsumers or low-level consumers. These are people who simply can’t afford to come on campus because of work, cost, or other circumstances.

    Another consequence of adopting the Blender model for change is the cost of accommodating both on-ground and online formats in technology budgets. To the already high cost of sustaining traditional F2F models, we’re adding the cost of technology.

    If we don’t differentiate between, on the one hand, hybrid, and, on the other, completely online, then we force the latter to absorb the cost of F2F instruction, in essence charging them for services and resources that they don’t use.

    By differentiating between the two, administrators have a clearer idea of where they want to place their change dollars. Do they pour it into programs that are anchored in costly physical facilities or do they pour it into efforts that rely on the virtual environment.

    I don’t think anyone is advocating an overnight switch from one to the other or even a wholesale movement from hybrid to online. Both are effective in their own way, and both have their place in the educational sphere.

    But a growing number of educators are advocating a clearer distinction between the two to guide expenditure geared for 21st century learning, which places a premium on anytime-any place learning. -js

  6. I’ll clarify one thing. Working both sides of the aisle is NOT the same as walking down the middle of the aisle.

    Also, our K-12 schools have two roles: educational and custodial. Whatever our technological preferences, we have to recognize this fact and the fact that these schools should be open later in the day so that young people aren’t forced to return to empty homes.

    That extra time can be put to good use. I just read of such a program being implemented in Chicago, an initiative coming from the mayor’s office.

    My ideal high school would probably (never can be sure about these things) look like an greatly expanded library (future libraries with many fewer books but librarians who are experts in providing access to information). It would be staffed with counselors and mentors who would guide students through the decisions they have to make in order to learn as much as possible.

    The only “classes” would be those requiring groups and physical resources. Sports, band, and drama come to mind.

    I’d imagine that K-5 schools would be much as they are today but with better access to resources through technology.

    The middle grades would have to provide the transition to the high school environment. Colleges without lecture halls would be readily navigated by graduates of this system. (I’m not a fan of lecture halls, but who is?)

    It’s a big world with lots of possibilities. Because I focus mostly on science, I cannot say how it will or should evolve. I see science labs beginning in kindergarten in the future. I’m working on that concept now.

    • Just a minor point in reply.

      Schools that change their opening times to a later hour, as Harry suggests they do, invariably demonstrate an immediate and significant increase in student performance. Schools that switch to earlier starting schedules invariably show an immediate and significant decrease in student achievement. This appears to be related primarily to sleep needs and to the waking and alert cycles of people that age.

      All educators know this, yet schools still start too early, and there is just about nothing that can be done about it for two reasons that, in the mind of the public, far transcend the need for increased student achievement.

      1. If schools start later, athletic teams will not have sufficient time to meet for practice and competitions. That is by far the most overwhelming reason. That is non-negotiable.

      2. School districts must use the same buses to transport elementary, middle school, and high school students. That means there must be a staggered schedule to allow for buses to be used three times in each schedule and still get back in time to transport athletes to games. That means some grade level must start ridiculously early. The public would never stand for the increased need for buses and bus drivers that would result from universal sane starting times, for that would increase the cost of education.

      • Great point, John.

        This simple fact of the negative impact of early school starting times makes a great case for more online learning. Leave the F2F until the afternoon if you have it at all.

    • This mostly for Jan: I didn’t know how to get it located next to his message, a commentary on my skill with the new technology.

      The extract below is from the U.S. Department of Education “meta-analysis” of ore than a thousand studies comparing face-to-face instruction, online learning, and blended learning.


      A systematic search of the research literature from 1996 through July 2008 identified more than
      a thousand empirical studies of online learning. Analysts screened these studies to find those that
      (a) contrasted an online to a face-to-face condition, (b) measured student learning outcomes, (c)
      used a rigorous research design, and (d) provided adequate information to calculate an effect
      size. As a result of this screening, 51 independent effects were identified that could be subjected
      to meta-analysis. The meta-analysis found that, on average, students in online learning
      conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction. The difference
      between student outcomes for online and face-to-face classes—measured as the difference
      between treatment and control means, divided by the pooled standard deviation—was larger in
      those studies contrasting conditions that blended elements of online and face-to-face instruction
      with conditions taught entirely face-to-face. Analysts noted that these blended conditions often
      included additional learning time and instructional elements not received by students in control
      conditions. This finding suggests that the positive effects associated with blended learning
      should not be attributed to the media, per se.

