A Nuanced Look at Blended Learning

Earlier this year, Larry Cuban and I had a brief back-and-forth about the prospects for online learning — particularly with regards to helping/harming students most at-risk. Fortunately, Education Next has just published an article exploring this very issue.

In “Getting At-Risk Teens to Graduation: Blended learning offers a second chance,” June Kronholz writes about Performance Learning Centers (PLCs), schools that mix credit recovery and blended learning to help at-risk kids make their way to high school graduation. And, in the process she helps to add nuance to a discussion of online learning that is too often filled with false assumptions and dichotomies.

In the mythical battle between teachers and technology, PLCs don’t fit neatly into the dominant narrative. They are high-touch, combining small learning communities and wrap-around supports for guidance and social services. And, they are not cheap, with both start-up costs and relatively low educator/student ratios.

There are no silver bullets in this story. Despite the students’ strong scores on Virginia’s Standards of Learning exams, Kronholz wonders about the rigor of instruction (a concern across Virginia given the state’s college remediation rates). And, we don’t yet have data about how well students do after graduation. Still, the PLCs show promise. And this is the type of story that helps us understand what a different notion of school, made possible in part by technology, looks like — warts and all.

-Bill Tucker

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