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ISTELive 24: Hybrid Learning Key to Personalization of K-12

Experts say relationship-building, collaboration and effective pedagogy are essential to hybrid learning programs, ideally giving students flexibility while teaching them the drive to take control of their own education.

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As lessons from pandemic-era remote learning continue to roll in, some K-12 educators are optimistic that a hybrid approach could usher in the revolution in personalized, competency-based education they’ve been waiting for.

Addressing the International Society for Technology in Education’s annual conference Monday in Denver, ISTE Managing Director of Innovation Strategy Tara Nattrass led a session called “Embracing the Hybrid Spectrum: Moving Towards a Student-Centered Future.” She said the pandemic forced the notoriously cautious education sector through seismic change, but now on the other side of it, some administrators and educators are realizing they don’t want remote learning to look the way it did during the pandemic.

“I look at CTE programs and what we’re doing with work-based learning, and I’m like, school should look like that for all of our kids, right? Where they are doing the kinds of things that we see in our work, preparing them for that,” she said.

Chris Smith, a principal from Newport News Public Schools in Virginia, offered success stories of the flexibility and personalized options available through the remote program in his district. These included a student who had a heart transplant but still had a successful school year, athletes who were able to participate in club and travel teams, and a record of zero fights or altercations in three years of the hybrid program, despite many participants enrolling due to behavior issues in class.

“We had a student that was in culinary class, that was able — due to the flexible learning — to attend college culinary class, as well as she was able to study her gymnastics from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m., and then she was able to log on,” he said.

Speaking for the nonprofit The Learning Accelerator, which helps school districts design remote and hybrid-learning policies, associate partner Michael Ham named relationships and pedagogy as the most important pieces of a successful hybrid program. He said teaching students to show up and take control of their own learning is also essential.

“The idea here is still the technology is open and accessible, that it’s easy to navigate, that it creates new opportunities for students, so it doesn’t just replicate a virtual worksheet — something that we know doesn’t really work in person — but it creates something new that students can engage with,” he said. “As we expand the distance between teachers and students via virtual or hybrid learning, there’s this additional drive, this need for students to be able to drive their own learning, this foundational self-direction skill set that we have to teach them that doesn’t necessarily get captured. If you’re not doing that on your own, you might not have a set of standards or a curricula that is working that into your program.”

Nattrass praised one hybrid learning program’s tactic of surveying all participating families and asking them what they’d do if the program weren’t available. Survey respondents could select all viable options for their circumstances. She said 48 percent replied that they’d enroll in one of the state’s two virtual schools, 29 percent said they’d homeschool, 20 percent said they’d look outside the district, 11 percent said they’d enroll in a charter school and 9 percent said they’d drop out entirely.

Among other things, Nattrass said, this gave the district a sense of how valuable the program was at a time when schools are facing staff shortages, academic achievement declines, mental health and school safety issues, and budget volatility with the sunset of pandemic-era funding programs.

“I think this is really important as we talk about sustainability, because we’re seeing some programs where enrollment is growing, and the number of programs is growing. We’re seeing others where it’s like, ‘Well, we were K-12, I think now we might just be 6-12,’ or whatever the shifts might be. So by doing this, it helps to really support that work,” she said.
Andrew Westrope is managing editor of the Center for Digital Education. Before that, he was a staff writer for Government Technology, and previously was a reporter and editor at community newspapers. He has a bachelor’s degree in physiology from Michigan State University and lives in Northern California.