Since its creation in 2013 through 2020, the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute (MVLRI) at Michigan Virtual published approximately 20 research blogs and 75 research reports. This total does not represent everything published by MVLRI but rather only those publications including original research on K-12 blended and online learning. The nearly 100 resources represent research conducted internally by MVLRI staff, research conducted by partners at universities, colleges, and educational organizations, and covers a vast range of topics including, but not limited to, K-12 online best practices, online student motivation, K-12 blended teaching and professional development, and K-12 special populations.
This body of work is extensive, and while there is tremendous value in each individual publication, there is also value in how that work fits with other similar research and the narrative that emerges from the collective understanding. Toward this end, MVLRI sought to identify, review, and synthesize the original research published in the past 6 years. Again, not every blog or report published via the MVLRI.org website was included, only those containing original research.
Out of the synthesis of resources, 10 main themes emerged. Each theme is presented individually in the interest of brevity. A full reference list is provided at the end of this document noting the resources that contributed to this report.
Resources for inclusion in the synthesis were identified through the MVLRI.org website in the “Publications” and “Blogs” sections. All published blogs and reports were assessed to determine if they included original research. Those that did were included for synthesis. Once the approximately 100 resources containing original research were identified, each blog or report was reviewed and given up to three keyword tags. The following fields were also completed for each of the 100 resources: what we already know about the topic of research, what the resource adds, and implications for policy and practice. Resources were then thematically grouped and keywords were refined and combined. For example, K-12 online program evaluation and quality was combined with K-12 online program policy because although distinct, the themes were related and spoke to many of the same concepts and conclusions.
Once the 10 thematic categories were identified, the resources within that category were reviewed again, both for accuracy in interpretation and to determine its relationship to other resources in the same category. Out of this process, the core findings and practical implications were identified. What is presented below is the synthesized understanding from the original research included. Because of the process, not every finding of every resource could be included, rather resources were reviewed to form a broad understanding of each theme and to identify what MVLRI has contributed and learned in the 6 years since it was formed.
K-12 Blended Teaching and Professional Development Core Findings
- K-12 teachers practicing blended learning exhibited common characteristics such as flexibility, a focus on personalized instruction, and a desire for applicable professional learning.
- Educators implementing blended teaching practices often faced issues of access and equity, which can make blended teaching more difficult.
- K-12 teachers implementing blended learning practices indicated a common need for additional support from school leadership and a desire for collaboration among colleagues.
- There were limited formal professional development (PD) opportunities for K-12 blended teachers, including a lack of college programs offering blended learning PD. Online resources had been developed to address this gap but they were largely patchwork at this point.
- Any professional development aimed at K-12 blended teachers needs to address teachers’ desires to work with and learn from other teachers.
- Most K-12 blended teachers were using self-assessment measures or self-directed measures to learn more about blended learning.
K-12 Blended Teaching
In reviewing blended teaching resources, educators implementing blended learning practices in their teaching commonly exhibited certain characteristics such as comfort with risk and flexibility, a focus on personalized instruction and attention for learners, and a desire for applicable professional learning (Bruno, 2017a).
Prior to starting their blended teaching and learning experience at Michigan Virtual, most of the iEducators (recent graduates of Michigan teacher preparation programs who want to kick-start their career with a full-time, two-year online teaching assignment with Michigan Virtual) had some prior knowledge of blended learning stemming from content within their teacher preparation program, through their own personal research and/or training, and/or through their prior work experience (Kennedy & Gerlach, 2017). However, their knowledge and experience were very limited. After observing blended master teachers in the field, these iEducators shared the reality of what they observed through blogs and Google Classroom discussions. Many iEducators commented on the issues of access and inequity that they saw these teachers facing, such as schools lacking the proper technology to support blended teaching and administration that is completely resistant or not supportive of teachers’ implementation. The reality of what they saw was that administrators expect teachers to provide students with individualized support in schools that don’t necessarily have the technology to support this effort (Kennedy & Gerlach, 2017).
Teachers implementing blended teaching practices indicated how much they valued leadership that was supportive of change, and that it gave them the encouragement and confidence to continue experimenting and making changes in their classroom (Bruno, 2017a). This support helped to establish a comfortable and trusting relationship conducive to positive change in instruction (Bruno, 2017b).
Blended teaching resources also indicated not only the common need for teachers to feel supported but also the need for teachers to receive support through professional learning and coaching in order to further their blended teaching practices. Teachers need time to learn and to 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 (Bruno, 2017b; DeWitt, 2017). District supported coaching is essential for the growth and development of blended learning strategies in classrooms (DeWitt, 2017).
In addition to coaching, teachers implementing blended learning need to collaborate with colleagues and share resources as they implement blended learning practices in their classrooms (Bruno & Kennedy, 2016). Blended learning coaches encourage teachers they work with to build an active professional learning network, which has helped them to form a culture of collaboration. In this culture, teachers share what they are doing and engage in conversations with other educators to push their thinking (Bruno & Kennedy, 2016). Change takes time, and teachers need to be provided the time to collaborate with their colleagues, the time to make changes to the ways that they are used to providing instruction, and they need to be given the support in which to make these changes.
