Three Trends That Define the Future of Teaching and Learning

| February 5, 2011 | 15 Comments
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In today’s dynamic classrooms, the teaching and learning process is becoming more nuanced, more seamless, and it flows back and forth from students to teachers. Here’s a look at current trends in teaching and learning, their implications, and changes to watch for.


The Three Key Trends

1. Collaborative.

If Web 2.0 has taught us anything, it’s to play nicely together. Sure, there are times for buckling down and working alone, but in most cases, the collaborative process boosts everyone’s game. In progressives schools across the country, students and teachers are learning from each other in all sorts of ways.

Napa New Tech High students working together.

Sharing information and connecting with others — whether we know them personally or not — has proven to be a powerful tool in education. Students are collaborating with each other through social media to learn more about specific subjects, to test out ideas and theories, to learn facts, and to gauge each others’ opinions.

They’re finding each other on their own kid-specific social networking sites, on their blogs, on schools’ sites, and of course on Facebook and Twitter. Though Facebook is still a red herring when it comes to school policy (Massachusetts districts have threatened to fire teachers who friend students on Facebook), and educators are split over whether tweeting in class is disruptive or helpful, the sites continue to be pervasive in both higher-ed and K-12. Educators know they can grab students’ attention where they naturally live outside the classroom — the online social world, whether or not it’s Facebook.

“If you’re teaching something that’s usually bland and you insert a simple tool that allows students to connect with each other or their peers in other schools and countries whenever they want, you just see kids’ faces light up,” says veteran educator Chris Lehmann of the Science Leadership Academy.

Educators Unite

But social networking is not just for teens, as evidenced by the 500 million-plus Facebook users. Teachers are putting their collective smarts together to find the best ways of engaging students, using social media to teach everything from reading and writing to Shakespeare. Educators are also using social media to connect with each other, share ideas, and find the best teaching tools and practices. Sites like Classroom 2.0, Teacher Tube, PBS Teachers, Edmodo, Edutopia, and countless others are lit up with teachers sharing success stories, asking for advice, and providing support. Collaboration is happening offline, too, at schools where educators team-teach and organize professional learning networks.

Collaboration is also finding its way into curriculum with open-source sites to which everyone is encouraged to contribute. Working together is woven into the fabric of project-based schools like the Science Leadership in Academy, which focuses on science, technology, math and entrepreneurship, and Napa New Tech High High. The idea is simple: by working together, students figure out how to find common ground, balance each others’ skills, communicate clearly, and be accountable to the team for their part of the project. Just as they would in the work place.

Watch for: (1) Department of Education working to establish a one-stop shop for teacher networks. (2) Commonly accepted guidelines for using YouTube, Facebook, and other social media in schools.

2. Tech-Powered.

Pens and pencils are far from obsolete, but forward-thinking educators are finding other interactive tools to grab their students’ attention. School programs are built around teaching how to create video games. Teachers are using Guitar Hero, geo-caching (high-tech scavenger hunt), Google maps for teaching literature, Wii in lieu of P.E., VoiceThread to communicate, ePals and LiveMocha to learn global languages with native speakers, Voki to create avatars of characters in stories, and Skype to communicate with peers from all over the world — even augmented reality, connecting students to virtual characters. And that’s just a tiny sampling.

Flickr:Randy Pertiet

Creating media is another noteworthy tech-driven initiative in education. Media permeates our lives, and the better able students are to create and communicate with media, the better connected they’ll be to global events and to the working world. To that end, programs like Digital Youth Network focus on teaching students to create podcasts, videos, and record music; and Adobe Youth Voices teaches kids how to make and edit films and connects them to documentary filmmakers.

Tech-savvy teachers are threading media-making tools into the curriculum with free (or cheap) tools, like comic strip-creation site ToonDo, Microsoft Photo Story 3 for slide shows, SoundSlides for audio slide shows, Microsoft Movie Maker, and VoiceThread to string together images, videos, and documents, to name just a few.

Students in high school and college are using digital portfolios — the equivalent of resumes — to showcase the trajectory of their work on websites that link to their assignments, achievements, and course of study, using photos, graphics, spreadsheets and web pages.

