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Applying Blended Learning to Early Education

Communicator
June 2015, Volume 38, Issue 10

Principal magazine’s recent “Strong Start” series of articles focused on aligning early learning communities and presented actionable steps you can use to transform early learning in your school community. These articles cited technology as a benefit to the early learning environment even though technology initiatives within a school are often thought to be the domain of educators in the later grades. The truth is that blended learning strategies can be more transformative in early education than in any other segment of a school organization.

In “Blended Learning for Early Learners,” Mary Evans, Jennifer Hawkins, and Patrice McCrary, describe how a Kentucky elementary school uses technology to personalize learning for its youngest students.

Catering to Digital Natives

In a world where infants can navigate an iPad, today’s children not only crave technological interaction—they expect it.

Technology has already played a major role in the younger student’s short life. Even preschoolers know that a device is much more than entertainment. It’s how they talk to Grandma. It’s how information is gathered. And, even at home, it’s how new information and skills are learned.

Think about the world today’s kindergartener will inherit. Books on paper might not exist. Devices will become more proactive, giving you the information you need before you even know you need it. Everyone will need to know how to code to fix their appliances at home (unless they fix themselves). Building any sort of learning program without technology tools is antithetical to how they will live their lives.

A Personalized Environment for Both Students and Teachers

Teachers can sometimes think that adopting technology strategies can stifle their creativity. They believe the devices will start dictating the curriculum and how students will learn. The reality is actually the opposite.

Just like any other endeavor, the more tools you have the easier the task becomes. Software programs can inform instruction, helping teachers use their class time more efficiently. Differentiation becomes commonplace and engagement gets easier.

Online learning programs are becoming increasingly more adaptive, operating in a state of almost constant formative assessment. Kids get the next lesson they need, rather than what a curriculum says they should have. Technology also helps plan lessons for students with learning disabilities.

Addressing the Underserved

Early learning programs often are the first step in addressing the needs of underserved populations. With early childhood education, 39 percent more children in poverty would be ready for school at age 5, 19 percent less students would need special education interventions, and 21 percent more impoverished students would graduate high school on time.

Meanwhile, early learning is often a key for language acquisition. Learning to read and write starts before formal schooling. This is even more imperative for English language learners, who are better served by learning through both the language spoken at home and in English.

Both of these transformative opportunities come together through blended learning because it simplifies the language learning process. The adaptive processes baked into blended learning can be just as effective in reading as in learning other skills. English language learners can interact with knowledge in the ways that are most effective to their learning styles, including more visual interaction and a more immersive environment.

It’s Not as Simple as Hitting the Power Button

Although blended learning can help win battles that educators have been fighting for generations, it takes intentional planning to make any technology program a success. Too often, schools invest in such programs only to see them fail due to teacher unpreparedness, incorrect content for their student population, or a simple reticence to deviate from the status quo. Time spent planning in the beginning will pay off manifold—no more so than in the preparedness of young children for the next steps.

To find out more about the strategies presented in the Strong Start series, check out the articles:

  1. Six leadership competencies for leading pre-K-3 learning communities
  2. How to use technology to personalize learning for young students
  3. Insights from researchers, policymakers, and thought leaders on aligning early childhood education
  4. How one school district engages area preschools and day care providers to establish a foundation of learning
  5. Strategies for language acquisition in the early grades

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