Blended Learning & the Learner: What’s edtech got to do with it?

What do we really want students to be able to do with technology? Sometimes blended learning or the integration of specific tools is held up as the goal when really they are the means to achieving a higher purpose: high-quality, optimal learning experiences for each and every student.

This poster says it all: (posted by @NikkiDRobertson on Twitter)What do you want kids to do with technology?

When planning how to integrate technology tools, there are several models that educators can reference. There’s the SAMR model that shows how adopters of education technology progress from levels of substitution, augmentation, modification, and redefinition. There are the type of adopters (Diffusion of Innovations) from innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. And, the Levels of Adoption range from the initial training to exploration to transformation.

Each of these models first focuses on the technology and the instructor. What’s the initiative this year? iPads? Whiteboards? How do we get teachers to use them?

Instead we should ask: What are our goals for learning? Who are our learners? Then, what tools would suit our learners and their learning needs best so that they achieve and even exceed the goals?

To focus on what’s most important, we need a learner-centered approach to considering technology integration. As Lessoncast works with schools to support personalized instruction, we’ve developed a Learner-Centered Hierarchy for Blended Learning. A cross between Bloom’s Taxonomy and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it considers the opportunities that technology offers and the new realities of 21st century learning. This model first focuses on the purposes for learning – moving from simple to complex, and then each level considers what tools and resources meet that need.

(Click on image to view full size)


Level 1: Content Acquisition

The most basic use of blended learning is to provide options for content acquisition. The teacher is not the sole source of content delivery, and digital content allows learners to access content at their level, at their pace, and in light of their interests. Content acquisition may take the form of articles, videos, flipped lessons, or online curriculum.

Key Learning Tasks: view, read, outline, tell about, restate, summarize, write about, review, study, recognize, observe, quote, point to, name, list, label, identify, describe, define

Tools & Resources:
Brain POP
Course World – Arts and Humanities Videos
Discovery Education
Informed by Nature – Virtual Bookshelf
PBS Video
SciGirls Connect

Level 2: Skill Practice

Traditional drill and kill worksheets may have tarnished the image of practice, but there is value in learners engaging in meaningful practice at an appropriately challenging level. Where would musicians, dancers, and athletes be without practice? In those examples, a good coach or teacher ensures that the learner’s practice activity is matched to what the learner needs for optimal growth.

Blended learning can facilitate that matching process and should replace paper worksheets as much as possible.  It’s a common classroom sight to see all of the students completing the same worksheet at the same time. Some are finished early and aren’t properly challenged; others never make it all the way through; feedback happens days later when the papers go home in a folder. Using blended learning tools each learner can practice at a level and pace optimal for him and ideally receive immediate feedback.

Key Learning Tasks: calculate, categorize, estimate, compare, contrast, match, interpret, illustrate, manipulate, predict, relate, trace, clarify, differentiate, generalize, chart, sort

Tools & Resources:
Achieve 3000 – Literacy Solutions
Khan Academy
Manga High
No Red Ink

Level 3: Creative Consumption

Digital technologies provide new opportunities for learners to create and produce, not just consume and practice. At the Creative Consumption Level, learners build on newly acquired content knowledge and skills and apply their learning by creating an artifact that demonstrates their understanding. Learners synthesize information and often publish their work. Creative consumption can include blogging, programming, gaming, and design work. This NY Times article describes numerous ideas for teaching with infographics across and within multiple subject areas.

This lesson idea featured below is an example of Creative Consumption.

Incorporating infographics helps students create, negotiate, interpret, and make meaning of data through visual representations. This lesson idea guides students through the process of creating infographics to illustrate the issues affecting the health of the Chesapeake Bay.


