Our family has resisted spending time on screens and devices. We believe that richer relationships develop in person. Several years ago, however, I began studying blended learning as a researcher for the Christensen Institute. In the course of that research, I encountered Acton Academy, an independent school network based in Austin, Texas. The philosophy behind Acton Academy is that each student is on a hero’s journey and that adults should empower students to drive their own learning. After observing Acton Academy for a day, my husband and I decided to move from Hawai’i to Texas so that our children could attend that school.
Two aspects of the blended model at Acton jumped out. First, students are empowered to set and accomplish their own learning goals. The “what” is specified, but the “how” and “when” are student-driven. Students work for roughly two hours each morning on their personal goals, relying mostly on the Internet for the content and skills they are seeking to master.
Second, and this is the magic of Acton’s model, students stash away their laptops for the rest of the day and engage in deeper learning experiences—rigorous Socratic discussions, quest-based projects, writers workshops, sports, visual arts, and apprenticeships. The compressed, focused online learning geared toward “learning to know” in the morning frees up time for the interpersonal, higher-order experiences geared toward “learning to do” and “learning to be” throughout the rest of the day.
In essence, these two components—the personalized, online learning blended with the collaborative, offline inquiry—are the promise of the next generation of schooling. For too long, schools have been stressed with trying to deliver a standardized, comprehensive education in an inflexible model. Little time is left either for personal adaptation or for deep inquiry. The best blended-learning implementations are breaking the rules of that model and discovering newfound possibilities. The acquisition of core skills is becoming personalized, adaptive, and student-driven. This in turn is freeing up time and capacity to attend to higher forms of reasoning and development throughout the rest of the day.
That blend has sharpened the intellectual, moral, and interpersonal development of our children. We have found it hard to turn back.
This blog is part of our Smart Parents series in partnership with the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. For more information about the project, see Parents, Tell Your Story: How You Empower Student Learning as well as other blogs:
- Learning Plans: The What, When, Why and How to Do Them Well
- Learning is Personal for Your Child
- Smart Parents are Involved, Informed, Intentional, and Inspirational