Hybrid Learning Is Not What You Think
By LeiLani Cauthen
Superintendents nationwide are dealing with unprecedented chaos in attempting to deliver learning. They are not, however, typically rethinking their organizational structure. This is because nearly the entire industry of education delivers learning through a structure of teachers or professors. In other words, the pattern of organization is through teachers. Right when teachers are the ultimate premium in the landscape of all potential avenues of learning, and typically not leveraged at their highest value. There is another way, and it’s not all online.
“Let’s make sure we all get one thing very clear. Tech is replacing the old whole-group model, it’s not replacing true human direct instruction. It’s making direct individual instruction a premium.” — The Delicate Question of Teacher Digital Transition
This might seem pretty wild, but a primary structure of delivery execution through teachers could be a primary inhibitor to learning achievement given current circumstances because it marginalizes teachers into a new higher traffic in digital communications. This is an overlooked and very major inhibitor to real learning. This includes the quickly ramped-up remote learning activities and many of the alternate-route online schools-within-a-school, which remain hinged on assigning whole groups to teachers managing the distribution and all traffic of learning.
What’s going on?
- Parents and students, the consumers of learning, are already outspending all K12 schools on digital learning objects online, sites and apps by more than 2-1. This is a big clue as to what is happening with learning and the distribution of knowledge. Most of this learning online is teacher-less, but it doesn’t have to be.
- Before the pandemic, 27 percent of students had already left traditional public education. During the pandemic another 3.6-15 percent left. This means we are somewhere between 33-42 percent of the American public who prefers something different. It includes Charter schools, which are nominally similar to traditional public, but most offer far more technology and flexibility for schedules. This is a literal avalanche of exits.
- 20 percent of students want to remain remot
e as the pandemic plays out.
- 35 percent of students all during the pandemic were not showing up online consistently for video conferencing classes.
- Schools and districts cite a 51 percent loss in achievement.
Some of the obvious reasons for these happenings are principally:
- The move to online remote learning was too much for a third of students and parents in terms of change. Leaders said they suspected many students were embarrassed about their home environment being on conference calls while other students were pulled into babysitting younger siblings.
- Traditional schooling has inculcated students into passive receipt of information as well as physical routing. Since kindergarten and even pre-K, students are first disciplined into where they sit or line up physically, how they are permitted to move, what they can say and the modulation of their voices when indoors, and then mentally moved by teachers towards learning content amongst a whole group of other students. Student agency is particularly narrowed to whole-group-by-age parameters. In a time when industry provides customization for most consumer services, most of these same students have been experiencing a very unstructured world digitally outside of school. This outside force is spreading independent student agency and causing parents to question the lack of true personalized pathways in schools.
- Traditional schooling in many places has become highly political, advancing certain agendas that a large swath of the population finds uncomfortable enough to exit.
- The running of any traditional public district has a majestic number of regulations and requirements.
- The running of any traditional public school or district is, well, traditional. Full of routines and “the way it has always been done.”
- Traditional public education has a high-cost structure which is heavily weighted towards salaries and benefits, far exceeding the private sector’s burden for the same quality of teaching.
- Reporting, academic standards and other strictures form up an ever-shifting sea of items that cause leaders to have to respond tactically with new programs, new professional development, and new complexities informing parents and students.
- Since the structure of how it’s always been done is to convert academic standards and programs into document-form pacing guides, which teachers then scan in combination with checking when they have hours on the school schedule before making a lesson plan, the distribution of lesson planning is repeated over every single teacher. While a certain degree of customization is obviously important, the fact is that the duplication of effort playing out across an entire teaching staff is costly and during conversion to digital, takes time away from attention on students and individualization of instruction.
A Deeper Definition of Hybrid Learning
What’s emerging is a new definition of what it means to be hybrid. Instead of thinking that hybrid means “what the teacher is doing using tech tools,” it’s actually hybridizing the school’s operation to flow through tech as the primary delivery mechanism and arraying teachers at those critical human-interface points when most needed. It’s a bit like the shift in other industries like retail, shipping and healthcare. These are the changes:
- Replace strict grade/class structure in favor of anytime/anywhere learning and tiered cohorting. This means to move every-student-placed into courses not classes. This includes the youngest grades, but a modification in how they are cohorted because elementary students need more consistency in adult supervision.