  7. Harry, this vision for K-12 is fabulous! It feels right to me. Thanks! How about fleshing this out for our readers in a long article or series of articles. This is a model for the 21st century that takes responsibility for both missions — custodial and academic.

    It’s also open so that it provides a tremendous amount of freedom for the growth and change that’s coming quicker than anyone ever expected. Still, I’d like to see it even more open in a natural sort of way, that is, in a “village” or small town setting that removes the barriers between school and community.

    I’d like to see a migration away from custodial duties for teachers. This is where we may need to think outside the box and begin to incorporate volunteers and paraprofessionals to serve as custodial workers in school settings, freeing teachers to do what they’re trained to do — teach. -js

    • Destinations without pathways are cruel jokes. Those of us who have been to and seen the other side often say “just” do this or that. It is easy. Yet the reality is that is it not easy. The “Blenders” I know are mostly the “Try to be Changers”. Even the best on-line learning environments today still require great expertise from instructors. They have a long way to go.

      I built an on-line scuba diving course in blackboard 5 years ago. I had to program my own animations, develop new assessment methods, basically re-engineer the whole process. Most of us here can do that. Most of those “there” cannot. When moving is easier than staying, they will move. When moving is less painful than staying they will move. Until then they will continue to “Blend” while trying to decide.

      I like the concept of building both and letting students choose. They are already voting with their feet which method of learning suits them the best. That is going to make staying more painful than changing. When vendors can get their act together and really start to build systems designed from the ground up to be on-line, moving will be easier than staying.


      • I very much agree with this, and as someone who is now busily doing much the same thing (yes, online scuba!), I am intrigued.

    • In a school in which I taught a number of years ago, students had an incredible amount of choice in the 8-week long courses we offered year-round. Our English department had something for every possible student need. I remember well trying to council a student I knew well, although I had never had her in class. She was a second semester senior with a full ride athletic scholarship to a major university. I asked her which literature courses she had taken, and she rattled off a list of basic, high interest course designed to engage the needy and reluctant learner. Stunned that she had taken none of the courses designed for college-bound students, I suggested she take Major American Writers.

      “I don’t like Shakespeare,” she replied.

      She flunked out of that major university after her first semester.

      We soon realized that given enough choice, many, and perhaps most of our students would choose not to be educated.

      • Thanks once again for a concrete example, this time of why student choice is not such a great idea unless carefully controlled and guided.

    • Thanks, Jim.

      I am a bit hesitant about community involvement for a number of reasons. If carefully handled, some such involvement can be a great thing. Some sort of open borders won’t be so great, in my opinion.

      Consider the variation in communities. I’ve been to plenty of schools where I wouldn’t be happy incorporating what’s happening just outside of those walls into what students do. Some schools have little or no community around them. Some are filled with mansions; some with hovels. One advantage of a school is that it’s a safe and nurturing place — or should be.

      I like seeing students involved in community service, carefully monitored. I was a volunteer parent for a high school for many years when I was the science club adviser. More involvement in both directions is good.

      I was just required to be certified to be involved in any youth activity that my Rotary club does and that I am involved with. There are good reasons for this requirement. Until the children are adults, close monitoring by responsible people must take place.

  8. @admin,

    Imagine some Monday and all the teachers decide to not show up. This economy would launch in to chaos. The parents would be scrabbling to find child care so they could go to work. Those that couldn’t would be faced with becoming Latch-Key parents.

    Now, imagine a custodial system that was based on volunteerism and even more under-paid paraprofessionals. Couple this with the unreliability that is certain in this kind of staffing.

    In a time of economic uncertainty, as we have now, our world would become unmanageable. A good idea, I think not. Like it or not, public education, for most families, is the only affordable child care.

    • This is what I have always referred to as “The Babysitter Effect”. I often lecture to K-12 educators that it is the last thread holding their world together as they know it. If it were to ever break, legacy education would fall off and drift away like a huge chunk of glacial ice.


    • I’m afraid you’re right, Reid.