Watch for: The explosive growth of high-tech companies and venture capitalists investing ever-more capital in the education market.

3. Blended.

Simply stated, blended learning is combining computers with traditional teaching. Knowing that today’s learners are wired at all times, teachers are directing students’ natural online proclivity towards schoolwork. It’s referred to as different things — reverse teaching, flip teaching, backwards classroom, or reverse instruction. But it all means the same thing: students conduct research, watch videos, participate in collaborative online discussions, and so on at home and at school — both in K-12 schools and in colleges and universities.

Watching videos on iPads in class with teacher's guidance.

Teachers use this technique in different ways. Some assign interactive quizzes and online collaborative projects at home, some use computer time in class, some assign watching videos and lectures at home and use class time for hands-on projects, some place most of the curriculum online and work one-one-one with students in class. However they choose to do it, the best examples of blended learning programs involve teachers who use home-time online discussions and collaborative projects as fuel for content and discussion in the classroom.

This movement is growing quickly — the Department of Education plans to spend $30 million over the next three years to bring blended learning to 400 schools around the country.

Watch for: Schools using blended learning to save costs on books and supplements.

What these trends mean

Given the growing momentum of these trends, what does it mean for students, teachers, schools, and the education community at large?

  • Teachers’ and students’ relationships are changing, as they learn from each other.
  • Teachers roles are shifting from owners of information to facilitators and guides to learning.
  • Educators are finding different ways of using class time.
  • Introverted students are finding ways to participate in class discussions online.
  • Different approaches to teaching are being used in the same class.
  • Students are getting a global perspective.
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  • Amit

    Try out socrative.com it really cool. It a smart clicker system that runs from smart phones and laptops. I think it’s a very nice way to implement blended learning.

  • Elisabeth Donati

    The problem with all of this high tech teaching is that our children aren’t learning how to do anything in terms of life-skills. They don’t know how to cook, clean, fix cars (flat tires), grow a vegetable if they had to, etc.

    With all of this social media kids are growing into adults who are connected but don’t have any idea of how to communicate when there is a real, living breathing human being in their space.

    Yes, the internet is a great way to make money if that’s something they want to explore, but it’s not empowering our youth to be leaders or independent because we’re making them even more dependent on others who DO know how to do things that life requires.

    For example, let’s teach them about money! Now there’s an idea…

    • Alamocity

      This is more reason why teachers need to model effective use of technology that utilize the life and 21st century skills you are referring to. Lessons need to be engaging and authentic. The out-dated teacher-centered instructional methods don’t work effectively in today’s classrooms. Teachers need to understand today’s role of an educator, which is heavily influenced by instructional technology, and step up by (1) keeping abreast with educational technology trends, (2) explore and understand how classroom technology can enhance instruction (you don’t have to be a tech. expert) and (3) don’t dwell on the “I don’t have time…..” or “This is the way I’ve always taught this……” mentality. The teaching profession, today, is not the same as it was 5, 10, or 15+ years ago. Technology does not have to be integrated into every lesson to reach today’s students. However, the learning needs to be meaningful to the students and have an a authentic real-world connection; not just reciting concepts and terms from a textbook to prepare for a test.

    • Jorech

      Elizabeth,
      I find it interesting that you oppose “hi tech learning,” yet EVERY example you cite, cook, clean, fix cars, and grow vegetables use some kind of technology to perform. Stoves, vacuum cleaners, cars, and hoes are examples of technology.

      Also are using social media and completing these tasks you mentioned mutually exclusive? Here’s an idea: what if we use social media to connect students to others who can help them learn how to cook, clean (I don’t know that I was ever taught anything about cleaning when I was in school) fix cars or grow vegetables?

      or how to handle money.

    • James A. Lehman

      Better yet everyone should use the interactive inventive methods in my website:
      inventive-internet.com, the only site of its kind in the world. In so doing, they
      will quickly create inventions, and in the process learn to think like a natural
      inventor.