When implementing blended teaching, 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 (DeWitt, 2017). To maintain a consistent vision for what blended teaching looks like, district leaders and teachers should engage in planning and goal setting right from the beginning (DeWitt, 2017). Additionally, there is limited formal research work related to blended teaching competencies and no clarity or consensus exists regarding the distinctive skills needed for blended teaching (Graham et al., 2017). To meet this need, a set of open and freely available resources around blended teaching competencies was created to support individuals, schools, and districts in their quest to develop blended teaching skills (Graham et al., 2018).
K-12 Blended Professional Development
While Michigan Virtual has only conducted a limited amount of research in regards to K-12 blended professional development, there are some notable findings that have surfaced from this work. First and foremost, teachers seemed to be learning about blended learning in more informal or even self-directed methods (Oliver, 2016; Roberts & Stimson, 2016). This is due to limited formal professional development opportunities as well as a lack of college programs offering blended learning PD. This overall lack of PD, coupled with underdeveloped resources for teachers, is making blended learning implementation even more difficult for teachers. Michigan teachers indicated that despite a lack of resources provided through higher education programs and a lack of resources provided within their own schools and districts, many teachers were able to find blended learning resources on their own online (Robers & Stimson, 2016).
To help meet this need, free resources have been developed such as The Blended Practice Profile, a free survey that allows teachers to gauge their teaching practices and uses software to identify blended teachers’ understanding and application of blended learning.
Many teachers indicated using self-directed learning and creating workgroups to work with and learn from other teachers (Roberts & Stimson, 2016). Teachers frequently reported how dependent they are on their peers (Oliver, 2016; Roberts & Stimson, 2016). Providing opportunities for collaboration between and among teachers is key to making blended learning and professional learning experiences successful (Roberts & Stimson, 2016). Oliver (2016) also found that teachers had a desire to not only gauge their own level of blended learning implementation but also to be able to compare that to others with similar experience and in a similar teaching environment.
Because of the lack of formal blended learning PD opportunities through higher education institutions and districts, and the fact that mentorship and coaching programs are perceived to significantly increase teacher confidence, it is recommended that more formal blended learning PD opportunities, both in and out of higher education programs, be made available.
K-12 Blended Teaching and Professional Development Practical Implications and Actionable Resources
- Research has shown how much teachers implementing blended learning practices need support on many levels. Support from their administrators, support in terms of professional development and resources, and support from their colleagues. Having leadership that is supportive of change gives blended teachers confidence to try something new that may be out of their comfort zone. When leadership isn’t supportive, and resources are not properly invested in blended learning, it presents a significant challenge to blended learning implementation.
- Providing continuous PD and coaching as well as time for educators to collaborate with their peers in developing and modifying resources and lessons are crucial aspects to ensure blended teachers have the support they need. Research has also shown the desire of blended educators to have collaborative opportunities to not only work with their peers, but to learn from them, as well (Roberts & Stimson, 2016). This should also be an important component of any blended learning PD program.
- Research has also shown the lack of blended learning pedagogy and resources being included in teacher preparation programs (Robers & Stimson, 2016). Without a foundation of this knowledge in place upon entering the classroom, teachers may struggle with implementing something of which they have no prior knowledge or experience. As K-12 online education continues to gain acceptance, including knowledge of blended learning, pedagogy in teacher preparation programs will provide teachers with the foundation of knowledge from which they can rely on when they enter the classroom.
Bruno, J. (2017a).The changing role of educators: The blended teacher. Michigan Virtual University. https://michiganvirtual.org/research/publications/the-changing-roles-of-educators-series-the-blended-teacher/
Bruno, J. (2017b). The changing roles of educators series: The instructional technologist. Michigan Virtual University. https://michiganvirtual.org/research/publications/the-changing-roles-of-educators-series-the-instructional-technologist/
Bruno, J. & Kennedy, K. (2016). The changing role of educators: The blended learning coach. Michigan Virtual University. https://michiganvirtual.org/research/publications/the-changing-roles-of-educators-series-the-blended-learning-coach/
DeWitt, J. (2017). District-level blended learning implementation: Readiness points and challenges. Michigan Virtual University. https://michiganvirtual.org/research/publications/district-level-blended-learning-implementation-readiness-points-and-challenges/
Graham, C. R., Borup, J., Pulham, E., & Larsen, R. (2017). K-12 blended teaching readiness: Phase 1-Instrument development. Michigan Virtual University. https://michiganvirtual.org/research/publications/k-12-blended-teaching-readiness-phase-1-instrument-development/
Kennedy, K., & Gerlach, J. (2017). iEducator 21st century digital learning corps: Blended teaching and learning. Michigan Virtual University. https://michiganvirtual.org/research/publications/ieducator-21st-century-digital-learning-corps-blended-learning-teaching/
Oliver, W. (2016, February 10). Teacher self-assessment for blended learning. Michigan Virtual University. https://michiganvirtual.org/blog/teacher-self-assessment-for-blended-learning/
Roberts, V. & Stimson, R. (2016). Professional learning for blended education: Michigan teacher case studies. Michigan Virtual University. https://michiganvirtual.org/research/publications/professional-learning-for-blended-education-michigan-case-studies/