Blended learning has become a very important part of education in recent years. So even education ministers have adopted a Council Recommendation on blended learning in 2021. Blended learning can be a blend of learning sites or a blend of different digital and non-digital tools. Because of all that, and the big importance of blended learning, our Working Group on schools has explored how we all can support blended learning, especially being the policymakers.
What is inclusive blended learning in practice?
There are basically three primary different ways of mediating experience. Now, what's necessary in all three, because, alone, the learner is left to kind of process these experiences herself, what is needed is a dialogue towards meaning-making. What makes learning inclusive is when the learning situation is so organised and arranged that all learners can actively participate at their own level out of their own interest and are given the support that they need to be able to do so. Obviously, blended learning offers many opportunities for literally blending these different modes of experience, so that learning has this rich tapestry of experience to draw on.
How can ministries of education support blended learning for inclusion?
Policymakers as such, and especially ministries need to make possible for schools and teachers to have enough time in the curriculum to carry out blended learning. So flexibility of curricula is of great importance and it must not be prescribed too much. The teachers also need our support regarding the devices, but also the training for the use of all these digital devices and digital tools. And what is very important is that they have a place where they can share their experiences. Schools and teachers do wonderful things and we, the policymakers, need to make it possible for them to have access to different national or European platforms to share all these experiences.
We see in Croatia that schools build a magnificent cooperation with local communities. For example, our schools do a great job with the police. So we have the police officer coming into the school teaching the first graders the traffic culture, and they take them actually into the streets, so that the first graders can experience what the traffic is like. This is how we believe that schools should be open to local communities, and that we all together should make it possible for our students to have the best possible education.
How can school leaders support blended learning for inclusion?
School leaders can support blended learning for inclusion by allowing sufficient autonomy for all teachers so that creativity could flourish. The teachers should be seen as professionals who know what is best for their pupils and how the learning process could be made more meaningful for them. Of course, a legal framework needs to support it.
For example, in Estonia the national curriculum is based on competencies, skills and learning outcomes. And this allows the teacher to actually blend learning, because this means that the teachers have almost full autonomy for deciding how the learning process is actually designed as long as the learning outcomes are fully achieved. This autonomy allows them to create networks and partnerships, for example, with employers or non-governmental organisations, and bring them into the classroom. Or take the lessons outside the classroom for example, to laboratories, museums, parks, forests, wherever they want to as long as the learning outcomes are achieved.
Another thing that a school leader can do is to facilitate cooperation between the school and the private sector. In Estonia, there is a culture of public-private partnerships between schools and private enterprises, and it is deeply rooted in our society.
But all in all, I think that it is important to create an environment of trust and a culture of cooperation for blended learning to actually happen.