      James A. Lehman                       jobsthroughinnovation@gmail.com

  • KBonner

    In reading this article, I realize that some of the tactics mentioned – specifically, blended learning – are things I already implement in my classroom. I teach art & design on the college level, and find myself posing online “exit pass” questions to my students in order to gauge their understanding of lectures, keep tabs on their progress on their projects and elicit questions and feedback. In class, I require students to show one another their work and to give one another feedback. There is definitely hands-on learning occurring, but I also find that asking students to give feedback on their understanding and progress online gets me answers that I don’t get from students in class. It’s a comparatively simplistic version of blended learning, but it does allow me to have a better grasp on students’ understanding of lessons and progress. I also believe that it’s good reflective practice for the students, and helps put the onus for learning on the student.

  • Michael Bachrodt

    Tina,

    I like section 2 of this blog post in that you highlight some ways forward-thinking (good?) educators are infusing technology into their curriculum. Indeed, media is playing a huge roll in the lives of our students and educators should make every effort to tap this resource to connect with kids and create learning environments that make sense to kids.

    Sections 1 and 3 cause me to have much concern. We should all be very cautious when describing trends that will define the future of teaching and learning especially when what is being described as a trend is nothing more than good teaching descriptors with a tech twist added to them. Web 2.0 resources can help with collaboration, but I take issue that Web 2.0 teaches us to play nicely. Alfie Kohn wrote about collaboration in “Punished by Rewards”, “No Contest”, and “What to Look for in a Classroom” back in the 1990′s. (In fact, Alfie Kohn’s bibliographies list research dating back to the 1930s.) Teachers whose classroom are cooperative rather than competitive already know the benefits a collaborative classroom brings to learning.

    Further, the fact that more and more is being written about blended learning is disconcerting. I have read other blog posts, with much surprise, where the authors claim Web 2.0 has helped create blended classrooms, flipped classrooms, started reverse teaching, etc. Good teachers already use collaboration and a blended classroom environment as hallmarks of their classroom teaching and learning. This is simply good teaching and goes back to the days of cooperative learning, differentiated instruction, or whatever term happened to be used that decade. I’ve discussed these ‘trends’ with teachers who have made the use or are attempting to make the use of technology an integral part of their classrooms. All agree that there is nothing dramatic about blended and collaborative classrooms using Web 2.0 resources, especially those that are fortunate enough to have computers available in their classrooms or if there are computers at home for kids to use. Web 2.0 resources are just another teaching technique teachers can use in their classrooms to help students learn in ways that make sense to them. Social networking, for example, has been around for generations. Teachers have used the idea of connected groups when they make assignments involving surveys, and contacting grand parents or the Lions club for information about research projects. Web 2.0 accomplishes the same things but in cooler and faster ways that kids relate to today. And, yes, kids certainly take more ownership of their learning when they know their work will be published for everyone in the world to see! Good teachers recognize the value in using Web 2.0 resources, but they are not trendy in the sense that they can lead to the six points listed at the end of your post. However, these six points do serve as an excellent reminder of how to recognize good teaching:

    Teachers and students should always learn from one another. Teachers should be facilitators of information. Teachers should differentiate their instruction so that all kids can learn and participate in class.

    Using Web 2.0 technology to enhance instruction can be an integral part of these and other characteristics that describe good teaching and student learning, but they should not be touted as indicators that define the future of teaching and learning to be collaborative or blended. The future of teaching and learning will certainly be shaped by the resources educators use to teach, but the underlying characteristics of good teaching will always be at the foundation of these resources.

  • Henry D. Johns

    When I look back on my own learning, I find that what I remember best is the papers which I wrote. When I began teaching in 1960, I tried to involve students in researching and writing, though we didn’t have the internet then. As a teacher-librarian, I tried to further implement student learning by means of research and writing and speaking. The ideas of collaborative work between teachers and students and between students and students are not really new.
    I remember two statements from a professor: “Each student in your classes will know more about something than you do.” and “In every class, a student will learn something, even if it’s only to hate the teacher.”
    I find one thing missing in this article, the development of critical thinking, surely one of the most important abilities to teach students, particularly in discriminating information from the internet!

  • http://www.learningfront.com/ Nick Hobar

    We combined blended learning and the “Flipped” classroom approach in my Technology for School Leaders graduate class at Loyola University Maryland. It worked like this:

    - A cohort of 24 aspiring school leaders gained content knowledge and skills by completing away from the classroom an online program of seven Learning Layouts of sessions and activities using integrated social media and PD tools, including online coaching sessions as needed by individuals.