Key Learning Tasks: apply, adapt, construct, create, develop, exhibit, make, synthesize, perform, produce, show, demonstrate, change, solve, build, assemble, invent, design, form, formulate, generate, model, publish, graph, analyze, diagram, document, edit

Tools & Resources:
Playful Learning
Haiku Deck

Level 4: Collaborative Space

Collaboration requires learners to not only create but also exchange ideas with others. Social media and new digital tools and platforms make it possible for students to connect with peers in their community and at a distance, experts in various fields, and affinity groups. Blended learning doesn’t achieve the full potential of 21st century technology if it only encompasses individual, isolated online coursework. At this level, collaboration opportunities could range from Google docs to creating an open classroom wikipedia to contributing to an online science fair. This article provides interesting guides on using Google services for this type of blended learning.

Key Learning Tasks: exchange, modify, give feedback, debate, collaborate, consider, optimize, refine, join, synthesize, respond, blend, combine, improve, incorporate, integrate, appreciate, defend, influence, recommend, support, value, rate, survey

Tools & Resources:
Game Design Toolkit
Google in Education – Collaboration Tools
Online Science Fair
Project Noah

Level 5: Self-driven Learning

The highest form of blended learning is Self-driven Learning – blended options that allow the learner to navigate, explore, experience, create, collaborate, and drive her own learning. This level is not easy for teachers to implement, and – after years of being told the question and the steps for solving it – many students may not initially care for this type of learning experience. But if we are to truly help learners achieve their full potential in a global society, we must consider the blended options for supporting self-driven learning. One method is to incorporate learning menus or playlists, where content has been curated and students can choose the path that best suits and most interests them. Students can also take the lead in content curation; teachers frame the essential question, and students curate the content and resources to meet the learning challenge. This post by Alex Hernandez provides a glimpse of what a self-driven blended learning approach looks like in a DC classroom.  This lessoncast demonstrates how two teachers enabled students to lead the content curation process to facilitate STEM learning.


Key Learning Tasks: navigate, choose, compile, evaluate, justify, connect, coordinate, cultivate, establish, explore, organize, plan, test, inquire, critique, assess, hypothesize, prioritize, measure, verify, validate, prove, ask, reason, refine, reflect

Tools & Resources:
Activate Instruction
Open Assembly
Google in Education

All of the resources from levels 1-4 can be used to facilitate self-driven blended learning. The key is to developing essential questions, learning menus, playlists, or learning plans to assist students in navigating their path.

Applying the Hierarchy to Implement Blended Learning

In planning, educators should ask the questions from the beginning of this post:
-       What are our goals for learning?
-       Who are our learners?
-       What tools would suit our learners and their learning needs best so that they achieve and even exceed the goals?

A fourth question that educators need to ask in planning is:
How will we know if students are learning and achieving the desired outcomes?

Next entry: Embedded Assessment

{Side Note: Above, I’ve listed a few tools and resources that I’ve found helpful. Of course this list is incomplete. We’re in the process of compiling a more extensive resource list, which we’ll post. If you have any suggestions or ideas, feel free to post them in the comments section below.}



About the author

Nicole (@MsTuckerSmith) is CEO of Lessoncast Learning. Currently residing in Baltimore, Maryland, she's been an assistant principal, district-level leader, professional developer, consultant, adjunct professor, supervisor of parent support services, and - most importantly - a teacher. In founding Lessoncast, she believes the future of student learning depends on our ability to merge innovative best practices with classroom realities. Mother of two, she holds with utmost respect the awesome responsibility of educating someone's child. | Favorite Quote: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” Mohandas Gandhi


  • I am encouraged to see your entire view of this hierarchy. I experience so much of Levels 1 and 2 as a technology integration specialist sometimes I forget there is the hope of more beyond that. Teachers and building leaders also often wish to exclude us from the real educational conversations which your address.
    I will continue to ask those four question you point to as well:
    -What are our goals for learning?
    -Who are our learners?
    -What tools would suit our learners and their learning needs best so that
    -How will we know if students are learning and achieving the desired outcomes?
    Thank you for your affirmation this morning!

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