Future of education may be in blended learning

A student in Sarah Kratcha's fifth grade class at Breckenridge Elementary School does an online assignment. 

Breckenridge School District Superintendent Diane Cordes said it is dawning on school leaders that education planning post-COVID-19 may need to involve online learning.

“There are certainly things we’re looking forward to getting back to, but I think some things are going to stick,” Cordes said.

One of those things is the desire for online learning, or a blended learning model. Cordes said she has received feedback from some families who prefer online learning and feel it better serves their children’s needs.

School board member Shawn Roberts said they also need to look at the students who do not exceed in online learning, the students who prefer an in-class learning experience and thrive on peer and teacher contact.

“We don’t want to lose students, but I think we have to look overall at the benefit and make sure they’re still going to be able to get what they need to graduate from our system as well,” Roberts said.

Offering online classes would not mean an end to in-person learning, Cordes said, rather a move to a blended learning model. In-person classes will always be a valuable asset to student learning.

“This is probably going to be the way of the future,” Cordes said. “Public schools, if they’re going to stay in the game, are going to have some level of in-person learning … and I think we’re going to see, forever now, a demand for online learning.”

The Minnesota House and Senate are both raising bills to financially support blended learning models for public schools. Cordes said she has discussed offering online learning options with neighboring districts’ superintendents. A blended learning model could mean more collaboration between the districts because they could pool resources.

Collaboration could come into play when offering college-level courses at the high schools, Cordes said. The qualifications teachers must have in order to be eligible to teach a college-level class are rising across the state.

“Small districts like Breckenridge are going to find it more and more difficult to offer that,” she said.

Another example of collaboration is in the career and technical area. There is a need for those types of programs, and if the districts combined efforts, they could make sure no student goes without an experience they’re interested in.

The topic is being brought up in schools across the country, Cordes said.

“I would rather lead the conversation and be in front of this and be able to offer really innovative things to our kids and families, than be behind, find ourselves losing students, and then try to catch up and figure out what we can do,” Cordes said.

Breckenridge High School Principal Craig Peterson said if the district isn’t having these conversations, they will lose students to Minnesota Virtual Academy or surrounding districts. While Breckenridge School District has been proactive and progressive when it comes to the changing landscape of education, it needs to continue on that trend or the schools will become obsolete, Peterson said.

“Schools not school like we had before,” Peterson said. “It can’t be like that. And if it is like that, we’re going to lose people because of engagement, learning.”

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