So you’re interested in trying to start a blended learning program? If you are reading this you have likely accepted the fact that today’s students are digital natives, that is, they have grown up with the internet and the vast array of digital tools such as mobile devices, tablets, and computers. You have also become aware of the increasing role digital technology plays in education. Moreover, you have recognized the need to add some structured dimension of digital technology to your catechetical program.
Last week I talked about what blended learning is. If you are really serious about starting a blended learning program at your parish or school, I would recommend considering the following steps on how to start a blended learning program.
Step 1: Strategize
- Outline your strategic goals and challenges. It is essential to set goals for your program. If you have no idea of what your outcomes should be then you will likely never reach the full potential that blended learning offers. Possible goals might be to have all classes using blended learning by year three, or to have a certain number classes per grade implementing blended learning each year. Other goals might focus on generating stakeholder support through educational sessions. Learning outcomes might be helpful as goals. Monitor student academic progress as well as attitude toward blended learning. Identifying possible challenges will help keep the project grounded while anticipating hurdles. Don’t forget to keep your goals SMART!
- Identify the basic infrastructure you will need. Internet access in each classroom, wi-fi, and hardware are a must! Will the parish or school supply devices such as tablets or will students provide their own? Create a list of everything that may be needed and work from there.
- Determine your budget. There will be up-front costs involved, however, you will find willing parishioners to donate time and equipment to help offset the investment. It may be a scary and impossible thought, however, you have to be realistic about what your needs are or they will not likely be met.
- Create a timeline of when the program will begin and what will need to be done to get up and running. Setting realistic expectations will help propel the project forward.
Step 2: Align
- Identify the stakeholders who will need to buy in to approve your initiative. Even if the Pastor or Principal are initiating, there will be additional stakeholders who will need to get behind the program. You will need support from the top down, and everyone in-between. Create a list of stakeholders and set the priority for buy-in. For example, who has to approve before the project can get off the ground, who will be affected by the program, and who might have influence to offer support.
- Understand the key resources you will need and who can provide them. This may mean finances, time, IT advice or support, or people-power.
- Find an individual who possesses the passion and familiarity with digital learning strategies to lead the project. Creating a team of additional champions will help the process grow and stay on track. Think inside the faith formation program and outside as well. Our parish put together a committee of catechists, IT people, professional teachers, and parents who all had a similar interest yet with varying talents and skills. It takes a lot of people to develop a new program.
Step 3: Plan
- Determine what the blended learning program will look like. Before beginning, there will need to be a clear vision of what the overall program will encompass, from goals, to content, to delivery structure, and evaluation. Note: This is a comprehensive step with a lot of details. A blended learning program’s success will be determined to the degree that this planning has been completed.
- Develop a structure for your program that can easily be shared with stakeholders. Clearly define the goals, challenges, needs, blended learning method, and timeline. This might be in writing, PowerPoint –type presentation, or video.
- Set the key milestones that will be needed in your program timeline.
Step 4: Implement
- Plan for your technology needs. In the parish catechetical setting students will usually access online content via their own devices. In some school settings the school will provide these devices.
- Determine the content will be delivered online as well as inside the classroom.
- Offer comprehensive training to those who will be offering blended learning. You may want to start small with a single catechist or class, or one class per grade.
- Identify individuals who will be available to troubleshoot technological challenges.
Step 5: Evaluate
- Review, analyze, or adjust the program as necessary, or at least annually. Don’t be afraid to change when something isn’t working. Just make sure you understand what is not working, not simply that it is not working!
- Ask for regular feedback from students, catechists, and parents. Make it easy, send a survey!
- Measure progress against original objectives and goals. Be willing to adapt goals if necessary.
- Collaborate with your team to improve the program for the following year. Look to make incremental progress, it won’t happen overnight.
When you decide to start a blended learning program be sure to follow the steps above, but address any additional concerns you may have. With careful attention you can develop a long-term strategy, get buy-in and align to program’s goals, set a plan, implement, and evaluate. You will begin to see the fruits of your efforts through increasing community support and movement in the right direction!
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