- Replace planning of pacing guides to pacing-plus, which means plan courses with full lesson plans, always leaving room for individualization. Teachers can still tweak lesson plans but will now be focused on direct instruction of the materials.
- Assign every student to a “House,” also known as a home room that has adequately socially-distance workspace for all and is overseen by a para-professional or teacher at all times, perhaps later into the evening and earlier in the morning than usual. Give all teachers office space. Un-assign classroom space and make it all spaces that are dynamically used except for science, art and music labs. Cafeterias can be turned into “Eat Labs,” including chef space. House assignment could be multi-grade. Elementary students may be assigned to small “houses” which are still classrooms but since more of their work is individually paced, various arrangements could be made so that students can flexibly progress or get more direct instruction and remediation as needed. Elementary may remain more whole-group and small-group than middle and high schools.
- In lessons inside courses, partition the activities such as reading, practice, hands-on, student teams, small group and any whole group.
- Estimate time-to-complete on each step so that pace can be measured for the purpose of auto-cohorting students for moments that should still be small or whole group, including lectures.
- Plot the lessons step-by-step. Mark steps that are group oriented with a cohort number as in how many students should arrive at that point to trigger a group lesson moment. Meanwhile, until cohort is full, student studies other asynchronous materials, even in other subjects.
- Implement algorithmic workflow (this is the tough part, see notes at the end of the article.)
- Make sure a synchronous roll-call check-in moment is daily on the calendar, run by the House Leaders.
- Retrain teachers to manage teaching the annual grade-level throughout the year and spend more time on individual direct instruction. They will manage students based on pace, placing more attention on catching students up and doing less lecturing and less classroom management or discipline. When they are in a whole group situation, groups may be smaller and those learning moments more poignant with specific instruction and managing student attention. Teachers may be teaching some students live while others are remote (simultaneously.)
- Keep adding more intelligence into the pathways, including alternative cul-de-sacs teachers use for certain learning needs before the student returns back to the main pathway.
- Watch the analytics, let the faster students zoom ahead and use teachers to catch up slower-moving students by unraveling any misunderstandings, etc.
- Pay attention to the bits and pieces of digital resources. This means many of them could be professional grade courseware so building pathways is simpler – just name the module and let that module or “level” in the courseware or reading program do the distribution of interactive learning. Bits and pieces should not all be flat documents or just videos.
- Pay attention to the integration strategy of all the technologies because quality of the user experience hinges on seamless and simple navigation.
The implementation of algorithmic digital workflow is the one area since the pandemic that is totally new as an invention, and it will be in beta soon as a demo function in Knowstory.com as a premium function that can be integrated with a school or district’s other software systems and rostering. The main function will be managing planning from pacing through scheduling the paths of every student. To sign up for the beta, join the EduJedi here to be contacted.
Meanwhile, schools and districts that grasp the concept of continuous planning from standards through pacing to calendaring courses and the restructuring of grouping and cohorting can semi-automate without algorithms. Basic learning management systems and planning tools can serve in a pinch but sacrifice seamless navigation. This sort of planning is already being done in places like Lammersville Independent School District in California where Mountain House High School’s Principal Ben Fobert has upended the use of time and space on campus.
Stay tuned for other articles on this topic helping you visualize how students would move from asynchronous to synchronous learning individually and how the teacher role would be transformed for the better. In the next week we will also be posting a video showcasing Ben Fobert from the recent California Digital Transition Discussion event.
About the author
LeiLani Cauthen is the CEO and Publisher of The Learning Counsel. She is well versed in the digital content universe, software development, the adoption process, school coverage models, and helping define this century’s real change to teaching and learning. She is an author and media personality with twenty years of research, news media publishing and market leadership in the high tech, education and government industries.