    - Over two months we met F2F as a whole class for three weekends [Friday night 6-9 and Saturday 9-4] wherein the graduate students worked as individuals and in action teams to apply the content and skills they gained online to solve problems, construct products, and complete performances related to the program outcomes.

    - The blended “Flipped” approach included one global online learning community, one online learning community for the entire class, and four action team learning communities that met online and F2F in the flipped weekend sessions.

    Our flipped approach led to over 100 products and performances for sharing in the six online learning communities and were posted as wikitasks for standards-based lessons, data-driven Web 2.0 presentations, professional blogs, and action plans for disruptive and sustaining innovations.

    The program process and outcomes still serve as resources for the graduate students because the learning communities continue beyond the ending of a “conventional” class and the outcomes are available online for anyone beyond the class to access, adopt, or adapt. 

    I’ve also used this approach with practicing classroom teachers where the “flip” involved our “Online2″ strategy wherein teachers work independently and in a team with computers in a F2F school-based workshop . 

    The program and free integrated social media and PD tools are available here:

    http://www.learningfront.com/Media/LF_TechSchLdr.pdf

  • SimrunSinghAurora

    It has been a real pleasure to read this article as it
    has helped to check on and sign 
    in in the E-portfolios for Educators like us
    and not only that as a mother I have helped my younger son to sign in Kids
    website as I have been delaying his process to sign and have face book account
    as he is under the age limit.  After
    going through it I definitely agree and have direct coherence of the idea that
    the three Trends that define the future of Teaching and Learning is to
    collaborative, techpowered and blended. It helps us to connect with Digital
    native generation and  to innovate new
    paths and trends in 
    this era of
    Technological innovations and not only that we have to  THINK in the world of Digital Native generation
    and combine by  assimilating knowledge at
    the plunge to pave the path through building tracks in solid  grounds with tech tools. 

  • Mari Peterson

    Great article, with a LOT of nice links to look up (for me especially in the “tech-powered” section.  I agree that it is encouraging to engage students and see them light up.  Finding the “best teaching tools and practices” is key, whether they be face-to-face (F2F!) or online/blended.  The more tools we have to work with, the more likely we are to meet the needs of all of our students and their learning styles.  I LOVE to collaborate by sharing success stories.  What my colleagues have tried successfully just encourages me to try something like that, and then to share my results.  When I retire, I want to look back and see teachers who have learned teaching practices from me…I DON’T want to retire with my best tips left in MY bag only.  That would be very sad, indeed.  I also agree that a brief YouTube clip is worth its weight in gold, so I will defend its use in the classroom 100%.  I have found clips of people in France digging for clams to show my students how it’s done; posts of “menhirs” and “dolmen” in Brittany, France; or apricot growing in southern France.  My students hear real French people sharing their stories, the weather, the news, etc… and it is more than just dialog related to the textbook.  It is wonderful, engaging, and motivating.  Last year I had students open each class period in French 4/5 with their favorite web site, explaining (in French) what it was, why they liked it, and any new vocabulary that we would need in order to understand it.  They LOVED the opportunity to look sites up, and then share their finds with their peers and me. They took notes on each other’s presentations, and then voted on the “Best of Show.”  None of this would have been possible without technology, and it could be done for students in a virtual setting, as well.  This use of technology gets me excited (can you tell?!)

  • Gambo Santali

    It’s a wonderful article, full of stuff of knowledge essentially relevant to many educators, particularly to instructional technology scholars like me in Nigeria.The new trends in learning that includes the collaborative, Tech-powered, and blended learning are virtually an innovation in education. Though one can agree that tech-powered is breakthrough influences by technolog. However, all the trends are very instrumental to learning. Please keep it up.

  • Linda

    I struggle with how to use these multimedia items to interact with students doing math problems. I use Study Island, Khan Academy, Canvas and Power point presentations.
    I can’t see students blogging about their math homework!

    • Karen

      Add to that the fact that this article is 3 1/2 years old and I feel so far behind! I like the flipped classroom model and Canvas, but still have kids living without internet access. Do you think there is a way to get them a cheap tablet or notebook like the PA virtual schools do?