      But when I look at the faces of children, I still see unbridled hope that school is the answer and absolute faith that teachers will show the way,

      I spent the most enjoyable morning a few years ago at an elementary school career day when I was asked to fill in for a presenter who couldn’t make it. The teachers had combined two second grade classes, and I was asked to speak to them about being a college teacher.

      The innocence, the optimism, and the joy of learning was alive and well in those eyes. And that was one of the most moving experiences I’ve had as a teacher.

      Early in my career, as a high school teacher in a quarterly elective system (I never taught in a traditional school) for English, one of the courses I created was called “Sports Reading,” and it quickly filled with guys. I don’t think there were any girls until a quarter or two later.

      Anyway, I printed fake paper money and used that instead of grades. The students selected four classmates to be team leaders, and the leaders flipped coins and drafted players from the class until everyone was on a team. (Interestingly, the leaders weren’t the ones I would have chosen, yet they turned out to be “true” leaders who looked out for all their teammates rather than themselves.)

      The competition was on reading: comprehension, recall, interpretation (worth the most points), vocabulary, spelling, etc. We made up the rules as we went. Arriving late for class meant the team paid a penalty. We had team as well as 1:1 competitions. Payoff was determined by order of finish. Payoff was immediate, in our fake cash.

      Students earned money as individuals and as teams. Most teams decided to pool their money and divvy it up at the end so that everyone had the same amount. The amount of dollars each earned determined his final course grade.

      I was touched by the camaraderie even between teams. At the end of the term, teams with access earnings (enough to guarantee an A for all members) actually gave some to other teams that didn’t fare as well.

      They could actually care less about the grade — but the money meant teamwork and victory as well as goodwill, and that made all the difference.

      I had zero behavioral problems and nearly 100% attendance for every class. The students understood and even refined some of the rules, and they came up with interesting variations to make the competitions tougher and even more fun. Speed reading in different forms was a favorite.

      The new team heroes were the ones who performed reading tasks well, and all decided that this was a kind of hero they wanted to be. They were into the learning for themselves and their teammates, and they weren’t doing it for me or anyone else.

      The class got very loud at times, with whooping and cheering, but the students policed themselves.

      This was a tough public school where scores were dismally low every year, violence erupted along racial lines, and students had absolutely no interest in performing well on standardized tests.

      Was the course successful? I thought so.

      To make a long story short — I think teachers are dealt a hand (e.g., students are forced to attend school), but we can choose to do something with it.

      In the early years, say K-3, the students are full of the right stuff. But by the time they reach high school, they seem totally alienated and disconnected. The light in their eyes seems to have grown progressively dim over the years.

      It’s not hard to figure out what happened. Take a magic pill and walk in the shoes of a 5th or 7th grader through a whole school day, and do this everyday for a year. If the love of learning survives, it would be a miracle.

      Why do we, educators, keep this up, year after year?

      Epilogue — the district curriculum specialists decided that our English department ought to dump the quarterly elective system that we had created and sustained in favor of an expensive teacher-proof system, based on traditional class structures, developed by a commercial vendor.

      I decided it was time to return to grad school and teach at the college level where there was a bit more freedom. -js

      • In his book “A whole new mind”, Daniel Pink talks about how if we ask a class of k-3 students to raise their hands if they are artists, nearly all will. Ask the same question to a class of middle school students and you might see half. Repeat this to a random class of high school students and consider yourself lucky to see even one hand go up. How can we expect students who now live in a right brain world of animation, role play, and connectivity that is far beyond our early years and expect them to feel a part of our mostly left brain classrooms?

        Where can I find those magic pills?


      • WiZ, good point re 21st century students sitting in 19th century classrooms.

        Since all my (college-level) classes and projects are online, I seldom go on campus except for the unavoidable meeting once or twice a month. When I am there, though, I’m always impressed by the students storming out of the classroom buildings as soon as classes are over. And nearly every one of them has a cellphone pinned to her/his ear.

        In less than 2-3 minutes, the building is empty, and the next batch of students don’t go in until the last possible minute. They’re all outside the building with cellphones stuck to their ears.

        The ones who left head straight for the parking lot and their cars to escape the campus or to the library or cafeteria where they immediately pop open their notebooks. -js

  9. This discussion raises a lot of tough questions, and I find myself groping for answers that seem just beyond my grasp.

