What the Blend Requires: Blended learning requires blended PD; blended PD requires tech built for blended PD.

by Shelly Blake-Plock

Going well back over a decade ago, Internet-based PD became a thing.

And in the critiques of online PD from that time, many of the same challenges that are still around today were highlighted, namely — understanding that Internet-based learning not a "quick fix", understanding that there are a variety of difficulties in assessing outcomes, and recognizing that with online access comes an increase in contextual issues.

Several considerations for successful models were also suggested.

In the same article cited above, Anderson and Henderson (2004) propsed that a future solution might best come in a form of Blended PD that was

  • on-demand
  • need focused
  • social
  • based on building digital literacies
  • cost-effective
  • modular
  • time-saving
  • user-friendly
  • customizable
  • productivity-enabling
  • secure
  • capable of supporting the extension and enrichment of professional conversation and social discovery.

Over the following several years, we saw the rise of educator communities who leveraged social media to create new kinds of learning networks. But the technologies supporting those networks were never designed to support blended learning or blended PD. Rather, over time, the technologies have been somewhat appropriated for this purpose, or perhaps more precisely have been used to augment and support a broader conversation around teaching and learning.

While the appropriation of these tools has been creative and has supported especially the early adopters among educators, we believe that the time has come when we need to actually build contemporary mobile social technologies designed and developed expressly for the purpose of delivering and supporting blended professional development. Teachers should neither have to try to shoehorn an unwieldy LMS system for the purpose of engaging in blended professional learning, nor should they have to hobble together G+ Hangouts, Nings, and Twitter chats to learn how to implement effective blended learning practices.

The solution An Estuary has developed is two-fold.

First, is the Sanderling social platform. Featuring educator professional profiles and designed to ensure social sharing based around the ability to create collaborative learning projects directly within the social network, Sanderling was built to bring best practices in contemporary tech-assisted forms of project management and professional sharing to the educator PD space in a way that allowed for deeper and more sustained development of educator personal and professional learning networks.

Crucial to the larger goal of bringing blended PD to scale through a social mobile solution easily manageable by any device is the second piece of our system — Hedgehog. Designed as a blended learning environment specifically for educator professional development, Hedgehog sits directly on top of the Sanderling social platform. So as teachers learn on Hedgehog, they share through their Sanderling networks.

The idea is to create a more meaningful kind of professional sharing by linking professional learning directly to an educator's PLN.

In the most straightforward terms, think of the Sanderling and Hedgehog duo as providing an accessible and on-demand way to learn in a hybridized and personal way while simultaneously supporting the professional growth of a learning community of educators. A place where we learn through the learning of others.

If it sounds a bit far out, that's because it is. Sanderling and Hedgehog are unlike any other professional learning platform. Created by a team of teachers and technologists, the platform was built for the purpose of bringing blended PD to educators in a way that is contemporary, modular, easy-to-use, and informed by the realities of the demands on teachers' time and workflow. Think about it, teachers: would you rather sit in a community college classroom being lectured to once a week for six weeks in order to get CEU credit, or would you rather take courses you are interested in on-demand any time via your phone that allow you to easily collaborate with teacher friends on projects that actually resonate with what's going on in your classroom?

Additionally, remember that Sanderling and Hedgehog comprise a blended learning system. This isn't about sitting in front of a computer screen. It's about using technology to support real-life personal and personalized learning and professional growth that can be easily and quickly demonstrated. We want teachers to take the freely available courses on Sanderling and teach each other how to best implement blended learning. We want you to teach each other and to learn blended teaching by doing blended learning.

For those schools and districts that decide that a subscription is best for them, their educators will have access to a library of custom opportunities available on-demand, year-round, for less per month per teacher than one quick jaunt through the cafeteria lunch line.

We're serious about keeping to the promise of blended learning and providing technology that will help it to fully mature and expand on opportunities suggested by early research.

And we believe that in order to make blended learning work, we need teachers themselves to learn in blended environments supported by technology specifically built for blended PD. With our partners, we are helping to create communities that blend online and face-to-face education in a powerful way that is on-demand and need focused, social and empowering, cost-effective and modular, time-saving and user-friendly, customizable, powerful, and secure.

We have built the technology that we as educators felt like we needed. Technology that is capable of supporting the extension and enrichment of professional conversation and social discovery.

And now we are reaching out to you, looking for partners dedicated to bringing meaningful blended learning to classrooms where best practices in online and face-to-face learning meet. We recognize that there is no silver bullet and that there is no single way to pursue blended learning. That is why we believe in building software that will grow and adapt to the way you need to use it. And it is why we believe that the best thing we can do is to build technology that responds to the needs and ongoing findings of blended learning in practice and which supports educators — encouraging them to work together to experiment, analyse, and create methods of teaching which support learning outcomes reflective of personal and personalized approaches and student development consistent with the deep and meaningful learning and mastery of concepts and methodologies serving increased engagement, creativity, and love of learning.

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