Something Unexpected is Happening

Blended Learning

While technology is becoming the accepted mode of delivery in classrooms across the nation, young people are coming back from the world of the virtual to the land of the physical - believe it or not. Arcade games are growing in popularity.  Pinball machines are back.  Makerspaces are multiplying.  3D printers — the poster child of the intersection between the virtual and the physical — are making their way into schools and homes.

We can only guess at the reasons for this shift, but I would argue that it is closely linked to the increased use of technology in schools.  

In the "BC" (Before Computers) era, school was a very physical place.  Young people held pens to paper while reading books.  They raised their hands, read aloud, and talked to their classmates.  The "AC" (After Computers) era is a virtual space where a hand is raised by touching an icon on a screen and conversations take place via chat.  

Perhaps the shift toward the physical is a result of this increasingly “AC” experience in school.  Perhaps they crave something real - something they can touch, hear, and feel.  Perhaps they want a richer experience - more compelling than what is possible today on a small screen.  Or perhaps, just perhaps, they are starting to associate a tablet/laptop with "school" in the same way I think of my laptop as "work."  

Regardless of the reasons, I am excited by the shift as it gives us an opportunity to think about a different kind of "blended" learning — one where the virtual and the physical coexist to provide the immersive, engaging learning environment we all strive to create.   


Dr. Nicole Melander is Senior Vice President, Digital Strategy for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Previously, she served as the Chief Technology Officer of Achieving the Dream (ATD), a national reform network dedicated to community college student success and completion, as well as education and technology leadership positions at Deloitte Consulting, Microsoft and Oracle. Her four years of full-time teaching – in the classroom, online, and in a blended environment – keeps her focused on the learning transformation that her work enables. Nicole works closely with every functional area of the company to consider the implications of technology on people, process, and product.

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