    Can we educate everyone?
    Can all students become successful learners?
    Can we teach motivation?
    Are there optimal yet cost effective strategies for successful learning?
    Can our present school system work?

    If we answer yes for all of the above, then we are true believers in the potential of public schooling.

    But what if we answer no to some or all of the questions? Are we prepared to deal with the consequences? Could the consequences actually be a blessing in disguise?

    I dunno.


    • Can we educate everyone?

      –in theory, yes, but we have to hold the doublethink notion in our mind taht it maight not happen.
      Can all students become successful learners?
      –Same as above. We MUST believe that ever one of our students can be a successful learning while accepting that some we will sometimes lack the skills to reach some of them.
      Can we teach motivation?
      –Do you mean can we instill internal motivation to students who do not have it? That is the core of what I said before. Yes, we can. Sometimes we will fail, but that does not mean it was not possible.
      Are there optimal yet cost effective strategies for successful learning?
      –Absolutely, positively, with no question.
      Can our present school system work?

      [John, I deleted the last 2 paragraphs of your comment. They were quotes from the post you replied to. Deleting them eliminates possible confusion. -js]

  10. This is why schools are not businesses. A business knows everyone is Not a customer. A business is free to lead with it’s head. A school is obligated to lead with it’s heart, and see every student as a success story from the start, never giving up. In business the customer may always be right but not all are customers.

    We should consider the possibility that the customer of education was once industry and is now becoming more the student. Everyone can certainly be a customer to someone, but one size will never fit all.


  11. This discussion has strayed away from the premises of the Steve’s original question. I suspect that it has done so because of the definitional boundary problems of the these premises.

    Steve writes, “are blended learning advocates the primary obstacles to change?” A well intended question on its face but failing in its scope. Let me explain.

    Blended Learning is a fuzzy concept that requires further clarification. Does it mean any situation that tries to meld traditional top down lectures with some measure of technology? If so, short of a unit of learning that has no human intervention, all uses of technology that I can imagine is blended. On a continuum from a class offered with virtually no technology to a class with nothing but technology lies the domain of some percentage of ed-tech. This middle domain describes almost every class that I have personally experienced. So what percentage of percentage of technology application is legitimately within the definition.

    Are we talking about only applications of technology in some form of instruction or does record keeping, schedule keeping, library catalogs, access to Eric and other administrative functions qualify?

    What degree of adoption of technology qualities an instructor as a “Blender”; conversely what degree of rejection qualifies a “Leaver?” IMHO, these labels are ill defined and sophomoric at best.

    I answer “yes” and “no” to the question. I do agree with Steve on the core premise. This is an overriding issue!

    • Reid points to some problems of definition. What, he asks, is being blended by Blenders?

      In my own writings on the question, I have taken the position that what is proposed for “blending” are not pedagogies, e.g. the traditional lecture and group discussion, but technologies.

      That is: the basic technology of modern education at all levels is the building that houses it.

      The 600 square foot classroom, the 300-seat lecture hall, the faculty office, are technologies that have shaped education as we know it, as we take it for granted.

      This starting point, then, assumes that ” blended learning” as it is now proposed means mixing together
      in various proportions and arrangements building-based instruction and instruction organized and delivered to students via the newer information and communication technologies.

      • Steve, wonderful. This is a sinus-clearing definition of “blended learning”:

        Steve Eskow: ”’Blended learning’ as it is now proposed means mixing together in various proportions and arrangements building-based instruction and instruction organized and delivered to students via the newer information and communication technologies.”


  12. Steve,

    I did not ask, “what is blended by blenders.” Those terms are yours.

    I did not suggest that we’re talking about pedagogies.

    I did not talk about buildings or classrooms since I am aware of OLPC machines somewhere in a village center.

    I did speak of traditional practices without the benefit of technology on one end of a continuum that ends with a totally technology driven delivery. This acknowledges a mixing, in a range of proportions, inside those boundaries. (Blending and Blenders along the way)

    Your use of “Blended learning” confuses “instruction” with “learning”.

    What is included in the category of “newer information and communication technologies”? (offered rhetorically)

    • Reid,

      There are no “traditional practices without the benefit of technology.”

