Embrace Flexibility with Universally Designed Blended Learning

The variety of humans in a classroom is remarkable. Their needs, skills, interests, pacing, preferences, and language proficiencies are incredibly diverse. As educators, we have the challenge and honor to teach a dynamic and unique group of students each time a class period begins. Universally designing blended learning presents educators with the opportunity to transition from designing a single experience that is teacher-paced and teacher-led to a more flexible experience that gives the students more control over the pace and path.

I realize that flexibility can feel a bit daunting, both in our design work and as we facilitate a learning experience. It requires that we relinquish some of the control that comes with orchestrating a lesson from the front of the room. Ultimately, that is what universally designed blended learning is all about…a shift in control from teacher to learner. This shift in control demands that learners assume more responsibility for their learning. If our goal is to cultivate expert learners who are resourceful, strategic, and motivated, they need opportunities to drive their own learning.

So, what might flexibility look like when universally designing blended learning?

#1 Student-Paced, Free-Flow Station Rotation Lesson

The station rotation is a popular blended learning model that rotates students between online and offline learning activities. A station rotation comprises three types of stations: 1) a teacher-led station, 2) an online station, and 3) an offline station. However, the total number of stations varies depending on various factors, like the total number of students a teacher ideally wants at a station or the length of the class period.

A minor variation on this typical structure that prioritizes flexibility is to run the lesson as a “free-flow,” or student-paced, station rotation. Teachers can break the class into groups and ask students to start at a particular station and allow them to transition to the next station when they are ready. Instead of a teacher-paced rotation where students move after a set amount of time, the student controls the pace at which they navigate tasks and move around the room.

This design demands that the teacher-led station function more as a “drop-in,” which I always referred to as “Tucker Time.” During a free-flow lesson, I used my teacher-led station to provide feedback on work-in-progress (e.g., writing task, performance task, research project). That way, I could give each student who arrived at my station time to continue making progress on their work while I provided them with focused, timely, actionable feedback.

#2 Your Choice Station Rotation Lesson

Another variation on the station rotation is to design a series of stations (e.g., 5 or 6 total) and ask students to visit at least 2 or 3 of the stations during a rotation. That way, the students decide where they think they would benefit from spending their time and energy during a lesson. This works particularly well for a series of stations designed to help students review key vocabulary, concepts, or skills before an assessment. It is also a nice way to provide more personalized practice with skills or processes that students need more exposure to or time with.

Teachers may also use formative assessment data to identify a “must-do” station for each student and ask them to start the rotation at their “must-do” station. When they are done with the required station, allow them to choose the other “may-do” stations. That way, the teacher can ensure that students are hitting a station that addresses their specific needs based on formative assessment data.

It is helpful to conclude a “your choice station rotation” with an exit ticket that asks each student to identify the stations they visited, provide a brief explanation for their choices, and reflect on what they learned. This is a nice way to keep track of where students spend their time during a your choice station rotation.

#3 Choose Your Learning Path Adventure

One of my favorite blog posts to write last year was my ! When working with Dr. Katie Novak on , we provided an example of transforming an Engage NY/Eureka elementary math lesson into a choose your learning path adventure. It was fun to reimagine a typical whole group, teacher-led lesson through the lens of a choose your learning path adventure that positioned the student at the center of the learning experience.

Teachers can build a choose your learning path adventure in a choice board format where students move from left to right, selecting one item from each column. Alternatively, they can build a dynamic experience inside a digital slide deck with hyperlinks, embedded videos, images and graphics, and meaningful choices woven throughout. Teachers can design the experience to allow the students to decide 1) how they engage with information, 2) how they process, practice, and apply what they are learning, and 3) how they want to demonstrate their learning and reflect on the experience.

#4 Hyperdoc Lesson + Teacher Time Coaching Station

Another way to create flexibility in a lesson and allow students a high level of control over their experience is to design a hyperdoc, a complete lesson or learning cycle built inside a digital document (e.g., Google Documents or Google Slides).

A hyperdoc has everything a student needs to complete the lesson (directions, links, and resources), so they can self-pace through the experience. Students should also enjoy agency and choice as they move through a hyperdoc. Teachers can strategically pair students or create small groups to provide peer support as they work. Then the teacher is freed to run a help desk or coaching station. They can pull individual or small groups of students who would benefit from additional support, guided practice, reteaching, or feedback. These moments allow teachers to better meet the diversity of needs in a classroom.

There are myriad ways to universally design blended learning experiences that prioritize flexibility, honor learner variability, personalize the experience for students, and help to cultivate expert learners. If you want to explore the exciting intersection of Universal Design for Learning and blended learning, you can check out my new book . Dr. Katie Novak and I have just finished a self-paced online course for anyone who wants to continue their UDL and blended learning journey! If you want to receive an email when it is available, and you’ll be the first to hear when it is available in late July!