Digital classroomOnline learning

How to navigate the 21st-century classroom

Lecture-based courses remain common among many university professors, but as digital learning tools gain in popularity, more instructors are experimenting with substituting traditional classroom environments for those supplemented by technology.

As more universities, professors, and students adopt digital textbooks and explore the new avenues presented by online tools, the 21st-century classroom continues to mold into one with no centralized form.

The unconventional classroom has become the new norm.

Conventional teaching pedagogies have been altered by virtual education. What may have been a prevailing teaching style in the 90’s – or even 2000’s – has been changed, and often drastically enhanced, by the convenience and depth of information provided by digital tools.

But how are professors actually reshaping their learning environments with these new forms of technology?

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A couch may double as a workstation in the 21st-century classroom.

1. The Flipped Classroom

What is it?

As evidenced by its name, the flipped classroom is essentially the exact opposite of the conventional learning environment: Students receive instruction at home, while they do their real-life applications (or homework) in the classroom.

These courses use digital textbooks, virtual learning platforms, videos, and podcasts to equip students with everything they need to read about and comprehend concepts on their own time. Conversely, when it comes to actually applying that knowledge with their peers (and with the guidance of a professor), the students must be physically present.

What are the facts?

According to an online survey conducted by the Flipped Learning Network and online learning company Sofia, teachers have been experimenting with flipped learning in greater numbers of the past several years – and they’ve been liking it. The survey found that:

  • 78% of teachers have flipped a lesson
  • 96% of teachers who have flipped a lesson would recommend it to a peer
  • 90% of teachers saw increased student engagement during flipped lessons

Equally interesting to note – more than 45% of teachers flipped their classrooms just once or twice a week, meaning instructors are seeing success by further altering the flipped classroom and hybridizing their courses as much as possible.

What’s the verdict?

It’s worth a try, especially as more and more digital textbooks come equipped with virtual tools specific to the lesson at hand, such as tailored YouTube videos or accompanying audio excerpts from leaders in the field. These learning assets are critical to the success of a flipped classroom, so if you’re considering dipping your toe in, be sure to find a well-developed text that can offer a comprehensive overview of your lesson and supplement course material well.

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Combining in-person and online instruction can have a drastic impact on learning.

2. The Blended Classroom

What is it?

The blended classroom combines online and in-person learning for the perfect combination of digital and physical learning. Proponents of this style highlight the opportunities for personalization – since the hybrid model permits a bit more freedom to the learner, he or she has greater control over the educational journey. For example, students struggling in one area can target their digital tools to focus more heavily in that space, then use the in-person time with their instructors to ask more pointed questions.

60% of students believe digital learning tools prepare them for both college and career.

What are the facts?

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Education released a comprehensive 10-year analysis on research studies conducted on online, in-person, and hybrid learning methods. The report noted that classrooms that combined teacher-student classroom instruction with digital tools – such as online assessments, simulations, and media assets – yielded the most positive results.

The 2015 Digital Trend report released by Blackboard called out the benefits spotted by teachers, parents, and students alike. Specifically, the company found that:

  • 75% of principals whose schools integrated blended learning found the practice increased student engagement in the classroom.
  • 50% of teachers who incorporate blended learning believe students are developing critical thinking and problem solving skills (versus 34% of teachers who believe the same in a traditional classroom).
  • Nearly 60% of students believe digital tools provide them with college- and career-ready skills.

What’s the verdict?

Blended learning is a great way to try out technology in the classroom, whether teachers are ready to adopt online learning software or just dabble with digital education tools. Since the blended learning environment remains fluid, there are no models educators have to strictly stick to. This type of classroom embodies the 21st-century learning model.

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In-person and online learning can increase students’ critical thinking skills.

3. The Online Classroom

What is it?

Online classrooms are most commonly found among higher education institutions. While still coordinated and led by a professor, online classrooms are entirely – you guessed it – online. Important tests may be taken in-person, but all quizzes, lessons, assessments, and learning takes place on the digital platform used by the teacher.

What are the facts?

Online classrooms are the preferred choice of nontraditional students. The flexibility offered by the model permits them to study on their own schedules, preventing work, life, or extraordinary circumstances from stalling their learning.

Babson Survey Research Group published a study in 2013 that tracked online learning trends over a 10-year period. The report found that:

  • 70% of higher education institutions state that online learning is critical to their long-term strategy.
  • 32% of all college students are enrolled in at least one online course.
  • 77% of academic leaders believe online learning produces the same or greater results than in-person instruction.

What’s the verdict?

Online learning pairs well with the college environment, and – increasingly – the professional one. Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, are popular among working professionals looking to develop or hone a particular skill. These courses can contain anywhere from 10 to 100 students, and they’re entirely conducted online. For the unconventional learner, online classrooms are the way to go.

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