      The “lecture” is a pedagogy.

      The “classroom” and “lecture hall” are technologies.

      The technologies of classroom and lecture hall have shaped and preserved the pedagogy of the lecture.

      Thus: the confusion is not between “instruction” and “learning”–I, for one, have not mentioned either–but between pedagogy and technology.

  13. How about talking/lecturing under a tree?

    If you assume your statement to be true then to some extent all instruction is “Blended”.

    Granted. I made a similar error in my explanation as you.


    The technologies of classroom and lecture hall have shaped and preserved the pedagogy of the lecture.


    This is false based on your words.

  14. I just learned I must use quotation marks instead of left and right arrows. Sorry!

    “There are no “traditional practices without the benefit of technology.”

    Reid: How about talking/lecturing under a tree? If you assume your statement to be true then to some extent all instruction is “Blended”.

    “The “lecture” is a pedagogy.”

    Reid: Granted! I see that I made a similar mistake as you. Sorry!

    “The “classroom” and “lecture hall” are technologies.”

    Reid: Granted!

    “The technologies of classroom and lecture hall have shaped and preserved the pedagogy of the lecture.”

    Reid: Granted!

    “Thus: the confusion is not between “instruction” and “learning”–I, for one, have not mentioned either–but between pedagogy and technology.”

    Reid: This is false based on the words in your final definition.

    ”’Blended learning’ as it is now proposed means mixing together in various proportions and arrangements building-based instruction and instruction organized and delivered to students via the newer information and communication technologies.”

    • Reid and Jim,

      Again: Churchill said, “We shape our buildings, and then our buildings shape us.”

      Or: the “settings,” the “environment” of learning shapes what goes on, what can go, within it.

      It is in this sense that these “settings” and “environments” are usefully seen as “technologies.”

      Teaching outdoors is a “setting” that shapes which pedagogies can be “blended” and which can’t. If we add, or “blend,” a microphone with the grass and tree we can add more students, but the mix, or blend, of pedagogies will change.

    • I did indeed mention “instruction” and “learning”, but I did not confuse them.

      “Blended learning” as it is proposed by its advocates–I am not one of them–does indeed mean mixing together in various proportions and arrangements building-based instruction, i.e. the school or campus, and instruction organized and delivered to students via the newer information and communication technologies.

      The advocates believe, and can produce evidence (contestable), that this mixture of instructional modalities produces “blended learning,” and they assign this useful label to the mix.

      • Thank you for acknowledging your misstatement, but I still assert a confusion of “Learning” with “Instruction” via the usage.

        I think it is useful to acknowledge that what , you and others, describe as “Blended Learning” is in fact “Blended Instruction”.

        I assert that “Blended Instruction” (Learning) is an experiment whose value (outcome) is determined by assessment. Each persons application is a new experiment. Some of it succeeds in producing learning and others do not. BTW, This is true for all methods of instruction. IMHO to use “Blended Learning” when it is in fact instruction is imprecise and not scholarly.

        I.e., Using “Blended Learning” carries with it the color of assumption that learning is occurring.

        I posted the U.S. Ed meta-analysis to Ideagora because I think it is the best evidence we have for the value of new communication technologies. I.e. it provides actionable intelligence until something better is offered. The fact that it is contestable is irrelevant because all science is contestable and subject to falsification. (Yes pedagogy is both art and science)

        You wrote, “The advocates believe, and can produce evidence (contestable), that this mixture of instructional modalities produces “blended learning,” and they assign this useful label to the mix.”

        “mixture of instructional modalities” = “Blended Instruction”
        You actually make my point about “Blended Instruction” and “Blended Learning”. My only caveat is “MAYBE”


  15. Reid, think of “technology” as medium. Next, think of “pedagogy” as content. Finally, think McLuhan.

    The classroom is a medium. And the content of this medium is F2F instruction.

    The internet is a medium. And the content of this is anytime, anywhere interaction.

    To insert anytime, anywhere content in a time- and space-bound classroom creates a disconnect between medium and content, between technology and pedagogy. -js

    • That’s exactly why online as homework begins the process.

      I know that we’re in a hurry, but we must practice patience while we’re pushing as hard as we can.

