District-Level Blended Learning Implementation: Readiness Points and Challenges

Published on September 27, 2017

Modified on December 11, 2020

Abstract:

Cover of District-Level Blended Learning Implementation: Readiness Points and Challenges Serving as a capacity-builder throughout the state, Michigan Virtual engaged in a multi-year partnership with four school districts with the intent to accelerate blended and personalized learning in each unique district. This report examines the readiness and challenges of each school district as teachers, district leaders, and the Michigan Virtual team worked to systematically implement effective blended learning strategies. The goal of this study was to understand multiple stakeholders’ readiness points and challenges when they began to implement blended learning and to share the findings in a way that could help move the field forward.

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Written By:

Jamie DeWitt, Michigan Virtual

What we already know about this topic:
  • Blended learning strategies are being implemented in most districts, often in small pockets of innovative practices where the teachers and the leadership may not recognize the true power of their developed strategies.
  • For any professional learning program to be effective and have student impact, focused coaching, leadership training, and learning experiences with a high-level of transfer of new skills to classroom practice is needed.
  • Michigan, as a whole, embodies a local-control mindset where teachers are more interested in developing their own content and lessons rather than using licensed or purchased content.
What this report adds:
  • Systemic implementation of any new initiative in a district often starts in one of two places: either at the top, with an administrative push, or from the grassroots efforts of teachers in the classroom. The same is true for many blended learning efforts in districts. To ensure consistency of vision, both district leaders and teachers need to engage in forward planning and goal setting at the beginning of any large-scale effort.
  • District supported coaching is essential for the growth and development of blended learning strategies in classrooms throughout a district. It is the strength of these teacher leaders that builds a trusting and growth-minded cohort of learners.
  • Resources remain a challenge and a barrier that all districts need to overcome. This not only includes technology and financial resources but human resources as well. Teachers need time to learn and develop new lessons and strategies while leaders recognize the need for access to experts to help guide the district forward with just-in-time support.
Implications for practice and/or policy:
  • Developing a common and coherent vision for teaching and learning throughout the district is an essential step that may take time but is crucial for the growth of any new initiative, including the implementation of blended and personalized learning strategies.
  • While any large-scale change requires a few champions, or individuals who have prior knowledge and understanding, it is crucial to design and effectively launch a professional learning process that supports a natural learning path for educators. A system of flexible, personalized, and creative professional learning options will help districts reach teachers where they are, which mirrors the types of learning experiences we are designing for students.
  • A key recommendation is for educators to resist the temptation for the device to drive the change in any district. Rather, the instructional strategies and knowledge of how to use the technology effectively are what makes a difference for student learning.
  • It is significant to note that the type of change needed to implement blended and personalized learning throughout a district requires all educators to think differently about professional learning. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and Title II funding, specifically Title II, Part A, is a critical component of the ecosystem for educator support within a district. Any further reduction in Title II funding will greatly reduce the number of resources available for Michigan teachers and school leaders to effectively work together to implement blended and personalized learning experiences for students.

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With many students across the state 100% remote, demand for our online courses is greater than ever before. Because every course we offer is taught by a Michigan-certified teacher, this high volume of enrollments has created capacity issues for our teachers who provide each and every student with individual feedback.

While the Michigan Virtual team anticipated and planned for significant increases in student enrollments this Fall, the increased demand we’ve experienced has been unprecedented. As a result, we are taking steps to hire even more part-and full-time teachers to support larger numbers of student enrollments for Semester 2 as well as for Trimester 2 and 3. 

For schools that still need online learning options this year, please fill out the form at the bottom of our virtual pathways page to meet with someone to discuss other solutions. While some of our teacher-led courses are full, we may still have the capacity to help you in upcoming terms or can discuss timing to implement a whole-school or collaborative program in which local teachers from your school/district use our online course content to teach students. We also have free course content and resources available for you to use.

We know this is an incredibly stressful time for all, and we’re sorry if the courses you’re looking for are unavailable. We never want to turn away a student who wants to learn from us. Our top concern, however, is student success, and we have a policy to not take on additional enrollments if we cannot guarantee that all students will have a quality online learning experience. 

We appreciate your patience and understanding as we navigate the unusually high volume of enrollments we are receiving.