Foundation for 21st century schooling

Kelly, McCain and Jukes (2009) offer research and ideas on how to teach today’s “digital generation.” As others, they assert that today’s traditional, “cookie-cutter” high schools have become outdated. In its place, Kelly et al. suggest that we need to develop a vision that moves us away from the common high school practices in order to better address the learning demands of the 21st century.

They recommend that high schools accept the reality of the online digital world and those associated implications it would have on teaching and learning. At first glance, we might acknowledge that their recommendations are not necessarily novel. This should not, however, detract us from the need to consider them carefully, as these form the foundation upon which 21st century schooling should be based.

1. Schools need to shift instruction to focus on those higher-level thinking skills needed for the 21st century. This call for reform and action is not new. What is different is that additional skills beyond those often associated with the higher-order cognitive processing skills of Bloom’s Taxonomy (analyze, evaluate, create) are being considered more and more as “higher-order.” Organizations such as The Partnership for 21st Century Skills and The 21st Century Fluency Project offer a framework in which to consider these skills.

2. Schools need to embrace the new digital reality. Educators need to acknowledge that technological change is a given in today’s culture. We need to use technology to keep school and the schooling experience relevant to our society. As such, we need to connect with the world that the students experience. They are already using numerous digital tools in their after-school lives, but students need to be taught, and then empowered, to use their tools to apply the higher-level thinking skills mentioned above for learning’s sake. In this way, instruction in the classroom can become more relevant to students as it us linked to their world.

3. Schools need to establish greater connections between in-class experiences and the “real” world outside. The goal of such efforts is to develop greater relevancy of what students are learning at school. Contextualizing content with real-life experiences, field-trips, guest speakers, job shadowing, digital simulations, etc., can lead to more meaningful learning.

4. Schools need to broaden their evaluation policies to include assessment activities that provide a complete picture of student learning. Assessment practices cannot only follow established text-based and/or standardized tests. Alternative assessments, such as student portfolios, presentations, etc., need to be considered in which students are asked to demonstrate their knowledge and developing competency on 21st century skills, abilities and fluencies.


Kelly, F. S., McCain, T., & Jukes, I. (2009). Teaching the digital generation: No more cookie-cutter high schools. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

What is Blended Learning?

What exactly does Blended Learning mean?

The Innosight Institute suggests that “Blended learning is any time a student learns at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home and at least in part through online delivery with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace” (p. 3).

Blended learning is also commonly referred to as hybrid learning.

Six models of blended learning approaches seem to be prevalent in K-12 education:

1 – Face-to-Face Driver. In this model, teachers deliver most instruction in a live classroom. They use online activities to supplement or reteach classroom learning as necessary. This often takes place at the back of the classroom or in a computer lab.

2 – Rotation. This model features students rotating between face-to-face class sessions and individual, self-paced online learning within the same subject area. The classroom teacher usually oversees the online work. A fixed schedule usually outlines when students are receiving class instruction and when they are working individually, whether at school or remotely.

3 – Flex. The flex model is based on curriculum that has been developed and provided online. It features an on-site teacher who provides instruction as needed in individual tutoring and small group sessions.

4 – Online Lab. This model is takes place in a school’s computer lab where students follow entire courses online. The courses part of the school’s general curriculum, yet are provided by online teachers and content-area specialists. The school provides a computer lab and necessary supervision. Paraprofessionals offer the necessary supervision and provide limited, if any, content expertise. Students in this model usually take other traditional courses and follow a typical school schedule.

5 – Self-Blend. In this model, students take online courses à la carte to supplement their school’s curriculum. This is different from the online lab model in that the learning is always remote, rather than being organized by the school. This model is currently the most common version of blended learning in schools.

6 – Online Driver. The online driver model expects students to take most of their courses online and independently. Other on-site requirements, such as extracurricular activities, may be required as part of the overall school experience.

Which model would seem to be most appropriate forms of instruction and learning as we plan for a new Christian high school?

My initial thoughts are that the flex, online lab and self-blend models would serve our students well.