  16. Jim,

    I already think of communication technology as media. McLuhan knew nothing about Internet technology and did not contemplate the level of interactivity we experience routinely.

    I don’t know what dictionary you and Steve use but is certainly not the one I have. In mine, Pedagogy is not content. I.e. it is 1. the profession or function of a teacher; teaching. 2. the art or science of teaching; especially, instruction in teaching methods.

    The classroom is a limiting environment. The classroom is not the medium. F2F is one possible methods (media) of delivery. There are possible methods for using a classroom. The content is the subject matter.

    The internet is certainly a medium, content is the subject matter, and anytime, anywhere interactions are simply options for delivery using that medium. There are other options.

    The last paragraph only makes sense if you use your definitions.

    • For our purposes these seeming quibbles may be useful.

      It is probably not helpful to call “F2F” a “medium.” If a “teacher” is “speaking” in the “f2f” situation, the voice is probably the “medium”.

      Is the “f2f” environment a 20 by 30 classroom? A lecture hall? A grassy knoll? I find it useful, if unconventional, to call the various settings technologies, and to note that the different settings–or different technologies–influence the teaching-learning transaction.

      Calling a classroom, or the building of which it is a part, a “technology” may seem to stretch the idea of technology unreasonably. That may be part of its value.

      Note these words from the Wikipedia entry on technology:

      ” In 1937, the American sociologist Read Bain wrote that “technology includes all tools, machines, utensils, weapons, instruments, housing, clothing, communicating and transporting devices and the skills by which we produce and use them.”[5] Bain’s definition remains common among scholars today, especially social scientists.”

      If the term “technology” includes “housing” it does not seem beyond the pale to use it for school building and classrooms and lecture halls.

      • Steve,

        I don’t have a problem in thinking about buildings and classrooms as technology. In fact, I embrace the notion. I actually wrote a paper 30 years ago called the “Edifice Complex” which explored the idea. I was excoriated for it much like you did when I failed to acknowledge them as technology earlier in this string.

        I find great humor in this, but it is a private joke.

  17. Reid, the point isn’t McLuhan’s knowledge about internet technology. The point is his theory of technological change. In his theory, medium can and does become content. In the case of this discussion, McLuhan’s insights into the relationships between medium, old and new, and content can shed light on the issue of blended and online learning.

    When the new medium (internet) uses the old medium (classroom) as content (or when the old medium uses the new medium as content), we have a disconnect or an early stage of change.

    Eventually, the medium will be the message, i.e., the content of the new medium will be the new medium. -js

    • God McLuhan has spoken so it must be true.

      He also said, “ignorance of how to use new ideas stockpiles exponentially.”

      In a private conversation with Eric McLuhan (a communication scholar and co-author of Marshal’s last book) Eric voiced how amused his father would have been with the misapplication of his ‘theories” in light of the new interactive technologies.”

      I can only speculate at the how he would view, “the content of the new medium will be the new medium.”

      For you doubters, I had to get the McLuhan Foundations permission to use the image and the quotes on my website. This required getting to know both of his sons (Michael and Eric)

    • “The medium is the message” was always a bit too glib and metaphysical for me, a scientist.

      In education the message must be more like: Think! (courtesy of IBM)

      Ultimately, the teacher/instructor/mentor/facilitator provides the impetus toward that goal. Achieving this simple goal (not so simple to do) works no matter what the medium under ideal conditions.

      Conditions are far from ideal in American classrooms today. New technologies can make the necessary change. For a variety of reasons, physical schools will remain. We hope that learning to think will go on in them. Exactly how that happens should and must change.

      Put these thoughts together, and you see that blenders aren’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s not whether you blend but how you do so. More and more learning will be possible off-campus, but at lower age levels the campus will remain. (I’ll put in another plug for using online experiences as homework.)

      We’re seeking a path in a dark place with maze-like complexity. Let’s try everything we can. However, let’s do so with “technological literacy” so that we don’t waste excessive amounts of time and money. They’re both too limited right now.

      (Colleges and universities are apart from the above. The changes there will be striking. WTH, they already are!)

      • Harry, as you know my work now is mostly in Ghana, West Africa, and I confess that my statements are heavily influenced by conditions there.

