As models of blended learning grow, improve, and reinvent what school looks like, their potential isn’t only limited to helping create a student-centered education system; they can also vastly improve the lives and capacities of teachers worldwide.
Blended learning is not about merely using technology in the classroom. It’s about the combination of online learning in schools that gives students more control over the time, place, path, and/or pace of their learning. For the first time in human history, there’s a way to affordably scale the powers of personalization for all students; differentiation that previously only a tutor could provide.
Equally exciting is what blended learning can do for teachers to aid in their effort to provide an optimized learning experience for each child. Teachers are—and will remain—absolutely critical to the success of children, and blended learning can enhance their impact.
As schools shift to delivering core content and instruction online, it can free teachers from delivering whole-class instruction to a cohort of students who all may have different comprehension levels. Instead, teachers can spend far more time on the critical learning functions that too often get short shrift in schools today—or are done without students having the core knowledge base to take advantage of them. For example, teachers can spend far more time working with students one-on-one and in small groups, helping students work on meaningful projects, leading Socratic discussions, and developing their critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity skills—tools that help students discover their passions.
Additionally, blended learning can unlock the motivators that help teachers fulfill their personal passions to succeed in their jobs—factors that society has neglected for far too long in many schools.
Reward vs. Recognition
To explain, it’s important to understand the research findings in one of the most popular Harvard Business Review articles ever. Frederick Herzberg’s 1968 article, ‘‘One More Time, How Do You Motivate Employees?’’ debunks the idea that job satisfaction is one big continuum, with very happy on one end and absolutely miserable on the other. The surprising finding is that employees can love and hate their jobs at the same time.
This is possible because two sets of factors affect how people feel about their work. The first set, which is called hygiene factors, affects whether employees are dissatisfied with their jobs. The second set, called motivators, determine the extent to which employees love their jobs. Importantly, in Herzberg’s categorization scheme, the opposite of job dissatisfaction is not job satisfaction, but just the absence of dissatisfaction. Similarly, the opposite of loving your job is not hating it, but the absence of loving it.
The motivators, in order of their impact on satisfaction, are achievement, recognition, the work itself, responsibility, advancement, and growth. The hygiene factors, from highest to lowest impact, are company policy and administration, supervision, relationship with supervisor, work conditions, salary, relationship with peers, personal life, relationship with subordinates, status, and security.
So what does this mean? Allowing employees to find places to achieve, gain recognition, exercise responsibility, and have a career path has a greater tendency to motivate employees than do salary levels, corner offices, or vacation time. But conversely, these other factors can make people quite dissatisfied with their jobs. To improve teacher motivation, in other words, schools should work on improving the motivators; financial incentives and the like will not do much.
The traditional teaching job lacks many of the essential motivators. Teachers often work in isolation from other adults, which means there is little or no opportunity for recognition for their efforts. Opportunities for increased responsibility and career advancement are slim. Aside from becoming the head of a department, the only other way for most teachers to move up in this line of work is, in fact, to stop teaching so they can be ‘‘promoted’’ into an administrative job. And aside from occasional workshops or required training programs, teachers have limited opportunities for growth in the job after the first few years.
But blended learning creates an opportunity to blow apart that construct; if the blended program is designed well, the role of teachers can amplify motivators in ways that are difficult in the traditional, analog classroom.
Blended Models That Motivate
Great teachers who use Edmodo to collaborate with their peers and touch the lives of students in far-off schools and classrooms are extending their reach and gaining achievement and recognition for their work. Similarly, schools can help teachers feel the sense of achievement, recognition, responsibility, and advancement that comes from posting a Flipped Classroom lecture for others to use, managing an online community of practice, serving as lead guide in a large Flex studio with far more students than in a typical class, or leading a professional development webinar about a topic of expertise.
The growing number of online learning options is also causing an unbundling of the teacher role, which creates opportunities for teachers to specialize, which, according to Herzberg, unlocks the motivators of responsibility, growth, and advancement. In the factory model, teachers are responsible for everything that happens in the classroom; in blended models, students often experience multiple learning modalities originating from multiple sources. This creates opportunities for teachers to specialize, particularly in schools where teachers teach in teams.
Teachers can be content experts who focus on developing and posting curriculum, small group leaders who provide direct instruction as part of a Rotation model, or project-based learning designers, mentors, evaluators, data experts, and more. Even teachers who continue to be solely responsible for their students’ progress begin to specialize in a way, as they are often no longer responsible for lesson planning and for delivering a lesson to an entire class of students; they can now specialize in working one-on-one with students and in small groups, mentorship, facilitating discussions and projects, and so forth.
Teaching in teams in and of itself unlocks many motivators, and many blended-learning schools are taking advantage by knocking down the walls between classrooms and creating learning studios with multiple teachers working in a variety of roles with many more students. Although many say that those who become teachers do so expressly to work in a solitary environment where they can close the classroom door and be the star, with all eyes on them during their lecture performance, something different seems to be at play. Just as Herzberg’s research suggests, many teachers savor the feeling of recognition for their achievements with students that comes from their fellow teachers. The existing teaching environment all too often isolates them from opportunities to experience those feelings on a frequent basis. Working in a team environment not only creates those opportunities but also unlocks a variety of opportunities for advancement, such as to create master teachers within a team and other roles, as discussed earlier.
Finally, the very process of designing and implementing blended learning can give teachers wide leeway to innovate. Herzberg found that when organizations remove some controls while retaining accountability, the motivators of responsibility and achievement skyrocket. The Digital Age is beckoning schools to innovate, and that fact in itself gives leaders the impetus to create broad growth opportunities for teachers.
As blended learning grows, students stand to benefit from teachers shifting away from top-down, monolithic instruction and toward filling the many other gaps that exist in students’ lives. If designed well, blended-learning programs can also unleash powerful teacher motivators, such as the opportunity for achievement, recognition, and intrinsically rewarding work, fundamentally improving the quality of teachers’ critical jobs.
To hear more of Michael’s ideas on blended learning, register for EdmodoCon 2015, where he’ll be presenting the closing keynote on August 4.
Michael Horn leads a team that uses its research to educate policymakers and community leaders on the power of disruptive innovation in the K-12 and higher education spheres. He’s also a published author and has written several white papers about blended learning, as well as articles for numerous publications including Forbes, The Washington Post, The Economist, The Huffington Post, and Education Week. Tech&Learning magazine named him to its list of the 100 most important people in the creation and advancement of the use of technology in education. Michael was also selected as a 2014 Eisenhower Fellow to study innovation in education in Vietnam and Korea.