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Education Opinion

Is Blended Learning at a Tipping Point?

By Matthew Lynch — August 16, 2017 3 min read

We all know that great innovations fail. A large reason for failure is because the innovation never reaches the point on the innovation curve beyond innovators and early adopters in the diffusion of innovation. Malcom Gladwell (2017) describes the tipping point as “that magic moment when an idea crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.” It is extremely challenging to predict when educational models are going to reach that so called tipping point. This is because educational systems are inherently complex with multiple factors that affect adoption. While the primary focus of blended learning is the classroom (physical and virtual); the policy, training, awareness, and professional development around this type of learning need to be examined as important factors to consider when exploring the tipping point.

It is helpful to look for a model to help explain the diffusion of innovation. Everett Rogers developed the diffusion of innovation model to help explain why and how something fails or succeeds. According to Rogers, there are five factors to consider when exploring where innovation is at in relation to the diffusion. These factors are the trialability, relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, and observability. We will look at each of these in the context of blended learning. Think about each of these factors in relation to blended learning and if the so called tipping point has occurred.

1. Trialability

Teachers and administrators need the opportunity to tinker with blended learning in a low-risk environment. An essential feature of trialability is the potential to pilot various blended models and software. Blended learning companies that do not have a 30-day trial fail to offer the chance to play with minimal consequences.

2. Relative Advantage

This point speaks to the benefits of a new innovation over previous models. In this case, blended learning is purporting to replace strictly face-to-face or online learning. The benefits of blended learning include flexibility, focuses learning outcomes, and student-centered learning environments. It embraces technology and promotes flipped learning.

3. Compatibility

Compatability centers on alignment with existing values and attitudes. It gets at the root of what is valued in education. Blended learning needs to be viewed as consistent with the fundamental axiological beliefs of educators to gain traction and approach that all important tipping point. If we consider the education of all students as the central value of teaching, then blended learning designed to the benefit of students should be consistent with those current values.

4. Complexity

The tipping point of blended learning in relation to complexity refers to how difficult it will be for teachers to understand and use effectively. Previous research around educational technology shows that it is often not optimally used. Professional development will be a key component of reducing the complexity of blended learning and maximizing potential.

5. Observability

An innovation that cannot be observed will likely fail to go beyond early adopters. It is crucial for teachers to be able to observe teachers embracing and using blended learning. Finding innovators and early adopters that can model best-blended learning practices will be critical when looking at the adoption curve of blended learning. Setting up a peer observation program or something similar to the ID2ID program can help relate the initiative to classroom practice.

So is blended learning at a tipping point? According to Web Courseworks, blended learning in some capacity has passed that tipping point. Technology has fostered an environment where this type of learning is possible. In K-12 environments, blended learning is much more common than online learning. Blended learning is less dependent on policy than fully online learning. While informal blended learning has indeed reached a tipping point, a formalized definition and program focused on blended learning has yet to occur.

The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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