        Here is the beginning of a report I received today:

        “185 schools still under trees in U/East

        DESPITE SO much talk by successive governments on what they claimed was massive provision of infrastructural facilities for schools in the country, the pupils of 185 basic schools, out of 636, are still being exposed to the harsh weather conditions in the Upper East Region.

        These schools do not have classrooms, thus compelling the pupils to sit under trees to be taught.

        As if that was not enough, many of the existing schools infrastructure facilities are dilapidated, and now pose serious threats to both teachers and pupils, while some other schools in the urban centres are still running the shift system.

        The Upper East Regional Minister, Mr. Mark Woyongo, who made these revelations at the ‘Meet the Press’ in Bolgatanga, also said that all the educational institutions in the region were short of classrooms and teachers/tutors accommodation.?

  18. Reid,


    The logic of your “knowing” both of McLuhan’s sons and your expertise in McLuhan’s philosophy escapes me.

    Re your comment, “I can only speculate at the how he would view, ‘the content of the new medium will be the new medium’” — you can “speculate” all you want, but try viewing it through “the medium is the message.”

    Finally, you’ve made claims and charges that we’ve tried in good faith to respond to, but you’ve ignored our intent (red herring), twisted our words (straw man), and resorted to personal attacks. Your posts are increasingly tending toward trolling.

    There are rules of etiquette in every community, and the internet is no exception. All participants in ETCJ discussions are expected to be civil and respectful even as they engage in heated debates.

    -Jim Shimabukuro

  19. So are blended learning advocates obstacles to change? Humm. Probably no more than one stair step is an obstacle to the next. Change is a limitless staircase. Should we argue the height or length of the step, or it’s need to exist? As long as the step does not profess to be a destination and is willing to encourage traffic on to the next step, it is both purposeful and accepted in my view.


    • William, it’s getting clear to me that one source of difference here is between those who see the buildings already in place and needing to be used in a transitional strategy, and those like me who work in places where there are no buildings, or the existing buildings are falling apart, or can’t accomodate more than a fraction of the need.

      Here, for example, is a commonplace report from Ghana:

      After you read it, I’d be interested in your answer to this question:

      How would you meet the shortage of educational places in Ghana: by proposing the building of more schools plus blended learning, or moving directly to online instruction?


      “185 schools still under trees in U/East

      DESPITE SO much talk by successive governments on what they claimed was massive provision of infrastructural facilities for schools in the country, the pupils of 185 basic schools, out of 636, are still being exposed to the harsh weather conditions in the Upper East Region.

      These schools do not have classrooms, thus compelling the pupils to sit under trees to be taught.

      As if that was not enough, many of the existing schools infrastructure facilities are dilapidated, and now pose serious threats to both teachers and pupils, while some other schools in the urban centres are still running the shift system.

      The Upper East Regional Minister, Mr. Mark Woyongo, who made these revelations at the ‘Meet the Press’ in Bolgatanga, also said that all the educational institutions in the region were short of classrooms and teachers/tutors accommodation.

  20. Dr. Eskew:

    Keep the lessons under the trees and add the on-line instruction. Wisdom is gained from failure and confidence from success. Yet such confidence is best gained from public success that is most available from the F2F expericence, either under the tree or from a classroom.

    The confidence I refer to is not a confusion of what has been learned vs what has been taught, but is that of a students willingness to apply what they have learned. To build their bridge and be the first to cross it, pack their own parachute and make the jump.

    WIth 20+ years as a CEO I can attest that knowledge and the willingness to apply it do not always coexist. Being called on in public to demonstrate your confidence and build it from success could be a subtle but key ingredient of the F2F experience.

    I would not invest in more traditional classrooms, but would be careful to not overlook the social incubator provided by F2F, and its ability to cement knowledge. Under a tree is probably just as good as any other opportunity, and some of my fondest moments of learning have been under a tree. In fact the thoughts remind me of the poem by Joyce Kilmer.


    • William,

      As you know, there is a vast literature on “the metaphysics of presence”: the belief that “f2f” communicates and teaches in ways that no media can duplicate or equal.

      So: somehow keep “f2f” in the mix, even if it means hundreds or thousands of badly or hardly trained teachers under trees in countries with rainy seasons.

