Why Self-Directed Learning Belongs in your Blended Learning Program

Blended Learning

Blended learning is a staple in education today, but years ago it was a new concept. We define blending learning as having two components: face-to-face instruction with a teacher, intermingled with collaborative group work with peers, and online learning that is personalized and self-paced.

Lately, when I read about the online learning portion of blended learning programs, the emphasis seems to be heavy on personalization. Specifically, how online programs make it easier for teachers to identify individual student learning gaps, customize curriculums, track progress and differentiate instruction. Personalization is key; but I don’t seem to read enough about another important aspect of online learning, which is self-directed learning.

 My good friend and education mentor, Raymond J. McNulty, who is Dean of Education at Southern New Hampshire University and author of It’s Not Us Against Them: Creating the Schools We Need, often presents on “The Rise of the Self-Learner.”

Last year, at Dr. Bill Daggett’s annual Model Schools Conference, Ray asked: “What do we mean by learning? If learning is about productive learning, ‘students wanting to learn more,’ then it suggests a transfer of power over the learning from the teacher to the student.” He also tweeted: “A teacher who teaches a student to learn without them, prepares the student for success in the 21st Century.”

We created the Stride™ online learning program 16 years ago with the same basic tenet in mind – we have to motivate students to learn on their own in order to thrive in this 21st Century world. It is overflowing with knowledge readily accessible to them. We spent countless hours of development and discovery by partnering with schools in all socio-economic settings to refine Stride as a toolkit for learning that students would willingly and eagerly engage in. At the same time, we ensured the program supported the academic outcomes desired by educators.

By definition, self-directed learning occurs where students have a degree of control over the time, pace and place of their learning. Students begin to feel ownership of their learning, begin to self-evaluate, reflect on their progress and set goals for learning more.

We created Stride with dashboards that show students a live monitor of how they’re performing, and academic badges awarded for milestones. Equipped with this real-time information, students can assess what they know about their progress and make decisions to keep pressing forward at the same pace – or slow down and take time to dive deeper into the supporting resources that are available in the program.

Because students have access to Stride online all the time, they have to be the ones to initiate it at home or outside of school hours, instead of doing something else.  After-school statistics show they willingly dedicate their time to learn in Stride.

This brings to light the other key to self-directed learning, which is sheer motivation. Teachers who support self-directed learning in their classrooms or in virtual courses will typically investigate their students’ personal interests and design activities that relate to those aspects of their daily lives. This makes learning more relevant and engaging for them. Stride takes what we know to be a common interest for all school-aged students – video games – and integrates that into the learning process to make it enjoyable.

Use technology to assist teachers.

Many educators wonder why in Stride, we choose to use games that are more mainstream than they are learning games. My response is that students are picky about what they like, much like educators. So it is critical that an educational technology program delivers in every key area that is important to both parties. After all, the classroom experience is not one-sided.

We learned very quickly that if we could provide students with a highly enjoyable experience, then they were more motivated to work harder on the academic portion. Then we discovered demonstrably better academic outcomes. It was transformative that if we focused effort into creating better games, the students were willing to work independently and on their own time. That is the true essence of a self-directed learner.

To learn more about Stride, click here.

To view Ray McNulty’s presentation on self-directed learning, click here.

Brian Shulman is a pioneer in educational technology, healthcare services investing and youth sportsmanship initiatives. Follow him on Twitter @brianshulman1, and on Facebook.