Innosight Institute's seminal report, "The Rise of Blended Learning," outlines several emerging school models that combine the best of onsite and online learning. Besides students taking online courses when possible, there are basically two emerging school models:
- Rotation: Students spend 20 to 50 percent of their time online. The Bay Area's Rocketship Education is a high-performing elementary network where students spend two hours per day in a computer lab. KIPP Empower in Los Angeles has classroom centers that students rotate through. At Carpe Diem, a Yuma, Ariz., high school, students split their time between workshops and personal learning online. Matriculation at rotation schools is typically by cohort but with more flexibility to meet individual needs than a traditional school.
- Flex: Core instruction is conducted online with on-site academic support and guidance, integration and application opportunities, and extracurricular activities. Students in flex schools progress as they demonstrate mastery in most courses. In some courses, particularly those with teachers at a distance, they may remain part of a virtual cohort.
In short, rotation schools add some online learning to what otherwise may look like a traditional school while flex schools start with online learning and add physical supports and connections where valuable. As a result, the potential for innovation is higher in flex schools.
There are four big benefits of flex models:
- Competency-based: Students progress based on demonstrated mastery; they use cohort groups and teams when and where they are helpful.
- Customized experience: Flex models make it easy to customize the experience for each student.
- Portable and flexible: Students can take a flex school on the road for a family vacation or for a work or community-based learning experience.
- Productive operations: Flex models have the potential for more productive staffing and facilities solutions.
AdvancePath has two dozen academies nationwide that help hundreds of students get back on track for graduation with personalized online learning, a supportive environment, and motivating teachers. Students that are a year or two behind have the opportunity to get back on track by earning credits more rapidly than would be possible in a typical classroom. AdvancePath has used the flexibility of the flex model to develop a robust response-to-intervention (RTI) solution for high school -- a personalized pathway for every student -- something that they typical course, credits, and a master schedule make extremely difficult for a traditional school.
Meeting similar needs for in Prince George's County, Connections Academy ACCESS delivers supplementary courses in a blended learning environment specifically for 11th and 12th graders who have specific credits needed for graduation. For students with a variety of risk factors, the motivation and support of onsite teachers often works better than virtual credit recovery options.
K12, the leader in online learning, is a leader the development of flex schools. San Francisco Flex and Silicon Valley Flex combine the K12 core curriculum with a full day of academic support, clubs, and activities.
The next development in flex will be the addition of social learning, project-based learning, work- and community-based, and expeditionary learning. Development of a flex network could pilot the benefits of customized competency-based learning while encouraging development of schools that:
- leverage community assets like museums, theaters, historical sites, and natural resources
- link to emerging industry clusters and internship opportunities
- travel with competitive teams
Every community should have a flex option that provides a fully supported individualized pathways to graduation. Every community should use a flex model to leverage local resources and meet specific student needs.