      If “experience” ought to be part of education, including experience that allows for success or failure, why not another approach to “blended learning”: a pedagogy that blends “work experience” or “service-learning” with online instruction that allows students to make what they are experiencing on the farm or in the workplace or agency the focus of discussion ?

      One well-trained and well-paid teacher might use the computer or cell phone to teach in this way a class made up of students who would otherwise be under five trees with five less qualified teachers.


      • I am aware of some of the research, but it is certainly not my expertise. I agree there needs to be a reason to meet under the tree other than shade from the sun.

        I remember taking Gordon’s Mini-Bus tour in Scotland once, lunch was to be included. The bus was broken so it turned out we walked. Along the way we were instructed what berries to pick for lunch. Gordon, a history professor, spoke five languages and acted both as Translator and Teacher along the walk. We ended up sitting on a hill top under one of the last remaining Original Oak trees in Scotland, overlooking Loc Ness and learning Scottish History. Not exactly the same under the tree scenario’s you describe.

        I toured some schools in Tanzania last year where school was offered only in half days in order to give all students some exposure. Turning that less than minimal “teaching” time into “experience” time would be a better alternative, replacing full time instruction with an on-line delivery.

        I believe on-line teaching can indeed match f2f teaching in almost every way at some point. We are already modeling learning trends, social vs. academic learning issues, and even a new math model for something called learning intensity. Models that will assist the on-line teacher to see and feel the class like fly-by-wire cockpits provide tactile feedback to pilots or totally electronic brakes provide simulated hydraulic feedback to drivers.

        Yet, I see teaching as not just delivering facts, but developing imagery to connect new visions with existing visions. Animations and 3D models provided by technology far exceed the sketching on the dirt under the tree, or even modern whiteboards. Yet as much as we can assist the corpus callosum in moving facts into figures and vice versa, some amount of physical interaction seems to be required for all of us, maybe if just to stir the cement of meta cognition.

        I have read Gartner’s work in multiple intelligence and although theory, it seems to be applicable that some need the f2f more than others. No doubt we could evolve beyond this current need which may only be a residual of traditional classrooms. Until then I remain curious as to why students who have taken on-line courses seem less confident of what they have learned, even though they may actually have learned more than those from a traditional classroom. Jim felt it was because they confused learning with having been taught. They seem to question the validity of their new knowledge. If I learned it on my own do I still know it? Can I still use the knowledge as a foundation for additional knowledge? This may actually be true, yet I am unable to say one way or the other.

        It may be that f2f time may somehow be allowing them a form of confirmation from their peers that we as on-line system providers and teachers need to be sensitive to in our future development.


  21. William, can you point us to the research you cite that shows that online students “seem less confident of what they have learned:” than those from the traditional classroom?

    Are the online and traditional courses compared taught by the same teacher?


  22. Steve: I wish I could point to that research. “Seem” remains my own opinion at this point andunable to locate existing research, I have asked several research groups to try to begin measuring this. My own observations have me worried that this might be the case and I have tried to be careful not to submit it as a known fact.

    There are some established ways of measuring confidence today, even with “confidence” based testing as used in the medical and industrial applications of high risk. Taught by the same teacher is a valid constant that the research would need to adhere to, yet I am not sure confidence is something that can actually be taught and thus have atributed it (possibly incorrectly) more to medium than source.

    I would love to get your more expert opinion.


  23. i support you too Steve. i agree with you totally about this. the old way of teaching and the new content cannot blend at all. it is doing more harm than good. the new patch in the old cloth cannot blend at all.
    i am a Kenyan undergraduate student taking bachelors in Education, majoring in Biology and Geography, but coincidentally, i have thinking about this question you posed simply because Kenyan Ministers of education are working so hard to see the blending of ICT and the normal education system with little change in the method. i wish you could come and talk with them on this soon before it is too late, before they waste the little resources that are there on this area.

    • Good to hear from you, Margaret.

      Are you studying in Kenya?

      Africa needs a corps of young scholar/teachers who understand the old ways as well as the new, and can help
      African education “leapfrog” from the old ways directly to the new, without the slow and painful processes of “orderly transition.”

      That is: you and I are separated by miles, and generations, and cultures, yet we find it easy to communicate directly with the new media–much easier than if we tried the “orderly transition” of “blended” communication.

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