Designing a blended learning approach with insights from students, teachers, and parents.
Key takeaways include beating zoom fatigue and encouraging peer support
Teachers are keen to explore and focus on what we CAN do online, opening the door to new practices
Parents also need support in a blended learning environment and value guidance
As a school committed to providing a future-focused learning experience, NEIA has seen the enormous potential of blended learning to support diverse students’ personalized learning needs. In the face of challenges posed by the pandemic, we have sped up our pace in preparing our blended learning offerings. NEIA pursued this model to prepare for life in this post-pandemic world and to explore new ways to enrich our students’ educational experience.
“Nice try,” you might think, “but my kids and I have had a tough time with remote learning since last spring – it’s simply frustrating!”
We understand. Many on our team, parents themselves, experienced challenges during this unprecedented time.
However, we recognize that many learners and educators underwent this transition in an unplanned and unprepared way. An ideal blended learning experience does not mean merely adding digital technology to the teaching process. Still, it requires rethinking the entire education experience and connecting all elements – from curriculum design to tools, culture, community, and beyond.
As a brand-new school, NEIA envisions a more practical learning experience that leverages online and offline elements’ strengths to build a blended learning-ready school right from the start.
The Big Question
So how might we design a seamless and distinctive blending learning experience that ensures productive learning outcomes?
To better answer it, we broke down this big question with three key stakeholders – students, parents, and teachers. We designed our research effort to gather insights and inform our approach.
Our Research and Co-Creation Process – in a Blended Way
We conducted 26 in-depth interviews with students, parents, teachers, and education experts. The results include 23 insights and 20 promising solution concepts and outlined the following key takeaways.
Students and Teachers Suffer From “Zoom Fatigue”
When asked about the main drawbacks of online learning, students and teachers explained that participating in class over video conferencing applications, like Zoom, is physically tiring and emotionally draining. Moreover, unstable connections, distractions, and less interaction add to fatigue.
To beat Zoom fatigue, teachers could break the classes into small chunks long enough to discuss a topic and short enough to hold students’ attention. It also helps students structure time more wisely and allows enough offline activity to maintain physical and mental wellbeing.
Transferring Online Imposes a Steep Learning Curve
It’s a huge leap for both students and teachers to move from in-person education to online learning. Students might feel frustrated if things don’t go as expected. Simultaneously, managing several websites, folders, and schedules for different classes adds to feeling overwhelmed and a bit lost.
Designing a transparent onboarding process and a one-stop platform that provides access to all resources could break this cycle and ensure a smooth start to the blended learning experience.
Virtual Togetherness Encourages Students To Achieve More
Loneliness and social isolation are a real concern in the online learning environment. A 5th grader vividly expressed the importance of peers, “I think having some buddies will make you want to finish the school day and make you want to do well! Without peers online, I’ll be like: meh, maybe I will just do that later.”
Some teachers shared that they would divide students into smaller groups via Zoom’s breakout rooms to encourage students to engage with each other and recreate the classroom discussion experience. Also, hosting extracurricular offerings virtually, such as online clubs or virtual study halls, could add more social elements and develop a sense of community to support student engagement.
Focus On What We CAN Do Online
Many teachers decided to let go of their attachment to long-established methods and embraced new technologies. For instance, teachers used high-resolution images or online interactive websites to take learning experiences beyond the classroom.
Additionally, students felt empowered and became more independent by participating in self-paced online courses.
Parents Need Emotional and Functional Support
Parents also expressed concern over the quick move to blended learning without any context or clear definition of their role. They hoped the school would support them by providing relevant resources and connecting them with teachers and other parents to learn how to navigate the new learning environment and provide mental support.
Leverage the Power of Teams to Amplify Teachers’ Superpower
Students are the heroes of the learning experience, and teachers are the heroes behind heroes. One education expert said in our interview, “Traditional teaching is inefficient – it doesn’t take the power of a team! Virtual teaching requires teachers to collaborate and therefore brings new opportunities.“
Teachers usually have varied strengths and different levels of familiarity with technology. By mixing diverse teachers in each teaching cohort, there is an opportunity to empower teachers to use their strengths and deliver a better learning experience.
We believe blended learning is a great way to make learning flexible, fun, and even more beneficial. It allows students to become active learners, explore their full potential, and acquire new skills to prepare them for a rapidly evolving world. We were excited to hear how students and teachers turned the shift into a gift to transform education through our research. NEIA will use these key takeaways to design our blended learning strategy and offerings.