The initial school population will be limited, as will the number of certified teachers. As a result, this limitation will impact overall course offerings. Nevertheless, in order to provide a wide choice of course electives and supplement those subject areas where instruction may be more difficult to offer, these models can provide some viable alternatives.

The flex model will allow our teachers to take advantage of standards-based curriculum that has been developed and tested in an online format, and then supplement the instruction as needed in individual tutoring and small group sessions. This could work nicely for a subject-area specialist who can work with students in multiple grade levels. For example, the time-table would be organized such that all students take “science” at the same time, but have their learning differentiated according to either grade level or subject level. The students would then progress individually based on their ability and interest. The science teacher would provide instructional assistance as necessary. In this format, the science teacher could be working with freshman and sophomore science students at the same time, and even work with one student taking a course in a specialized science, too.

The Online Lab model might be appropriate for those general courses that are needed for graduation, but cannot be offered in a small school setting, such as, for example, a class in world history or western civilization literature. When these classes are offered in the regular timetable, lab supervision would be provided by a paraprofessional, thus allowing the faculty to focus on their other classes, or even use the time for collaborative planning.

The Self-Blend model allows the school to offer a wide selection of electives that would otherwise never be offered. Students could choose from online options such as AP Environmental Science, music appreciation, macroeconomics, etc. The choice may only be limited by the electives through a course provider.


Horn, M. B., & Staker, H. (2011). The rise of K-12 blended learning. Innosight Institute.

The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning

The Innosight Institute released a whitepaper yesterday exploring the future of K-12 online learning. They contend that K-12 online learning is increasingly becoming a blended learning phenomenon, rather than a distance learning one.

The Innosight Institute is a nonprofit think tank devoted to promoting Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovation. This theory postulates that large-scale reform to transform a complicated and unproductive sector comes through a set progression; first the reform serves those who have no alternative, then others observe how the reform is preferable, and slowly adapt until it is a norm.

The Innosight Institute suggests that online learning fits the pattern of a disruptive innovation, especially as we consider school reform efforts. For example, K-12 online learning was first referred to as “distance learning” and primarily served home-schooled students and students whose circumstances did not allow an alternative for learning. This usually included students wishing to take advanced courses that their school could not offer in-house, or students who attended school in small, rural sites that could not employ highly qualified teachers in certain subject areas.

Over time, though, online learning has been altering the education experience. The Innosight Institute notes that online learning is expanding “in classic disruptive fashion” (p. 2) as educators are increasingly introducing blended-learning environments into their core programming for mainstream students in their schools.

Online learning is sweeping across America. In the year 2000, roughly 45,000 K–12 students took an online course. In 2009, more than 3 million K–12 students did. What was originally a distance learning phenomenon no longer is. Most of the growth is occurring in blended-learning environments, in which students learn online in an adult-supervised environment at least part of the time. As this happens, online learning has the potential to transform America’s education system by serving as the backbone of a system that offers more personalized learning approaches for all students. (Horn & Staker, 2011, p. 1)

Indeed, it appears that online learning may be an area where massive growth can be expected. They remark that “Online learning has the potential to be a disruptive force that will transform the factory-like, monolithic structure that has dominated America’s schools into a new model that is student-centric, highly personalized for each learner, and more productive, as it delivers dramatically better results at the same or lower cost” (p. 2)

The potential for improved quality of learning should be noted. Blended-learning programs allow students to work and learn at their own pace. These programs offer frequent and timely feedback to students. Most programs collect student achievement data in real-time so that teachers can use the information to help personalize learning for their students. When implemented properly, blended-learning programs have the potential to offer a very high, quality learning experience.

When blended learning experiences are offered as part of the curriculum, students are still, fortunately, allowed to take advantage of the things that a traditional school does well, such as creating a strong, supportive culture that promotes rigor and high expectations for all students, and providing healthy, supportive relationships and mentorship opportunities.


Horn, M. B., & Staker, H. (2011). The rise of K-12 blended learning. Innosight Institute.