Blended learning as a way to an inclusive education
On 19 January, the European Commission published a new report on how to use blended learning for a greater inclusion.
The working group on school education focusing on the European Education Area (specifically on the Pathways to School Success initiative) has published a report mapping the challenges, enabling factors and making recommendations for different actors concerning the use of blended learning for a greater inclusion.
Blended learning refers to an innovative way of teaching in which students learn in different learning environments (outdoors, in companies, training centres, cultural institutions, etc.) and use digital and offline tools. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on education, the Council of the EU adopted a Council Recommendation in 2021 supporting a longer-term strategic approach to blended learning and building on successes in implementing or testing innovations during the pandemic. The topic of the benefits of blended learning for inclusion has become increasingly discussed both in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic and with the arrival of Ukrainian pupils to the EU Member States due to the war in Ukraine. Blended learning allows, among other things, for individualised learning, which is particularly beneficial for pupils with specific needs or for those struggling with school failure.
The working group analysed the current state of the use of blended learning in the EU and in its final report, it identified the main challenges, opportunities and proposed solutions.
Barriers to effective blended learning
The main challenges include teachers' difficult working conditions and lack of time and support to develop their competences and incorporate blended learning into their teaching. Another problem is the tendency to avoid blended learning using digital tools due to their negative perception after the compulsory distance learning during the Covid-19 pandemic or the lack of knowledge sharing on methods that make blended learning inclusive.
Factors supporting the use of blended learning
According to the working group, the implementation of blended learning could be accelerated by several factors. Among others, they see an inclusive and innovative culture that already exists in the school environment as an enabler for change. Furthermore, the use of blended learning might be accelerated by the fact that school directors and teachers are relatively autonomous and have the necessary competencies and confidence to make professional decisions and introduce innovative approaches. Another opportunity may be that the successful introduction of blended learning could potentially make the teaching profession more attractive for recruiting new teachers. Existing positive factors also include the possibility of using European school self-assessment tools such as SELFIE for Schools and SELFIE for Teachers to help schools identify how they can improve their use of digital technologies.
How to use the full potential of blended learning
The working group identified three levels of actors who can contribute to the better use of this method of learning for more inclusive education:
Policy makers at the European level
At the European level, policy makers can contribute to greater use of blended learning in school education by communicating more about its benefits for a quality and inclusive education. They can also support ongoing international peer learning activities and research on how to effectively incorporate blended learning into both policy and practice.
Policy makers at the national, regional and local level
At the national, regional and local level, policy makers should ensure that directors and teachers have sufficient time and flexibility to implement innovations and that the results of studies, pilot projects and examples of good practice in blended learning are shared. They should also enable schools to have sufficient funding for the design, implementation and evaluation of blended learning. Another important step is to set standards, competency frameworks and professional profiles of directors and teachers to reflect the skills needed for an effective use of blended learning. The policy makers should also promote and create incentives and professional learning opportunities on blended learning for directors and teachers.
School directors and teachers
Directors and teachers can contribute to the use of blended learning by fostering a culture of collective engagement and responsibility within their school and using the resources available, both within the school and the local community. They should also promote their school's involvement in networks.